A Short History of 7” 45 Vinyl Singles

A Short History of 7” 45 Vinyl Singles

It’s hard to overstate the sort of impact that 45 singles had on the record industry, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from when they first launched.

In fact, the first reaction from the general public and manufacturers wasn’t jubilation, but confusion and uncertainty. That makes it all the more remarkable that 45s managed to achieve the status they did amongst the music industry, and while they still remain a popular choice for many jukebox enthusiasts today. You only need to look at our new 45rpm Vinyl Rock-Ola Jukebox to see what we’re talking about, and the staggering response we’ve already received from customers!

So, let’s take a quick look back at how 45s arrived on the scene, and how they revolutionized the way we listen to music.

Before 45 singles

Ever since Thomas Edison first invented the phonograph back in 1877, the then-fledgling industry was focused on two key aims – not just to further develop the machines playing the music, but also the media of the music themselves. By the turn of the century, 78 rpm records were the industry’s preferred medium, generally manufactured to a 10-inch diameter. However, as the industry grew over the decades, more and more companies and manufacturers sought to make a name for themselves with fresh innovations, and it was this competitive rivalry (between two companies in particular) that ultimately gave us the 45rpm record.

Columbia Records and RCA Victor – a rivalry for the ages

By the 1930s, Columbia Records had emerged as one of the major players of the record industry and found themselves in increasingly direct competition with one of the other giants of the era, RCA Victor. As each vied for market dominance over the other, they brought some revolutionary new creations to the world. Columbia Records introduced the 12” Long Play (LP) 33 1/3 rpm microgroove record in 1948, and in response, RCA Victor released the now-legendary 7” 45rpm ‘Extended Play’ record.

For the first few years, the public seemed to waver between these two formats and not even many industry insiders could have told you which one would ultimately be adopted over the other. Music history refers to this period as the beautifully named ‘War of the Speeds’.

Ultimately though the 7” won out as the format of choice for singles. They offered a variety of bonuses over their 78rpm predecessors – while the former was made from a substance called shellac, the new discs were made from plastic vinyl that is highly flexible and much less fragile.  While 78s came in a variety of sizes, including 10 inches and 12 inches, 45 singles and EPs were just 7 inches in diameter. Vinyl also has a lower surface noise than shellac, helping listeners to enjoy a clearer, crisper sound. 

Like 78s, they were (are) also sold in paper covers so that you could see the center of the disc through the middle. Some had picture sleeves, and many had B-sides – a term that fast took root in the contemporary vernacular, and is still around in modern pop culture today.

 A short history of 7" 45 vinyl singles


Vinyl records are Victorious

Vinyl’s popularity rocketed from there, helped in no small part by the increasing influence of jukeboxes on bars, diners and music venues across the United States. Seeing the success that RCA Victor was enjoying, other companies naturally decided they wanted a slice of the pie, and the singles revolution began. Teenagers of the 50s were drawn to the highly portable and less expensive format, and this era saw some of the most successful vinyl sales in history.

Bill Haley and the Comets’ Rock Around the Clock sold 3 million singles in 1955, and Elvis Presley was discovered as a breakout hit in the industry partially because of his legendary cover of That’s All Right by Arthur Crudup. Crudup’s original song, by the way, was itself one of the first few 7” 45rpm vinyl records ever released.

From there, it seemed like there was no stopping vinyl. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith were amongst the biggest names to release their first music on vinyl, and it’s those very same tracks we find are most often in demand for playing in our own vinyl jukeboxes here at Rock-Ola. To date, White Christmas by Bing Crosby is the single best selling… uh, single to date, with over 50 million copies sold. Most music historians agree that the peak year for the 7-inch single was 1974 when over 200 million were sold. 

Sales of vinyl records finally go down – but far from out

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the history of vinyl records has close parallels with the history of jukeboxes, and both experienced a drop-off in sales at the outset of the 1980s. Boomer rock fans increasingly preferred albums by this stage, and the music technology that had dominated the last few decades was finally in decline.

But while the 7-inch 45 single has never quite recovered to its previous dizzying heights, it’s currently experiencing a global resurgence. That’s due in no small part to jukebox fans and collectors, many of whom revel in its rich vinyl-to-valve sound (as it’s sometimes referred to).

Fans of vinyl also include some of the biggest names in music, too. Jack White and Neil Young have pressed a record on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and Nirvana, Tame Impala, and The Flaming Lips are some of the most significant bands to release their music on vinyl in the last few decades. 

By now, the 78 rpm record has long been consigned to history, but vinyl doesn’t seem to be going anywhere near that way just yet. If you need more proof, look no further than our fantastic range of jukeboxes right here at Rock-Ola! Our Authentic Bubbler Vinyl 45 is our newest release, available in two stunning finishes. We’re taking pre-orders now, so why not take a look and see what’s got everyone talking?