Excuse us for typing 33 when we mean “thirty-three and one third” from here on.
When Columbia put their money on 33 1/3 rpm LPs and RCA bet on 45 rpm singles instead, Columbia put out some early 7″ 33 1/3 rpm singles in 1949, but soon succumbed to the 45 rpm standard for singles.
A number of later seven inch singles are 33s rather than 45s. RCA issued an American series of Compact 33 singles on seven inch discs. They included several Elvis singles, and the series was launched in the USA in January 1961 with twenty-five releases. With several releases, one side was mono and the other stereo – a common format later for DJ copies. They believed that it would take five years for the format to grow and eliminate 45s. The format died by September 1962.
They had Compact 33 singles at 98 cents, and Compact 33 doubles (i.e. 4 track EPs) at $1.49. The Elvis Compact 33 singles have sold at $1000 to $2000 in recent years. Such a high price denotes rarity, which means they can’t have sold that well.
They also did various artist Compact 33 discs with four artistes. The compilations were $1.29. Trouble was that in the USA 45 rpm singles cost 98 cents, and were sometimes discounted to 77 cents.
The rationale was that people wouldn’t need to change speeds after playing LPs and that both would have small hole centres, getting rid of adaptors for singles. No one seems to have thought that Britain had small holes on 45s anyway.
RCA issued them in Spain without translating COMPACT 33 SINGLE:
A radio manager wrote to Billboard:
At first we thought the compact 33 single was a good idea in as much as it would cut down on the possibility of getting a record on the wrong speed when playing mixed shows using both singles and albums. However, we have fast changed our minds. Actually we can see no advantage whatsoever in changing from the present 45s to anything! Since the compact 33 is the same diameter, it does not offer any advantage in filing. There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable improvement in fidelity. The 45 is so much easier to handle, since you can stick a finger through the holes in a whole stack of records and pick them up without dropping half of them. Both in picking out records for an air show and in using them on my record hops, I find 45’s as handy as a pocket in a shirt, while the compact 33 is a pain in the neck. One 33 in the stack fouls up the whole stack or rack of disks.
The reason there was no improvement in fidelity is that the grooves occupy little more than one third of the available disc space on the “singles” with wide run-off tracks.
While it was initially an RCA format, US Columbia, US Mercury, US Decca and US Capitol tested the water.
Columbia made a big deal out of stereo, and the first stereo jukeboxes had appeared. They used the”Stereo LP Seven” logo. The Mahalia Jackson illustrated came in a five “Stereo LP Seven” box set in 1962 … they were all Christmas related- the B-side is Silent Night. So the juke box could get a specialist Christmas selection.
There were 33 rpm juke boxes around in the USA in the 60s which took discs with small hole centres. This is bizarre as so many jukeboxes sold in the UK necessitated large hole centres. Columbia introduced its Hall of Fame series for jukeboxes with two hits paired on one 33 rpm single originally … the “Hall of Fame” concept was reintroduced later with 45s. Billboard marked discs in the Top 100 with a 33 single juke box version.
These American 33 rpm jukeboxes took 33 rpm EPs, and these were still going in 1967 for the Rolling Stones Satanic Majesty’s Request on a US London 33 rpm EP. The most sought after releases are Beatles 6-trackers, though they must come with picture sleeves as issued and with the strip inserts for juke boxes intact. With all that on board Goldmine rates the early Beatles ones (Capitol Compact 33s) at around $500 mint.
From the late 60s on there were continuous efforts to release 33 rpm singles. Capitol, issued a few in 1971. They didn’t need the extra length, but they were used for longer singles, or in the case of Steve Miller Band, to issue a 3-track single with two previous semi-hits on the B-side. Capitol had extremely prominent 33 labelling, as seen on Paranoid by Grand Funk Railroad.
In 1970, Ten Years After put out Love Like A Man on Deram. The A side has 45 rpm overstamped in black on top of the pre-printed base label 45 sign. The B-side is a longer live version of Love Like A Man and it has 33 rpm overprinted on top of the base 45 rpm sign.
Many budget EPs of cover versions ran at 33 rpm in order to squeeze six or eight tracks on to a seven inch disc, and forget quality. The more you squeeze on, the quieter the signal.
Dawn’s three track Maxi-Singles all ran at 33 rpm too. Some smaller labels produced 33 rpm EPs. Decca did some 3-track Rolling Stones maxi-singles at 33 rpm.
Bob Dylan’s Hurricane in 1975 has Hurricane Part 1 on the A side at 45 rpm (3 minutes 42 seconds) and Hurricane Full Length Version on the B side at 33 rpm (8 minutes 34 seconds). It’s odd to call it Part 1 rather than “edit” and odder still to have a speed change between sides. The 33 / 45 markers were normal size, and many listeners must have wondered if Bob had been at the nitrous oxide, when they flipped the disc.
Stiff’s third release in 1976 was All Aboard by Roogalator, at 5 minutes 45 seconds. That’s long and it was released at 33 rpm.
The Elton John Band / John Lennon live I Saw Her Standing There is a 1981 33 rpm disc (there are two tracks on the B-side) issued after Lennon’s murder.
Genesis’s 3 x 3 EP / maxi single in 1982 plays at 33 rpm. The best reason seens to be a tie in with the 3 x 3 title. Like me, Charisma dispense with writing the third, and just label it 33.
The exercise was repeated by Brian Wilson in 2004. After his Smile LP and tour, the single had Good Vibrations (studio) at 45 on the A-side, with Our Prayer / Good Vibrations (live) at 33 on the B-side.
Record Store Day 2013 saw Jethro Tull’s Living In The Past EP, on Chrysalis. It was a normal EP, but was “33 rpm” (they dropped the third). As you will notice, while 33 is on the sleeve in small print, it’s not on the centre label. As I quickly discovered when I played it at 45 rpm.