EP … Extended Play. EPs are 7″ discs, usually with four tracks playing at 45 rpm. “Budget” EPs were often six tracks, and so played at 45 rpm OR 33 rpm.
RCA introduced the 45 rpm EP format in 1951, typically with two songs on each side. At that time its length was half a ten inch LP, or a third of a twelve inch LP. This meant that a 10″ album (known as an “MP” by some labels) could be versioned ion two EPs, a 12″ LP on three EPs.
When the 45 rpm format was designed, the maximum side length was five minutes, with under four being more desirable. The impetus to produce EPs was fuelled by jazz and classical music and the aim was seven to eight minutes running time. RCA engineers changed the angle of the record groove from 90° to 70°, and the slanting grooves allowed more 1 mm grooves to be squeezed onto a side. The highs and lows in the music had to be flattened somewhat, so that tracks on an EP had less volume, and less brightness than tracks on a 45 rpm single, or an LP at thirty three and a third rpm. It was felt that the difference would not be noticed on portable equipment … hang on, haven’t we heard this about MP3s in recent years?
So EPs are a (slightly) degraded format.
In the mid-50s, ‘singles’ or ’45s’ were briefly known as standard records as opposed to EPs, extended play.
In America the Pacific Jazz label marketed EPs as Little LPs and in the UK the Top Rank label marketed them as King-Size 45s.
Liberty’s Pacific Jazz label in the USA found a cheap solution for EPs, which they called “Little LPs” .
They used a plain white card sleeve with the square image glued onto the front, as in the Gerald Wilson Orchestra EP. As it was extracted from an LP, maybe sales were expected to be low. The back has nothing on it. Just plain card. It also ran at 33 rpm, and in spite of saving on sleeve printing., they added six “stamps” and jukebox title strips.
In the UK, the collectability of EPs is high. That’s mainly down to the sleeves … UK singles generally had stock company sleeves and EPs were desirable because of the pictures … and still are. In the USA, EPs fell much more quickly to the advance of the 12″ LP format. It’s a matter of price.
Money, money, money …
In the UK …
I kept a list of purchases in a book with price paid. Singles were 6s 7 1/2d in 1962 (33p), then went down to 6s 3d (31p) in early 1963 before stabilising at 6s 8d for several years 33.3p, or conveniently, three for £1. I’m taking 1963, the year of The Beatles, as the benchmark.
EPs varied slightly (all these variations are probably due to purchase tax), so 12s (60p), then 12s 8d (63p), then 11s 5d (57.5p). So mainly twice the price of a single … you got no discount for purchasing four tracks on one disc rather than on two disks.
I paid 32s or £1.12s.0d for Please Please Me on LP, so £1.60. The price of LPs was the same in 1967.
A mid-price LP on Pye’s Golden Guinea label, or Decca’s Ace of Clubs label was 21 shillings … a guinea. ( £1.05 ). That had been the price of a 10″ LP five years earlier.
So a British adult manual worker earned £12 a week in 1963, i.e. 7s an hour … an hour’s work to buy a single, two hours to buy an EP, four and a half hours to buy an LP.
As a youth, working selling ice cream, I earned £2.15s a week or 1s 4 1/2p an hour (just under 7p), so it took me four and a half hours to buy a single, just over a day’s work to buy an EP.
In the USA
An LP cost $3.99 (mono) or $4.99 (stereo) though the USA didn’t have Retail Price Maintenance (unlike the UK … which meant UK stores could not discount) and it was common to find LPs at $2.98 mono.
The average US wage in 1963 was $4400 a year, or $84 a week, or $2.15 an hour. Therefore an LP for an adult on average earnings cost less than two hours work.
The conclusion is that LPs cost more than twice as much in the UK as in the USA. If our American buyer was getting the discount price an LP was 90 minutes work. Our adult British worker had to work that much time to buy an EP.
It’s fair to say that for most Americans, an LP cost what an EP did to the British. No wonder EPs were so important in Britain up to at least the start of 1966.
French EPs are especially sought after for the picture sleeves, invariably different to UK releases. Also, the EP was even more popular in France and the common way of bundling two British or two American singles (plus B–sides) for sale.
The 12″ EP?
Record Store Day 2021 brought an oddity. Jokerman / I and I by Bob Dylan, reggae and dub remixes. It’s labelled as an “EP” but is 12″ not 7″. Then instead of using the 12″ format for extra fidelity, it plays at 33 1/3 (though it is 12 minutes a side, so close to LP length).
SECTIONS UNDER EPs (bold = now available)
Early EPs and sleeve designs
EPs and genres … kids, comedy, sound effects, spoken voice, education, holidays, stereo
EPs … The charts and Cliff Richard & The Shadows
Musicals on EP
Pop and Rock EPs