Introduction To 45 rpm Record Collecting

As a deejay and music collector, I purchase as many 45’s as I buy LP’s. Columbia Records copyrighted the term LP (Long Playing) so, let’s use the word ‘album’ going forward. You can say that there is more sense in buying albums instead of a 45 rpm (revolutions per minute). You receive the completed studio work in the order the artist intends you to listen, you have more tracks on the medium, and you don’t have to change or turn the record after one song. However, I do not always agree that an album is always the better choice. 45’s have many advantages compared to albums.

45 rpm record from my collection

The first advantage of a 45 is the higher sound quality. Of course, this is my point of view what is open for discussion. The sound quality of a 45 can be explained by looking into the record surface, playing speed, and track times. On an album, played at 33 1/3 rpm, and with a surface dimension of 12 inches, you will have about 30 minutes of music. A 45 (when talking about a 7-inch single) has a surface dimension of 7 inches, is being played at 45 rpm, and contains about 3 minutes of music. When manufacturing an album, the grooves are very narrow and tightly curved because there should be room for 30 minutes of great music. For a 45, where you only need 3 minutes of music on one side, the grooves are spread out more widely what allows them to be pressed deeper. Like this, more information can be stored. And with more information stored, the audio level of a 45 doesn’t need to be toned down (this is done with some albums to avoid audio cross-over) what makes the sounds quality of a 45 superior.

It’s no surprise that audiophile companies are reissuing classic Jazz records at 45 rpm. Because of the tiny curves on the album’s surface, it is hard for the cartridge to track everything. Fine details, which are so important in Jazz music, can get blur. You can lose the feeling of the bass player sitting next to you because you no longer can hear the fingers sliding over the strings.

A good example of this is the famous Jazz Record label Blue Note. By using the original master tapes, Blue Note records are, in cooperation with Music Matters Jazz and Analogue Productions, reissuing albums on a 45 rpm double-12-inch vinyl. The so-called ‘Blue Note Sound’ was the creation of Rudy Van Gelder, a sound engineer who started to record Jazz musicians in the early 1950s. Van Gelder’s goal was to recreate live Jazz into his recordings. It was much later, in 1994, when the idea came to reissue Blue Note albums at 45 rpm. Mike Hobson and Michael Cuscuna started cutting 45 rpm test pressings and as expected, they sounded much better.

Rudy Van Gelder in the control room of his studio

Playing at 45 rpm is faster than playing at 33 1/3 and therefore, one original album of one disc (33 1/3 rpm) needs to be converted into 2 discs at 45 rpm. It went even further, Blue Note never stopped innovating and improving the sound experience. In some tests, they had better sound quality on a single-sided record. Meaning that grooves were pressed on one side, and the other side stayed blank. The result of this is that 1 original double-sided album was repressed on 4 single-sided 45 rpm discs of 12 inches. Although audiophiles agree that the sound is better, these albums were expensive to buy and it is not so common to find them in your local record store.

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue ‎(2xLP, Album, Ltd, RE, 45 rpm) released on Blue Note and Analogue Productions

Another great advantage of 45’s is that there is much more great music available on 45 rpm. For the genres I play during sets, mainly soul and rhythm-and-blues from the 1950s through the 1960s, there is more music out there on 45 rpm. The main reason for this is that the smaller independent labels were contracting artists to record one track. A 45 was pressed and released and depending on the success, artists were offered a contract to record an album. For many of them, the success was too low to record and release on a full album (songs may have been released on later compilation albums). Just one example is the artist under the name Little Mummy. Little Mummy only recorded two tracks for Federal Records in New Orleans, Louisiana. The titles ‘Where You At Jack‘ and ‘Oh Baby Please’ were distributed in 1960 and repressed decades later because of the growing success. If his music would have been acknowledged during his life span, this artist may have recorded several albums that would find its place next to rhythm-and-blues greats such as The Drifters, The Coasters, and Jackie Wilson.

Little Mummy’s only release – white original label on the left, later repress on the right.

It is also more convenient for deejays to use 45 rpm singles during sets. You don’t have to carefully place the needle in between the grooves of an album as you only have one track on each side of a 45. The records are smaller in size what makes handling and transportation easier.

To conclude, as a deejay I prefer playing 45’s because of its superior quality, music assortment, and easy handling during sets. But don’t misunderstand me, I love albums equally! Full 12-inch albums offer better record sleeves with impressive cover art, you can listen from start to finish in the order the artists intends you to, and originals are often in better condition because they were handled with more care (45 were often used in radio stations and jukeboxes). For me, the choice of format is really subject to the purpose and music genre.

Some record collectors are more attracted to the original or first pressing of the 45. There is more to it than just the music it contains. A record can represent part of history. Owning part of this history can give more meaning to the music and its origin. As a listener it offers more value knowing its past. The reasons why we collect can be better explained in an anthropology study and I believe that each collector has its own motive. I collect vinyl records to better understand the music. By researching and educating myself, I came to understand its history, its development, its origin, and the influence it has on modern-day music. Listening to music became more valuable since the day I started to collect. Let’s say that, as an example, you watch the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, a portrait of the life of Nina Simone by Liz Garbus. After understanding the life of Nina Simone, I listen to her songs in a completely different way. I’m now able to understand her reasons for making music what adds its value.

In some situations, owning the original or first pressing is a must. This is the case for collectors of Northern Soul records. To better understand this, we need to have a deeper look at the history and meaning of Northern Soul.

Northern Soul is a subculture that originated in North England during the late 1960s and through the 1970s. It is powered by uptempo American soul music from the mid-1960s. Many young modernists were not convinced of the development of soul music into disco and funk. They kept a preference for the uptempo American soul music. Today it’s common to stream any song you’d like to hear, but back in the days, you had to go to your local club to listen to the songs played by deejays. The success of a deejay had a lot to do with their collection of 45’s and their ability to locate and find them. The scene was based on non-commercial lost and forgotten soul records. Many songs that were popular in the Northern Soul scene, were recorded by smaller independent labels and because of that, there are not too many in circulation. A deejay owning a song that was loved by the crowd would make him unique. Northern Soul fans, mainly the young working middle-class, would go to clubs to dance to these unique soul records. There was also a lot of competition between deejays and clubs. Deejays would often scratch off the label to keep the title secret. The Northern Soul scene is also characterized by its own unique dance. People would fill the room individually and perform light and smooth footwork with the occasional turn, drop, or karate-kick.

The Northern Soul scene still exists today and one would say it is even bigger than before. Around the world people are organizing All-Nighters where Northern Soul deejays and collectors can share their rare music collection. It was already unique to own certain 45’s back in the 1970s and this has not changed. These days, rare Northern Soul 45’s are worth a couple of hundred dollars and in some cases, a couple of thousand.

The rarest original Northern Soul 45 rpm record is ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson (1965). It is said that only 6 copies of the record were printed and their purpose was to promote the song at radio stations. Out of those 6 copies, only 2 are still in existence and only 1, is in playable condition. this record was sold in auction for over $30,000.

The story behind this is not fully confirmed but many believe that it was Berry Gordy, the founder of the Motown records label, who ordered the copies to be destroyed and who blocked the official release of the song. Frank Wilson was hired as a producer by Motown but in return, he had to renounce his musical career. However, he moved forward with the pressing of his promo single for ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’. This was not appreciated by Berry Gordy and, he ordered the destruction of the pressed records. However, two records survived and in 1977 the song reappeared in the Northern Soul dance scene. The record’s rarity and its original soul sound is what made it one of the most popular songs in Northern Soul and in 1979, the record was officially released to the public by Tamla Motown.

On the left, you can see the promo records. It was signed by Frank Wilson himself with the words “to Kenny” referring to the previous owner. On the right, you can see the official release by Tamla Motown

‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson – promo on the left (1965), official release on the right (1979)

Comparing the Sound – Mono vs. Stereo

The mono (monaural) vs. stereo (stereophonic or binaural) sound is an important aspect to take into consideration when purchasing a record. But what does it mean and what influence will it have on the music experience?

Let’s start with an example. We’re looking at 2 album covers from the album ‘Help!’ by The Beatles. The one on the left has the indication ‘mono’ and the one on the right says ‘stereo’ (right top corners). You can say that apart from this, the albums are identical. They have a similar cover, and contain the same track-list. So what is the difference?

Help! by The Beatles – mono version on the left, stereo on the right

In short, as a listener, you will notice one main difference while playing both records. Imagine you have your turntable in front of you and you use two speakers for the output. The mono records will output the same audio signals from both speakers. You will not experience a difference in sound from the left or right speaker. Stereo records will split the sound and will output different audio signals from each speaker. For mono, we are using only one channel or signal while stereo, is using two channels. When playing stereo, you can control the balance of each channel and adjust the position of the sound.

Mono versus stereo channel outputs

Imagine a live concert where each band member is producing its own sound. We will receive the sound from many different angles. Stereo recordings are innovative because they create a similar effect. When playing a stereo recording, you can have a more clear idea of the position of the trumpet player and the sound will be more isolated from the other instruments. you can have, for example, the trumpet coming from the left channel while the drums are coming from the right channel.

Now let’s say you are listening to a live recording or bootleg in stereo. the recording microphones will be placed at different locations. One at the bell of the trumpet, one at the drums, one at the guitar, and one pointed to the audience. At the end of the song, you can clearly hear that the applause is different from the music. The audience will be more surrounding, distant, and blur.

Understanding the music history and the recording technology developments is important to analyse the differences between mono and stereo, it will also help you with your choice of purchase.

It was in the year 1948 when the first albums were up for sale. All these albums were mono and it took another decade before the world was introduced to the sound of stereo. Stereo records offered many new audio benefits but they would not yet exceed mono in terms of popularity and sale. One reason for this is that for playing a stereo record, you need to have certain equipment. Remember, it may seem common now to play stereo but this was in the late 1950s.

In the pictures below you can see the comparison of a studio mono recording (left) with a stereo recording (right). For the mono recording, the audio comes from one single source while with stereo, the audio comes from each individual instrument.

Early studio recordings

After a recording session is finished, the audio mixing process kicks off. During this process, the individual multi-track recordings are mixed into a final mono or stereo sound. This means that even when the recording happens from individual sources, a mono sound can be created. It is up to the artist and record company to decide on the album release. Many albums were released both mono and stereo.

50/50 system by audio mastering engineer Kevin Gray 

What is better and how will you decide between mono or stereo albums?

It’s a personal preference that may require some research.

We no longer need to be concerned about our installation because most commercially available installations can play both mono and stereo. Artists still release both versions today and this can cause a dilemma for collectors. It is my opinion that you have to research each album before making your choice. There are many forums out there that review the album you want to purchase. Many experts will share their view on what is the better version. Another recommendation is looking at the creative intentions of the artists.

For albums that were originally released before 1958, meaning before the stereo albums were publicly released, it is recommended to purchase the mono version because of its authenticity. These albums will be in there more pure and original form. Many experts may argue this because the original master tapes can be used for stereo reissues.

Albums released after March 1958, when the first stereo album was commercially available (Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang Volume 1), will require more comprehensive research.

I can also recommend that albums released in the 1980s and onward are probably better in stereo as studio technology advanced.

When you really can’t make up your mind, there is nothing wrong with buying both versions. Mono and stereo versions are not released as a commercial sale trick, their main purpose is the music experience. When you buy both copies, please make sure to share your personal experience with the rest of the vinyl community!

The Origin And Influence Of Doo-wop music

The sound of doo-wop music was born out of the creativity of the African American youth who dealt with the impact of segregation during its peak in the late 1940s and 1950s. The development of the music had a great deal of influence on other music genres such as soul, rhythm-and-blues, rock-and-roll, pop, and surf-rock.

Doo-wop music originated in America in the late 1940s. It was in the bigger cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, where young African American teenagers would gather to sing in public places.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, American segregation was at its highest point. Young African American musicians were often too poor and could not afford musical instruments. Because of that, they had to be creative. They would meet together, mostly as a group of 4, and start producing sounds by only using a wide range of vocal parts. They would sing a capella and simultaneously generate meaningless onomatopoeiae to imitate musical instruments (e.g. “doo doo-wop” or “do wop de wadda”).

Jazz dominated in America and, most radio stations would broadcast popular swing music. This music was an inspiration for the early form of doo-wop music. In the early stages of doo-wop, no instruments got used. It was in its purest form and, the only sounds were produced by the voice, usually from bass to falsetto.

The Mills Brothers was a band who brought the genre to life. They had a major influence, especially when it came to the use of onomatopoeia, rhythmic punctuation, and multi-layered harmonies. The songs were slow and jazzy, and they had a spiritual influence. The lyrics were quite ordinary, usually about love and addressed to a beloved.

Another doo-wop group with an important influence on the genre was Sonny Til And The Orioles. They were the first to gain nationwide fame. Bandleader, Sonny Til, was even considered a rock star and, he was loved and adored by the audience. The group named themselves after the Baltimore Oriole, the official state bird of Maryland. Using a bird in the naming became a trend among doo-wop groups. Examples of this are The Ravens, The Penguins, The Flamingos, The Crows, and The O’Jays.

Sonny Til And The Orioles

The term “doo-wop” was not used until the early 1960s. In 1961, an article appeared in The Chicago Defender calling the music style doo-wop. The author may have gotten his inspiration from previous hits in the genre. “Doo-wop” itself is a meaningless expression that was initially recorded in 1945 by The Delta Rhythm Boys. In their song ‘Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’, you can hear it in the backing vocals. Almost a decade later, in 1954, it was recorded again by The Rainbows. They used the phrase “do wop de wadda” in their successful hit ‘Mary Lee‘.

Although, many music experts agree that the first group to intentionally use the wording “doo-wop” were The Turbans. In their recording of ‘When You Dance‘ (1955) the wording “doo-wop” is more clearly present as it was used in the refrain. I do, however, also need to mention that there are indications that “doo-wop” was already used to archive music in the late 1950s but, there is no information available to support this.

In the mid-1950s, early doo-wop music would evolve in the so-called “mid-era doo-wop”. In early doo-wop, the vocals would sometimes get support from a guitar or a single drum. In mid-era doo-wop, instruments start playing a bigger role. We’re starting to hear the double bass, saxophone, piano, and even the electric guitar. In some cases, a full orchestra would be present. Many bands recorded songs before and after 1955. If you compare both recordings, you can hear the difference in the number of musical instruments used.

The doo-wop sound spread nationwide and soon it would also reach white American teenagers. Because the sound of doo-wop music became popular with the white audience in America, mixed-race groups were formed and black and white vocalists would sing harmonically together as equals. The most famous example is The Dell-Vikings. Soon even all-white doo-wop bands, such as The Crew Cuts or Danny & the Juniors, were formed.

It was not only the male vocal groups that came into existence. Starting in 1952, groups as The Platters became widely known. They consist of both male and female singers and so, they brought another vocal dimension to the sound of early-doo-wop music. Strictly female doo-wop groups were unusual in the early 1950s but, halfway through the decade, they started to gain popularity and got recorded. Famous examples are The Hearts, Pattie Labelle & The BluebellsThe Bobbettes, and The Chantels.

A big name that needs mentioning when talking about the history of doo-wop music is Bill Kenny, often referred to as “the Godfather of doo-wop and rhythm-and-blues“. What made him so unique was his high-tenor singing capabilities that had a range spanning over four octaves. He was the lead tenor of The Ink Spots and had a very successful full solo career after leaving the band in 1954. During the late 1950s and 1960s, Kenny would record and perform worldwide. In 1966, he hosted his TV show on CBC called ‘The Bill Kenny Show’. 

The Ink Spots with Bill Kenny on the left

Maybe the most famous and influential band in doo-wop music history is The Teenagers, led by singer Frankie Lymon. The band is most celebrated for its contribution to the early success of rock-and-roll music. They introduced the world to a new brand of doo-wop music by speeding up the tempo.

Frankie Lymon (left) – The Teenagers (right)

The Teenagers got formed at a high school in Manhattan under the name The Coup De Villes. The group changed their name a couple of times (The Ermines and later The Premiers) before they officially changed it to The Teenagers. In 1954 a 12-year-old boy, Frankie Lymon, joined the group. Together they wrote and composed the song ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love‘. The song became an instant success.

Thanks to Frankie’s success, the group got renamed Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers in 1957. This name change was not well received by some band members what caused Frankie to leave and start recording solo. The Teenagers continued under their original name but with a new lead singer what they came to regret. The band had to hire female singers to replicate the unique high “boy” voice of Frankie Lymon.

Frankie Lymon’s life was short. He passed away when he was 25 from an overdose of heroin.

‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ live on The Frankie Laine Show in 1956

Doo-wop music evolved into various genres, among them rhythm-and-blues and rock-an-roll. Although, doo-wop music is better categorized as a less instrumental and more vocal version of the genres. It has its unique history and origin. One main difference is the band formation. In doo-wop music, this is most often a quartet, like in a barbershop quartet. And like in gospel music, doo-wop music would use harmonies in a slow and medium tempo. The lead voice would sing higher than the other band members and interacts with them by leveling out the vocals.

Doo-wop music peaked in 1962 and became dominated by rock-and-roll music and a phenomenon that is known in music history as ‘The British Invasion’. Bands as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Animals became very popular with the American youth but, there is no doubt that doo-wop music had a great deal of influence on their music style and way of performing.