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4+5 Reasons To Love 45 RPM Vinyl Singles

Mark Smotroff champions the beleaguered 7-inch vinyl format…

By Mark Smotroff

Lately I’ve been hearing bleakness from a number of record dealers and stores that for some reason the 45 RPM “single” format of vinyl record has sort of stalled in terms of popularity among younger newer collectors.  None of them are quite sure as to why. 

Of course as a pretty much lifelong vinyl collector and music enthusiast, I own thousands of 45s so I do have some interest in seeing the format live on for many reasons. I am happy that many newer artists are indeed still issuing 45s and some are already becoming quite rare and highly valued even though they are less than 20 years old!  

That said, I thought it might be fun to kickstart some discussion by sharing thoughts about why you might want to collect 45 RPM singles.  So, here are nine reasons to consider:

#1:  All Killer, No Filler — If you just want to hear the hits, 45 RPM singles are arguably the best value dollar for dollar to get the compact vinyl experience from your favorite artists.

#2: Non-LP B-sides — 45s often have tracks that did not appear on the regular albums for numerous reasons, some of which actually turned out to be very important or even better than tracks on the albums. So to get a complete snapshot of the artist you were into you really need to own the singles which often included alternate takes, live tracks, demos, etc.

#3: Unique Mixes — Especially when you are collecting vintage vinyl from the past, typically artists and labels created special mixes just for the 45 RPM single release. These were often different than what you hear on the 12-inch LPs.

Many times they were mixed differently for radio (the audio-only broadcast precursor to streaming, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept). Sometimes there were different solos on the 45s and even different lyrics. Sometimes they were entirely different versions than on the albums!   

#4:  Extended Play — The 7-inch 45 RPM format included an expanded 3-4 song variant. “EPs” as they were known were popular in pretty much every country save for the United States (at least beyond the 1950s). For certain artists, domestic EPs are now hard to find collector’s items.

Back in the early days of the 45 format, EPs were designed as a marketing stepping-stone for consumers who couldn’t necessarily afford a full LP at the time. Sometimes the songs on EPs were not on the albums. So they are, again, an essential for certain artists. 

The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour: originally issued as a 45 RPM double EP set in England.

#5:  Cover Art —For many artists, custom covers for the 45 RPM singles are as important as the covers for the LPs of the time. Again, many times these covers were different than the standard 12-inch album artwork. Groups like England’s XTC often had multiple 45 cover variants, some with posters, inserts, overlays and even games built-in to the sleeve!

#6: Sound Quality — Having your music spinning at 45 RPM is generally considered a higher fidelity way to present music on vinyl. That is why many audiophile albums are being remastered at 45 RPM. To that, a 45 that is in good condition can sound amazing!  Even for vintage titles.  Cases in point: once, a very audiophile-astute friend who was visiting agreed to close his eyes when I played him music from a pristine DJ copy of The Chordettes’ 1954 hit “Mr. Sandman.”  He could not believe that the music he was hearing was coming from a 70-year old single.

And, I have found that the best way to listen to old Buddy Holly recordings is on those original Brunswick and Coral Records 45s. An audio mastering engineer confirmed with me that those amazing three dimensional sounding mixes are captured there in the grooves, recordings designed and mastered for the format. I’ve not heard Buddy Holly’s recordings sound quite that stunning on LP, even from rare clean originals.

#7: Hot Beats — This is a personal nit which has been driving me a little coo-coo lately as I’ve been seeing a lot of great albums being dumped on the used market which are mostly in great shape save for one track which is usually scratched to death. If you are a DJ and looking for a great beat to sample or scratch in a performance, pleased don’t ruin a perfectly good — and often rare — album just for that. Look for a single version  to grab those beats, especially from a recording that was popular on 45s. It will sound better too!  And the great thing is you can find a lot of amazing singles these days way cheaper than it would cost to buy a full and sometimes rare original LP (or even a reissue). 

#8: Scarcity – There are some artists whose music primarily exists solely in the 45 realm. These are artists who never got to make albums. In the universe of vintage soul, reggae and even psychedelia, 45 RPM singles are still highly sought after and beloved by serious collectors. But they are not just old records. One of the most valuable singles I own right now is from 2015 by Phoebe Bridgers which can be found on the collector’s market going for between $300 and $500.  

#9: Fun! — 45 RPM singles are fun to play and collect. Once you get your collection organized you’ll have access to a universe of music at your fingertips that you can pop onto your turntable in a moment. The covers are a joy to look at — even the artwork on vintage “stock” sleeves from the past are often design wonders. A universe of wild designs and packaging concepts await you, from multi-layered images to fold-out posters and more.  

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades you can learn  more about his background at LinkedIn.]

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