I believe pop was born and then died with the humble 7” single.
RCA produced the first 7” in 1949, but it wasn’t until the late 50’s that it’s popularity soared with the advent of popular music geared for the new wave of young, ‘never had it so good’ generation of ‘The Teenager’.
This new breed, with their new-found freedom and their own hard-earned money, would embrace the pop culture of the era, lifting the performers of the day to Star status- and they would show their appreciation for these stars by buying their single releases thus propelling their heroes ‘up the pop charts’. Due to their price, the 7” was far more favourable than the Album.
Towards the end of the sixties, there seemed to be more of a shift from the fast paced, hysterical nature of pop music, and the album started to take off, with acts like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Beach Boys etc. all preferring to pour their cash into studio time, and crafting more expansive works of art, shifting away from the sub 3 min pop song. Throughout the 70’s, with Rock either being Heavy, Classic or Prog- the album was king.
Then along came the next youth rebellion- Punk- and again the 7” rose to popularity. The home-made sleeves and DIY ethic perfectly encapsulating the ‘Punk way’, indeed, ‘Spiral Scratch ep’ the self-released single by Buzzcocks in 1977, paved the way for kids up and down the land to pick up instruments, make a noise and say something- something we could really do with right now 35 years later!
If you ignore the record company hop-scotch that The Sex Pistols were involved with (the whole ‘Cash From Chaos’ mentality had its place, but, I think, not wholly representative of the Punk movement- The Clash wanted to smash the system intelligently, Buzzcocks wrote love songs and bands like Crass took punk to whole other level- promoting Anarchism as a political ideal, and not just a ticket for spitting and saying ‘Fuck’.) then the 7” was again the perfect platform for sub the 3 min song.
The the post-punk/New Wave and New Romantics which the punk scene spawned would dominate the pop charts during the early Eighties, bands like Spandau Ballet, Human League, ABC, Duran Duran, Culture Club etc. all sold very well- the 7” was still king. Although its big brother, the 12” was kicking up a fuss in the nightclubs, being able to hold longer mixes, and wider grooves giving a louder sound and, importantly, much more BASS!
The dance culture that began in the US clubs during the 70’s, remaining underground through much of the 80’s, exploded with the Acid House scene right at the end of the shiniest of decades. The 12” mixes soon became the ‘normal’ version, and the 7” was limited to cut-down edits of the tracks. This combined with record companies introduction of the ‘Cassingle’- the Walkman being as ubiquitous as the iPod is now- helped in the demise of the 7” single.
With new formats, special formats (picture discs, coloured vinyl etc.), being thrown at the consumer- who remembers ‘Pictures of You’ by The Cure? The 7” and 12”, on Black, green and purple vinyl, then the remix 12” and different live b-side 7”. and CD single, of course.
This behaviour, which allowed bands to sell many more singles, thus helping their chart status, prompted the Industry to impose a format limit, and when cd singles were the rage, the 7” initially lost out.
With Brit Pop coming during the latter half of the 90’s, the 7” was again heralded as the iconic pop format, although to a much smaller audience, the albums being more important than singles- the singles were on the album, so why duplicate?
Then came the digital revolution, single sales are massive- although mostly single tracks in mp3 format, and with Spotify, iTunes, Napster, Amazon etc. all contributing to single sales- is a singles chart really relevant anymore?
Sadly, the digital revolution may have claimed another victim. Throughout all of the above, one little island has had the 7” as it’s mainstay since the early 60’s. Jamaica, and it’s Ska, Roots Reggae, Dancehall tradition of the Soundsystem has used the format, at times, as a weapon, to beat down, not just Babylon, but rival Soundsystems. Earlier this year, I read that with the Soundsystems using more CD and digital files, some of the record makers are closing shop, and the 7” is all but dead in its original Arena.
There is a plus side to all this- 7” are still being made, there is an impressive export market for reggae 7”, bands (ones that I like anyhow) are still issuing 7” singles- so hopefully it will live on, even though it’s in a specialist niche.
But, the 7” Single as a pop format is dead and so is pop culture.
Me? I like the difficult middle brother- the 10”.