THE seven-inch, 45 rpm vinyl single arrived just in time for the rock ’n’ roll revolution that would transform popular music. Introduced by RCA Records in 1949 to replace the easily breakable shellac 78 rpm recordings, 45s had become the standard format for singles (one song per side) by the mid ’50s. A gold single was earned by selling one million 45s.
Vinyl 45s were conveniently portable, reasonably cheap compared to LPs (long players) or 78s, and durable (they were promoted as unbreakable).
"One day in 1958, I went in to The Bay to purchase With Your Love by Jack Scott," recalls Warren Cosford. "The clerk behind the counter suggested I get the 45, saying they wouldn’t be making 78s much longer because they took up more space and were breakable.
He then took a 45 and dropped it on the ground and it didn’t break. I’d never do that with a 78. I was sold. Proudly, I brought my first 45 home and said, ‘Look Dad, these new 45s don’t break!’ And with that I bent it in half and it broke." A further advantage was the ability to stack them up on a specially-designed spindle that you added to your record player that allowed you to play a half-dozen 45s in a row before reloading. Great for parties. You could buy a carrying case and lug your collection to friends’ houses.
"After school, we’d go to someone’s house and bring over our latest 45s and play them," says Randy Bachman. "We’d spent hours just playing 45s."
My very first 45 was Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan, given to me at age five or so by someone in the family. My earliest recollection of buying 45s were Beatles singles purchased in the spring of 1964 at Eaton’s downtown store record bar.
I’m pretty sure they cost 49 cents each.
Everyone had their own favourite spot to buy their 45s. "I went to Music City, which was in front of the bus terminal on Portage Avenue," recalls Ken Bain. "Jack Skelly worked there. It was always a high to come home with some 45s and play them over and over."
As Charlie Brennan remembers, "I think it was 1965 and I couldn’t wait to buy The Searchers’ Needles and Pins and I found it at The Hobby Centre in Portage la Prairie. A very fond memory." For Transcona’s David Perich, the Woolworth’s store in the Regent Park Shopping Centre was his regular 45 outlet.
Local rock band The Pallbearers operated its own record store, Liverpool Sound Studios, at the corner of Grosvenor Avenue and Stafford Street in Crescentwood. As drummer Ken Burnett recalls, "We basically only sold the Top 40 45s, no LPs. I remember when Herman’s Hermits’ Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter was released, we couldn’t keep it on the shelf. We had to go to the record distributor a few times a week to get more. I bet we sold two or three hundred of those puppies."
For many North Enders, Charlie Ward’s Country Music Centre on Selkirk Avenue was the place for 45s.
"Charlie had every 45 you could want," Rick Shukster remembers. "The whole wall behind the counter was 45s and he had lots more in the back. I lived close to his store so that was way cool." Some were fortunate to discover a secret stash.
According to Marvin Terhoch, "A guy by the name of Paul Pascal ran in our group and his father filled juke boxes all over the city. Each week Paul had access to the 45s that his father had taken out of circulation, boxes and boxes of them in their rec room. Thousands. I think we paid five cents for 10." Burton Cummings was also privy to these weekly sell offs.
The flip side or B side of a 45 sometimes featured a surprise gem. While you had already heard the A side on the radio, prompting you to purchase the 45, the B side was like a bonus track. Phil Spector often put throwaway tracks on flip sides to ensure only the "plug" side was played, but others, like The Beatles, took their B sides seriously. If you bought the 45 of She Loves You were gifted with the unreleased (at the time) I’ll Get You . The flip side of The Beach Boys’ I Get Around was the gorgeous Don’t Worry Baby. The B side to Cream’s Strange Brew offered the mind-blowing Tales of Brave Ulysses.
"When you had to save your money for two weeks to buy that single, playing the B side was just as important as the A side," says Randy Bachman. The Guess Who’s first hit single, 1965’s Shakin’ All Over , was actually the B side of Till We Kissed . Some recording artists scored double-sided hits as in the case of the Guess Who with Laughing backed by Undun .
Toward the end of the ’60s, album sales began eclipsing 45s. By the latter ’90s, 45s were no longer pressed other than for promotion. But it’s a safe bet that many of you have a stack of 45s in your basement.