Book Review: 45 RPM: A Visual History of the Seven-Inch Record

45rpm book cover

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This is a engaging and attractive book. The story of how the 45 developed is what made it so interesting to me. As the introduction points out:-

“The decades-long success of the 45-rpm single belies a turbulent history. In its infancy, the small disc was at the center of a fierce battle, a fight brimming with jealousy, greed and caustic recriminations. The culmination saw two rival record companies emerge victorious, with the fallout of their erstwhile battle etched deeply into the vinyl landscape of twentieth-century pop music culture.”

The introduction places the battle between Columbia (who had perfected the LP in 1948 and RCA (who introduced the 45 in 1949) in historical context. There was much here that was news to me. The initial 45s were issued using a colour coded system: red for classical, midnight blue for light classics, green for country-western, yellow for children’s music, sky blue for international, and cerise (orange) for R&B. Traditional black wax was kept for money-spinning pop. By 1952 all RCA records were black, apart from special promotional pressings.

Alongside the fascinating facts what makes the book attractive is the reproduction of covers. Chosen for their inventive design these are organised chronologically. A specialist introduces each decade in that period. There are over 200 designs – a treasure and source of ideas for anyone interested in design. For those who remember buying their first singles it also acts as a trigger to memory. It also makes it clear that single and album covers were one of the most important features of a genuine mass art.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington


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