CD Singles

CD Singles


The biggest selling single of all time in the UK, Candle In The Wind 1997  had most of its sales on CD single. It sold 5 million copies in the UK and 11 million in the USA. It’s the only ever “Diamond” disc. Worldwide sales are 33 million. It spent THREE years in the Canadian singles charts. It is probably the biggest selling single ever, but there is no accurate measure for Bing Crosby’s White Christmas so no one is sure.

The CD single was introduced in 1985, when Philips did promo singles of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, one labelled ‘Live 85’ and one labelled ‘Live 86.’ John Martyn had the distinction of first commercial British release with Angeline in February 1986, and the crucially under-rated John Martyn deserves a bit of distinction. A CD single could hold 21 minutes, later extended to 24 minutes. Some are labelled “CD EP” because they held four songs. CD singles then had a good twenty year run as a major format.

In 1988, the 3 inch CD single or Mini-CD was introduced, which required an adaptor, or at that time a CD tray with an indent to take small disc. In American where no one understood metric, a 12 cm CD was a “CD5” (0r 5 inches … actually 4.7″) and a CD single was a “CD3” (or 3 inches).

Love In An Elevator 3 copy

Love in an Elevator: Aerosmith, Geffen, 1989 3″ CD single

The CD single did well in Japan, and better in the USA than Britain. The need for either an adaptor, or a CD player with a moulded tray to take them were a major problem. Also they didn’t cost any significant difference less to manufacture, and were more prone to shoplifters. Mostly we stayed with 12 cm CDs or CD5s.

CD singles were admitted to the UK singles chart in 1987 with Whitney Houston scoring the first #1 available on CD single with I Wanna Dance With Someone (Who Really Loves Me). UK record companies liked to have 2 CD versions, a vinyl version and a cassette single available to chase that requisite chart listing.

The USA switched wholly to song charts in 1998 because they wanted to push the album rather than the cheaper CD single- as with LP, album CDs were significantly cheaper in the USA than Britain. By 1999 CD was the biggest-selling format for songs in the UK, whereas “airplay” dominated the US charts.

Wikipedia has a chart tracing the rise and fall of the CD single format.

Year Sales Percentage Other formats
1999 78 million 95%  
2004   Under 50% Download 50%
2006 (Jan-June)   19% Download 76%
7” vinyl  1,7%
12” vinyl 2.1%
2007 (Jan-June)   8.1% Download 88.9%
7” 1.5%
12” 1.2%
2007 (whole year) 8 million   Download 72.6 million
2008 4.6 million   Download 110 million
2008 1.6 milion 1.4% Download 115 million

Look at 2007 … the first half of the year was weaker for CD singles – which were boosted by Christmas sales. Downloads are a crap present.

From 2012, CD singles were confined to charity singles … sold in other outlets … and to acts doing well on X Factor. The format was near dead.

What makes CD singles interesting?

Bonus tracks, rare live recordings, outtakes, alternative versions … if you wanted to boost sales of a CD single, these were all good ploys.

Free As A Bird CD singles

The Beatles: Free As A Bird, Apple 1995
Adds three tracks salvaged from the Anthology delve into old tapes:

I Saw Her Standing There, Take 9
This Boy, Incomplete Takes 12 and 13
Christmas Time (Is Here Again) from the 1967 fan club flexi-disc

The Beatles, Real Love, Apple 1996
Adds three Anthology sessions
Baby’s In Black, live Hollywood Bowl
Yellow Submarine, a remixed version,
Here, There & Everywhere, remixed version from two takes

Rare Record Guide 2020 only lists the vinyl EP versions, but the thing about CD singles is that unlike LPs or CDs, they do not remain available, so the unreleased and bonus material should become increasingly sought after. I checked The Beatles CD singles (which admittedly sold in very high quantities in 1995-1996) and they’re listed at just 91 pence to £25.

The Beatles right from From Me To You in 1963 onwards had kept singles and albums separate. As we move into the 1970s, Paul McCartney often put non-album tracks on the B-side of vinyl singles. It meant the completist needed the singles as well as the LPs. This continues into the CD single era.

All My Trials, Young Boy CD singles

All My Trials: Paul McCartney, Parlophone 1990 + C Moon live, Strawberry Fields Forever / Help / Give Peace A Chance 1990 John Lennon Tribute
Young Boy: Paul McCartney, Parlophone 1997 + Broomstick and a 10 minute Oobu Joobu

You can why they were bought (by me) as well as the albums.

Another ploy was to release the CD single in two versions with different “B sides” or rather bonus tracks, as the CD single was generally more like an EP with three or four tracks. There was a dual purpose. The avid fan would want both versions because they had different “unreleased tracks” accompanying the single and different sleeves. Also, they’d buy two CD singles which counts as two sales of the title, aiding chart position/ chart entry.

The Healing Game CD singles

The Healing Game: Van Morrison, Exile / Polydor 1997
The left hand one has three unreleased tracks: Full Force Gale 96 / Look What The Good People Done / Celtic Spring

The right hand one has previously released tracks: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You / Whenever God Shines His Light / Gloria with John Lee Hooker.

I liked the slimline jewel cases on early CD singles, because they had legible spines when you put them on a shelf with CDs. They changed to card in many cases, usually at the behest of the artiste.

King of the Mountain CD single

King of the Mountain: Kate Bush, EMI 2005
If I Were You: k.d. lang, Warner Bros, 1995

The two above were both bought for the B-side. I bought the albums for both. King of The Mountain had a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing as track 2. If I Were You had k.d.lang’s live version of Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat … she emphasizes re “pussy” heavily.

These Van Morrison CD singles have songs you can’t get elsewhere.

Let's Talk About Us CD single

Lets Talk About Us: Van Morrison & Linda Gail Lewis, Exile 2000 + Singing The Blues, The Ballad of Jesse James (with Lonnie Donegan)
I Can’t Stop Loving You: Van Morrison & The Chieftains, Polydor 1991 + All Saints Day, Carrying A Torch

With other artistes, the space was often used for remixes.

If Six Were Nine CD single

 If 60s Were 90s: Beautiful People,  Essential / Castle 1994. Four mixes
Up With People: Lambchop. City Slang 2000. Two mixes of Up With People + Miss Prissy

TakeYour Partner 1 CD single

Take Your Partner By The Hand: Howie B featuring Robbie Robertson. Polydor 1997. CD single 1. Different mixes to CD 2

TakeYour Partner 2 CD single

Take Your Partner By The Hand: Howie B featuring Robbie Robertson. Polydor 1997. CD single 2. Different mixes to CD 1 plus elaborate inner sleeve as well

In the case of Howie B & Robbie Robertson with Take Your Partner, in my recall you could buy it as a “double CD single.” Both CDs have different mixes.

CD singles are very poor relations at Record Fairs and secondhand shops. I don’t see why.  There are bargains here. Yes, card sleeves have become tatty if they’ve been knocking around in shops, but the ones I bought are as new. CD singles will benefit when the 1990-2000 period hits middle-aged nostalgia. Currently, they’re mainly undervalued.

Believe CD singles

I Believe: Cher, WEA, 1998. Each CD has the single edit, plus two remixes. They’re different remixes on each single.

As a collectable, it is likely that when a double release occurred, you will need both CDs.


The CD versus vinyl debate has raged since 1982, In 2008, RCA came up with a hybrid / CD vinyl disc. It’s the size of a CD, and one side is a CD, and the other is vinyl. The first disc was a remix of Baby Let’s Play House by Elvis Presley.

Does it work? Like a dog walking on two legs. You don’t criticize the elegance of the bipedal perambulation, but wonder that it does it at all. The hassle is that on the vinyl side, the grooves only occupy the outer half centimetre or so.  It plays at LP speed, 33 1/3. You have to extrapolate a normal size 45 centre, or auto tone arms would go too far into the middle. As a result, lining it up is a swine.  It’s small, and you can’t really see the tiny lead in groove. It took five needle drops to line it up. It’s hard to judge because the remix is so, er, radical (awful), but the CD side has bass that fills the room and wider stereo. It is a novelty item. As well as the first, it may also be the last vinyl / CD hybrid.