Monday, October 07, 2013

Sixteen, Twelve, Ten and Seven Inches

Let's talk about size. Record sales today are on the upswing. All the pundits say it's a fad but one with mysterious staying power. It's the truth. The vinyl sales surge will not last forever. It will plateau, and then slowly fade and the dystopian age of digital audio will reign eternal.

So before it passes let us discuss the origin of each of vinyls incarnations. For the purposes of this list I'm excluding digital recordings in order to eliminate floppy discs, and music box disc recordings. I listed 16, 12, 10 and 7 inches as they were unarguably the most common sizes of commercially available analog audio records. But there were many more. the largest were mostly radio transcriptions. The smallest of records are novelties, usually marketed to children, but there are exceptions. We can start small, very small indeed.

There are no real 1 inch records. Yet there was one 1-inch record released. Courtesy of Slap A Ham records, in 1996, the hardcore band Spazz released a super-limited 78 rpm pressing of "Hemorrhoidal Dance of Death" on a 1 inch disc. By all reports, it contained no music. More here.

A sole 2-inch record was released by Japanese grind-core band Slight Slappers. Unlike the above some purport that this contains some audio. This 1998 pressing was also the work of Slap A Ham records. More here.

Emile Berliner created many different size discs prior to 1900 some as small as 3 to 5 inches. He eventually settled on a 7-inch disc as his standard around 1890. More here. But these tiny discs aren't all ancient history. In 2006 the White stripes put out a set of 3-inch records with a limited edition record player made to handle the diminutive diameter. More here.

Imperial records pressed a series of children's 78s that were three-and-a-half inches in diameter. Most of these date to just after 1930. You can see one here.

In 2009 the band Mayer Hawthorne released "A Strange Arrangement" which came packaged with a 4-inch vinyl single. A novelty, but a clever one. More here.

Strictly a novelty size. In the 1980s a slew of vacuous synth pop bands released 5-inch singles including Squeeze, Culture Club, Gary Glitter, Cyndi Lauper, and Wang Chung to name a few.  Some modern plants will still press discs as small as 5 inches.

6-inch Little Golden Records made of bright yellow plastic were a common sight in children's playrooms in the United States during the 1950s. It's also worth noting that Young People's Records and Disney also made discs in this size. Numerous instantaneous home recording 6-inch blanks were made most notably  by Voice-O-Graph. More here.

6.5-Inch Disc
Federal Perma Disc, Silvertone,  Recordio, Duodisc and many others all made discs in this size and sold them in packs of 5 for instantaneous home recordings. They remain a common find in the dusty 78 rpm crates.

This is the size of both those early Berliner records from the 1890s and the ever-popular 45s first appearing in February of 1949. Modern punk bands continue to produce a slew of low fidelity 33rpm 7-inch discs for niche consumption. The size is the longest to still be in use with a longevity now of over 120 years.

Recordio, Duodisc and H.O.W.A.R.D. all made discs in this size for instantaneous home recordings. There were also glass acetates in this diameter dating to the mid 1940s. Some early experimental Victor discs were 8-inches in diameter but no commercial releases I am aware of.

Another novelty size. Prior to 1910 Zon-O-Phone released 9 inch shellac recordings that spun at abotu 60 rpm.  In 1959 Seeburg Corp. introduced the Seeburg Background Music System 9-inch record with 2-inch center hole. It held about 40 minutes of music per side, an early attempt at elevator music. Supposedly there were also a scant number of Japanese pressings from the 1980s in this size I know nothing about. More recently, the industrial band Nine Inch Nails released a limited series of 9-inch discs cut from their hit album The Downward Spiral in 1994.

This was the dominant size for the 78 rpm record from around 1910 through 1950. Prior to the 33rpm LP everything was 10 inches. This was commemorated by Bull Moose Jackson with his song "Big Ten Inch" in 1952.

Another novelty size. Sitting squarely between two very common sizes,  it served no commercial function.
In 1980, the British band Alien Sex Fiend were the first band to release an 11-inch record in October 1984.

12- Inch
Columbia debuted the 12-inch LP in 1948. This was preceded by 12-inch V-discs which circulated in the 1940s during WWII. These were of course preceded by Victor who had pressed one-sided, 12-inch records as early as 1903.

Third Man Records has pressed a few "Texas sized records" for singles by both The Raconteurs and The White Stripes. This size is particularly unusual even among novelties.

Victor released at least one, one-sided, 14-inch shellac record in 1903. It held a whopping 6 minutes of audio. There may have been others.  More here.

The first 16 inch discs were pressed by Vitaphone in the 1920s for use in their Vitaphone "talking picture" system. The 33 rpm discs merely provided audio accompaniment to their otherwise silent films. In the 1940s, the size saw a revival for use in radio transcriptions. I own several.