The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part CXXVII: The Return of the 7" Single
Do you still collect 7" singles? I do. Not on purpose, mind you, but it does seem that a lot of new bands are sending me these little guys as a way to promote themselves, perhaps because it's economical or just maybe, it's the cool new thing to do.
Like most boomers, the 7" single was my introduction to listening to music. I shared a bedroom with an older brother until I was about 12, and he always had a record player. That's pretty much how I fell in love with music--he'd be playing hard rock from the late '60's and '70's, everything from Iron Butterfly to Steppenwolf to Black Sabbath, while my dad would march into our room to tell us to turn that shit off so he could listen to easy listening stuff on his Zenith 8-track player in the living room.
I've mentioned the Soundesign record player with the satellite speakers and the BSR changer that I got when I was thirteen--I've often referred to that as my first stereo, and that's when I started buying LP's. But I do remember having a small record player long before that, back when I was a little kid. It wasn't quite as cheesy as a Fisher Price Close N' Play, but I do remember that it was only big enough to play 7" records. I would go with my mother on her weekly trip to the grocery store, mostly because they had a small section where they sold 45 singles that cost exactly 45 cents each. If I was good, I'd get a record (if I was really good I'd get a Hot Wheels car, which cost a little more).
I built up a really nice collection after a few years, mostly goofy radio-friendly crap a kid in the late '60's and early '70's would buy. Remember, my parents hated rock and roll and hippies and the counterculture so my choices would have to be approved in advance. I can remember asking for "Come Together" by the Beatles and my mom saying 'no,' since they were the cause of all the violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I still tease her about this comment to this day.
Anyways, I'm not sure what happened to all those little 45's. I certainly didn't have them by the time the Soundesign system arrived. I don't even know what happened to that little record player. The ability to buy and play 12" LPs certainly changed my listening habits overnight, and I can safely say that decades passed without me possessing a single 7" record.
I'm not sure when singles started creeping back into my collection. In college, my best friend and I became friends with a band called The Splitters, and they released their songs on 7" singles. Those records, signed by everyone in the band, were cherished possessions at the time and yes, I still have them. Then I had a few relatives and friends ask me if I wanted some of their old Beatles 45's, and I jumped at the chance because I knew what they were worth. Unfortunately, none of my relatives and friends knew how to store or care for their records, so they're worth nothing. But I still have those as well.
A few years ago, when I started reviewing music, I would occasionally receive an email from a band asking if I was able to review 7" singles. These notes would always seem a little apologetic, as if the band was just a tiny bit ashamed to be releasing music in this format and that they would understand if I considered it beneath me. But I never said no. I love 7" records for the obvious nostalgia--these days I'm constantly referring to the days when my friends and I would sit in a semi-circle on the floor around a little record player and let the hours go by. We bonded over those experiences, and our musical tastes were forged. I still have a small bag of little 45rpm adapters around here somewhere, just to make me feel warm and tingly all over. For a while, I came up with a Vinyl Anachronist logo that was based on the iconic shape of those adapters. If I ever got a tattoo, it would be that.
Just a few days ago, I reviewed a 7" single sent to me by one of my favorite publicists, the same one who gets me all the awesome vinyl releases from Light in the Attic Records and the Pallas Group in Germany. This was a ground floor release at best--one band playing a single two-minute song on Side A, and another band playing another two-minute song on Side B. The two bands were Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O and Orphan Goggles. Both the cover and the record itself were colorful and crazy and fun. When I posted the review and promoted it on social media, I received a relatively huge response, much bigger than I usually get for 7" singles. I had people telling me that they wanted to buy it just for the crazy cover. I had friends telling me that they've seen these bands live. I had the actual band members send me friend requests on Facebook, and when I accepted they turned out to be really cool people. I was genuinely surprised to learn we had a lot in common--music, politics, whatever.
In fact, I've been noticing an uptick in Google hits when I talk about these singles, and it got me thinking. Are people really returning to 7" singles as a preferred way to listen to new music? It makes sense. New bands don't have a lot of money, and they can usually release these singles for a lot less money than an entire album. Since these singles can be purchased online and at shows for usually just a few bucks, usually under ten, it's an easy impulse purchase. In most cases, the singles are available on Bandcamp websites so much of the money goes straight back to the musicians.
I spoke with one of my record label friends, who wanted to remain anonymous because he's still arguing with his partners about the value of these singles. "It's usually hard to make real money off these projects," he told me. "But I actually love them because this is usually a big step for these bands. They've been rehearsing forever, they finally get some gigs and now they can say they put out a record. They get so excited about this, and you can usually hear it in the single."
That makes a lot of sense. Usually when I review a 7" single from a new band, they are incredibly grateful. They can't believe I spent the time and the energy to write a thoughtful review of two songs they recorded on a single afternoon, usually on a budget of a few hundred bucks. When they friend me on Facebook and look at my wall, they freak out when they see the turntable I've used to listen to their modest little record. Just recently I reviewed a single using the incredible analog rig I mentioned in the last column--Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable, Jelco and Origin Live tonearms, Miyajima and Koetsu cartridges, Miyajima step-up transformer, PureAudio Phono preamplifier. That rig costs about as much as a new BMW 3-series. The artist emailed me and said, "Wow! That's so awesome I had to send a pic of that turntable with my record on it to my mom!"
This goes back to my original mission, of why I continue to cover new bands and performers even though I'm well into my fifties and these musicians are sometimes younger than my kids. The music industry has had an abysmal reputation for decades, one it usually deserves. The business side can destroy dreams and ambitions, which is why we have to generate excitement wherever we can. Music is such a gift--imagine if we had never figured it out. That's why we need to enjoy it however we can--digital streaming, LPs and even tiny little 7" records on a tiny little record players. We need to share it with our friends. Most importantly, we need to purchase it and give money back to the performers so they can make even more of it.
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