The Stereo Singles Project

By Mike Callahan, Dave Edwards, Patrice Eyries, Randy Watts and Tim Neely
Last update: June 4, 2014

The Stereo Singles Project

The Stereo Singles Project will consist of several discographies, and in the short run some will be more complete than others. The first part will cover the stereo 45s issued during the industry's first stereo single era, 1958-1961. The second part will cover stereo 33-1/3 rpm singles (one song on each side) issued during the early 1960s, as it turned out, mostly for juke boxes. The third part will address the 7-inch, 33-1/3 rpm "Little LP" or "Juke Box LP" discs. Finally, Part 4 will cover the first few years of the second stereo 45 era, starting in 1968 when the industry went to "compatible 45s" that played in stereo.

The "Speed Wars" of 1948-1950

To fully understand what happened when stereo singles were introduced in 1958, we must take a quick trip back to the late 1940s. Before 1948, the industry "standard" disc ran at 78-2/3 rpm (usually called just 78 rpm), and had done so since the 1890s, when the flat "gramophone records" replaced cylinder recordings. Early records weren't always recorded exactly at this speed, sometimes even being recorded at about 80 rpm or other speeds approximating 78. This variation is similar to more modern records being "speeded up" to make the sound more peppy or make the vocalist sound younger. "Standards" for microgroove width or volume weren't always established or followed in the early days of 45s or LPs, either, but an extensive standards discussion is a topic for another time and place.

There were a lot of folks in the industry who felt that the 78s currently being made and sold were just fine, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" or "we've always done it this way." The buying public, on the other hand, considered the 78 to be bulky to store, easily broken, and difficult to deal with in stacks. And the country was just coming out of World War II less than three years ago in 1948, with memories of a shellac shortage and union problems/record bans leaving a somewhat negative feeling about the record industry in general.

In those post-war years, the music scene was dominated by two huge industry giants, Columbia Records, and RCA-Victor. (Capitol was just getting started, and Decca was big, but not particularly innovative on the research side). These two labels were bitter rivals, and generally competed to see which could drive the market with new innovations. Both companies were working on improvements to the 78, improvements in handling and storage, improvement in freedom from the 78 surface noise, improvements in freedom from distortion, as well as improved playing times (even 12" 78s had a limit of about 6 minutes or so on each side, which was problematic for classical pieces, for example).

Billboard story, 5/29/48 Both companies were known to be working on hush-hush projects to basically replace the 78. Columbia got to the announcement stage first. In late May, 1948, Columbia announced a new type of record, one that would run at 33-1/3 rpm and be pressed on vinyl. (RCA had introduced a 33-1/3 rpm long playing disc in 1931, although this one offered several improvements.) The new disc would, unlike the 78s, use a much smaller groove (microgroove) with an ultra light tonearm and a new type of cartridge/stylus. They called the new innovation the Lp (big "L", small "p") for "long playing." The new type of record minimized surface noise, the quiet backgrounds being perfect for classical music, with longer playing times of 22 minutes or so per side for a 12" Lp. In fact, Columbia's idea at the time was to use Lp for their Mastersound records, which is where the classical and other highbrow music resided. The industry was energized by the news (see headline at right from Billboard, 5/29/48). By the next week, phonograph makers were rushing to build units that could play the new records, the first of which were due in June.

Billboard story, 6/26/48 In June, Columbia held a "technical press conference" in New York for industry folks, explaining the development process for the Lp, demonstrating the discs, and going through all the technical specifications (Billboard story, 6/26/48, at left). They talked about the availability of phonographs. They also offered their new technology to any other labels who wanted them. Labels like the brand-new Mercury Records jumped at the offer, but RCA-Victor declined.

For the rest of 1948, Columbia was busy getting a catalog of 105 new Lp records together, most on 10" but some on 12", mostly reissues of old 78 material, and everything looked bright. But there was still a nagging rumor that RCA-Victor had their own secret project that would change everything, again. The other shoe dropped in December, 1948, when a Billboard editorial (12/4/48, Page 3) revealed that RCA was working on a 45-rpm single which would be easy to carry and store. Albums would be done by booklets of 45s.

Columbia immediately countered by announcing January 8, 1949, that henceforth all their singles would be issued on both 78-rpm and on 7", 33-1/3 rpm discs. By January 15, before RCA could get any 45s on the market, Columbia was already announcing their price structure for 33-singles. In a somewhat self- congratulatory statement, Edward Wallerstein, Chairman of the Board of Columbia Records, announced, "It is the logical step in the completion of the revolutionary technique established when we introduced the microgroove system six months ago." (Billboard, 1/15/49, Page 20)

Billboard story, 1/8/49 Also on January 8, 1949, a story in Billboard (page 3) revealed details of the new RCA-Victor 45 rpm disc. Unlike the 78s of the time, or Columbia's Lp, it would have a large 1-5/8" hole in the center, and would work with a new RCA record changer with the thick spindle. The record, measuring 6-7/8 inches in diameter, would use only about an inch of the outside of the record for grooves. RCA engineers had designed it "with the express objective of achieving 100 percent undistortion, or put another way, creating a record which is completely free of surface noises or distortion of any kind." Persons at the time who heard the new disc reported that as far as they could tell, RCA engineers had accomplished their goal.

Billboard story, 4/23/49 The long Billboard story on January 8 concluded this way: "While wiseacre trade comment anent RCA's new disk has run along the general lines that the diskery would not sit still for Columbia beating them to the punch with the 33 1/3 long-playing platter, that RCA would find a way of "getting even," the facts behind the new system are these: As is the custom with all its many products, engineering research has gone on in the record division for a long time. As far back as late 1938 the RCA engineers were diddling, not with a new type record, but with a complete phonograph system, which would give completely undistorted music. The record player which will be introduced in March or April of 1949 were actually developed for all practical purposes in late 1946.... In the summer of 1948 when Columbia introduced its long playing 33 1/3 microgrooved disk and won the support of key instrument manufacturers, RCA decided the time had come to get serious about introducing their own version of a new standard. In view of the engineering research, production and other planning necessary to ready and launch such an item it seems ridiculous to believe that pique over the Columbia move dictated the RCA entry... However, there is little doubt that the introduction of the new RCA player and platter in the spring will mark the beginning of a historic disk battle between the Camden characters [RCA] and the Columbia gang from Bridgeport." Speed wars, indeed.

RCA made the first 12 45-rpm singles available the week of April 16, 1949, and announced that starting with the April 29 release, all new releases would be made on both 45-rpm and 78-rpm discs. The advertisement above left is from the April 23, 1949, issue of Billboard, and marks the first time 45-rpm singles were available. With the release of these singles, customers noticed an interesting bonus: they were all on colored vinyl, with "popular classics" (Broadway musicals and operettas) having a dark blue label and dark blue vinyl , green labels and vinyl for country, yellow vinyl with a dark blue label for childrens' records, a crimson red label and vinyl for classical music, rhythm and blues on cerise (orange) vinyl with a flat black label (often hard to read, and often these records had very low volume), and international with a shiny black label on teal vinyl. Regular pop singles were issued on black vinyl with blue labels. It was a matter of only a year or two, however, before RCA started pressing all the 45s on black vinyl.

By May, 1949, phono manufacturers were turning out machines with three speeds, 78, 45, and 33.

Well, Columbia and RCA-Victor stubbornly held onto their speeds, but it couldn't last. The marketplace had the final decision. In the January 7, 1950, issue of Billboard, [page 21], RCA came out with a new policy that henceforth, they would issue albums on 33-1/3 rpm. This was an admission that their idea of "albums" being a collection of 45s wasn't going well relative to Columbia's 10" and 12" albums. But of course in their statement, they just had to say, "To serve those music lovers who wish to play certain classical selections on long-playing records, RCA Victor will introduce on or about March 1, a new and improved, unbreakable long-playing record." [emphasis mine]. Even in defeat, a sideways dig at Columbia.

Columbia was no more gracious. In the August 12, 1950, issue of Billboard, [page 15], Columbia essentially conceded that their 33-1/3 rpm single was unpopular with buyers relative to the RCA 45, but of course had to do it by saying, "Having developed a better 45 r.p.m. record, CRI [Columbia Records, Inc.] will release two of its popular hits on 45 r.p.m. microgroove records in several test markets." [emphasis mine]. The speed wars were over.

Or were they?

The Introduction of Stereo on Vinyl

Stereophonic sound was not new in the late 1950s. People were investigating stereo as early as the 1880s, and probably long before that. Bell Laboratories in New York City gave a demonstration of stereo in 1937, and motion pictures started using some of the techniques around the same time. Walt Disney's Fantasia was partly recorded in stereophonic sound, which was restored in 1956. Movies as early as 1953 let viewers in theaters hear the films in stereo. By 1955, recorded music was being offered to the public on four-track (two-tracks each direction) reel-to-reel tape. The challenge was how to bring stereo to disc.

Various experiments along those lines for decades had been unsuccessful in developing a commercially viable way. The problem had two major facets, first to get it to work, and second to make the records mass-producible. In 1952, Emory Cook divided the two recorded tracks into two separate mono grooves, one near the edge and one near the hub, with two mono tonearms connected to separate mono sound systems. It was not practicable for commercial use, but Cook developed more than 25 stereo records with this setup.

Audio Fidelity Records was the first to solve both problems. They developed a system for stereo on vinyl records in 1957 with several prototype demonstration discs, but problems with reproduction on a mass scale left the industry skeptical. On December, 13, 1957, they stunned the industry with an actual workable, mass-produced disc that had gone through a press run of 500 copies. Unlike previous attempts by others, this disc required only a single stylus. The first stereo disc had The Dukes of Dixieland on one side and train sounds on the other (see above right).

Bel Canto Records, who had been recording in stereo for tape for some time, within days produced a stereo disc that could be used by dealers for demonstration. The Bel Canto discs were on colored vinyl (see left), and were meant to play on demonstration stereo machines lighted from under a transparent turntable so the light would shine through the colored wax.

It took most labels several months to gear up for releasing stereo albums.

During this time, the industry was wrestling with many problems, and as usual, bickering amongst themselves at the introduction of a new format. The Audio Fidelity format, which used lateral and vertical components in a groove with information on each side of a 45/45 degree groove, required a cartridge (which holds the stylus, or "needle") that could move vertically as well as horizontally. The standard mono cartridges could only move horizontally, and mechanically, when playing a stereo record, could shear off some of the tiny informational bumps in the grooves, damaging the record. For that reason, stereo records could not be played on mono players without damage, so they were "incompatible."

Let's listen in on the conversation...

March 31, 1958, Billboard, Page 2:

'Compatible' Disk Unveiled; Wide Discussion in Trade

New York - Counting up all the activity of the week among several alphabetical agencies, such as the EIA, the IRE and the RIAA, it was a busy time for the struggling upstart known as the stereo disk. Discussions on compatibility and known releases of stereo disks upcoming from a number of labels comprised the main activity.

Interest in meetings of the Electronics Industry Association, the Institute of Radio Engineers, and the Record Industry Association of America focused principally on a compatible stereo record developed and announced by Dr. Peter Goldmark of CBS Laboratories. According to Goldmark's paper, delivered to engineers attending the IRE at the Waldorf Convention, the CBS compatible disk employs a principle of "sum and difference signals" under which, in effect, the vertical signal of the dual track recording is reduced.

In this way the element of record wear, one of the inherent dangers of playing stereo records on monaural equipment, would be virtually nullified. It was claimed the record would be compatible for present day phonos and would still produce a stereo sound when played on stereo equipment.

Disk Execs Wary

According to reports eminating from the RIAA board meeting on Wednesday (26), the reaction of most diskery execs to this concept was not favorable. The consensus seemed to be that by employing this system, true stereo would be sacrificed in the interest of obtaining compatibility.

A spokesman for Westrex later said that "any system which tended to tailor down the best attributes of stereo to meet certain commercial considerations would be undesirable.

Some ideas never die, though. Interestingly, a similar "sum and difference" system was used in the 1970s for some of the quadraphonic records (SQ, QS) which "derived the back two channels." Contrast that with Elektra's discrete quad, which had four separate channels.

In a separate story on page 2, various label executives' views were given:

George Marek, RCA Victor chief, noted that Victor as well as Columbia had a so-called compatible disk, and that he took a dim view of both. He added, "We believe these disks are wrong, and will always be wrong. When you compromise, you get a disc which is not as good as the current monaural one on the market.... This is a step backwards because you are not producing a record as good as possible.... A miracle may happen at some point in the future, but now, and for the forseeable future, we feel a compromise disk is wrong for the business."

Capitol Records states that it has tested stereo records purported to be compatible, and finds that they are not up to monaural standards and also fall short on the stereo end. The firm believes that it is possible to make stereo records closely equaling the quality of stereo tapes, and to compromise quality to achieve compatibility does not seem "like good judgment."

Mercury prexy Irving B. Green stated that a compatible disk represents a compromise with quality and that the stereo fan is too discriminating to accept a compromise. "We'll put out a stereo disk at the proper time," Green said, "and when we do it will be the finest stereo disk we can make." Green said he is inclined to look at stereo as a permanently separate market from that of the standard L.P., that it will never replace it.

Leonard Schneider, executive vice-president of Decca Records, reflecting the general point of view of other spokesmen, summed it up in succinct fashion: "It is not necessary to elaborate. We simply object to it because it is not wholly stereo."

On page 9, an interesting discussion about majors vs. independents, and the first discussions about fake stereo are found:

The pattern of releases of stereo disks, as it has come to light, bears out the difference in viewpoints between major and indie labels. None of the majors so far have shown any inclination to rush out with stereo records. This is logical, say observers, in view of the tremendous monaural inventory extant in the catalog of each. On the other hand, indies, some of whom have or will issue releases soon, have nothing to lose.... Highly personalized interests of the majors might be interpreted in another way. Those who might conceivably favor the idea of a monaural disk, gimmicked in the control room to produce an impression of a stereo effect, might do so because of a shortage of catalog material actually recorded in stereo. It is known that there is considerable variation in the amount of stereo-cut material in various important catalogs. Obviously, it's pointed out, those who started recording in stereo longest ago would be most in favor of the "true stereo" concept.

Say it isn't so! Here's evidence that rechanneled or fake stereo was present at the very beginning, or even before the beginning, before almost any of the record labels put out any stereo records at all!

As far as stereo album releases in late March, 1958, there weren't many:

Along with these developments, this week has brought news of additional stereo releases. Audio Fidelity, which shipped 10,000 of the four stereo titles released in March, 10 percent of its total March output, has four more ready to go. Urania will have five releases on the market May 1, and 15 others are now in the works. Esoteric and Counterpoint have a new release and it's reported that Hallmark will soon have a low-priced stereo line. This release reportedly contains 14 titles. On the Coast, Contemporary Good Time Jazz expects to have Shelly Manne's "My Fair Lady" [recorded in stereo in 1956] out in a stereo disk version [on sister label Stereo Records] "shortly." ABC-Paramount is expected to have six stereo releases ready for market within six weeks.

It's interesting that ABC-Paramount beat the majors to the market with stereo LPs. But where were stereo singles in the discussion? They weren't. Not yet, but soon.

From Billboard, 6/16/58 June 16, 1958, Billboard, page 2

Stereo 45's to Make $1 Debut

Bel Canto, stereotape firm which recently invaded the stereodisk field, will release four stereodisks next week to retail at $1 per platter. The disks will be 45 r.p.m. stereo pressings.

The purpose of issuing the buck stereos, according to Bel Canto Prexy Ross Malloy, is to further provide mass appeal to the stereodisk concept by offering product within easy reach of any purse. The selections are 45 r.p.m. versions of material already issued in Bel Canto's initial stereo LP release, four numbers taken from the Larry Fontine Dixieland album, "Plain Vanilla," and four from Fontine's "Listen to Larry" dance music package.

Malloy said Bel Canto will await reaction to the buck stereos before crystalizing a releasing schedule of 45 r.p.m. stereodisks. In the meantime, the firm is preparing four additional stereodisk LP's for release July 20.

In retrospect, the four were slow starters, and nobody was much interested in stereo 45s. That is, until September...

September 1, 1958, Billboard, Page 3:

Stereo Jukes by Wurlitzer

NEW YORK - Wurlitzer on Thursday (28) announced a stereo juke box. The unit consists of...

The article announced that with the new stereo juke box, a package of ten stereo RCA extended play records will be included with each unit. RCA also promised 25 different stereo EP titles by the end of September.

First Wurlitzer Stereo Juke Box On page 68 of the same issue:

What About "45" Singles, EPs?

CHICAGO - With the introduction of a stereo jukebox principle by Wurlitzer, the immediate question raised by the operating trade will be, how about 45 rpm singles in stereo?...

Note that the Wurlitzer announcement was for a "principle," not an actual commercial jukebox that was ready at that time. The Wurlitzer 2300S, shown at right, was still a few months of work away.

It wouldn't be long before the idea of stereo singles heated up. In fact, by the next week...

First Bel Canto stereo 45 September 8, 1958, Billboard, Page 1:

New Stereo Juke Unit Hypes Stereo Singles Features

Victor, Indies set for plunge; other majors conservative...

Bel Canto, a west coast tape label which recently released its original tape product in the form of elaborately packaged stereo LPs, is the first known firm to release stereo singles, for the primary purpose... of giving dealers a demo tool....

A guarded announcement from RCA-Victor indicates that the company "will release stereo singles in the not too distant future." ...

MGM Records this week announced its first single - the waxing by Joni James of "There Goes My Heart" and "Funny." The stereo single will not appear commercially at first, but rather, will be shipped to jocks...for demo purposes.

MGM promo stereo 45 Billboard polled the various labels to find out what was planned. In summary, World Wide Records promised stereo singles in three weeks; Imperial planned a Francis Faye single next month; Atco was considering it; Capitol had no immediate plans; Columbia would see if demand develops; Decca and Kapp had no plans; and Dot said "we can convert."

Actually, as events unfolded, it was clear that Columbia wasn't just "waiting to see if demand developed." They were actively thinking about their failed 33-1/3 rpm single project of the "speed wars" era (which ended a mere eight years earlier), and wondering if a stereo-33 might be a better fit for a stereo single. So like RCA did when Columbia released the Lp, Columbia waited....

Executives were already targeting stereo singles for the adult markets, but...

It's also pointed out that teenagers are likely to be gradually "spoiled" to the wonders of the new medium by hearing players belonging to their parents. They will want stereo, too, it's been said, even if it's stereo rock and roll.

(A very typical statement by record executives. Remember at this point, rock and roll was still relatively new, and most were betting on it being a passing fad.)

First RCA-Victor stereo 45From Billboard, 10/6/58, Page 45 September 22, 1958, Billboard, Page 2:

Victor Stereo Singles Debut

RCA announced that its first stereo single, Perry Como's "Mandolins in the Moonlight"/"Love Makes the World Go Round," would be issued next week, for a retail price of $1.15 each plus tax.

By October 6, 1958, RCA bought a full-page ad in Billboard (page 45) that hyped the new Perry Como disc, and noted that it was available in stereo on RCA-Victor 61-7353.

RCA-Victor was relatively early into stereo singles, and was one of the last labels to abandon them in 1961. More stereo singles were issued on 45s by RCA than by any other label.

From Billboard, October 26, 1958 October 27, 1958, Billboard, page 69:

Here's Complete List of Stereo Singles and EP's Now Available

For the convenience of their juke box operator readers (the list was in the Coin Machine section), Billboard attempted to put together a complete list of stereo 45s and stereo EPs then on the market. On the list for stereo 45s were the four Bel Canto singles, the M-G-M promo single by Joni James released in September, and eight stereo 45s released by Jubilee that month. Missing were the RCA stereo singles, including the Perry Como 45 and nine others RCA announced earlier that month.

November 10, 1958, Billboard, Page 2:

RIAA Defines True Stereo Recordings

..."A true stereophonic disk record has two distinct orthogonal modulations derived from an original LIVE recording in which a minimum of two separate channels were employed."

Individual diskeries hailed the RIAA definition as likely to bring to the consumer a clearer understanding of stereo.

Actually, that was about as clear as mud, but...

First stereo juke box - Seeburg 220S November 17, 1958, Billboard:

Seeburg debuts its own model 220S stereo juke box, beating their rival Wurlitzer to market with the first stereo juke box. The same month, Wurlitzer introduced their model 2300S to distributors, with the official launch delayed until the third week in January, 1959.

Also in the same issue, Page 29:

M-G-M Adds 9 Stereo Singles

NEW YORK - M-G-M Records has released nine new stereo singles, following up its initial stereo release of Joni James' "There Goes My Heart" last month [sic].... A number of the label's current hottest singles are being released in the stereo versions.

These singles are believed to be M-G-M SK-50,100 to 50,108, along the reissue of the Joni James single, SK-50,109, making ten 45s released in all.

November 24, 1958, Billboard:

WB Enters EP Stereo Sweeps

HOLLYWOOD - Warner Bros. Records invaded the stereo EP field this week with its initial release of 18 disks. WB feels it's second only to RCA Victor in releasing stereo 45 rpm disks. Move was prompted by the juke box industry's introduction of stereo equipment. WB's two-channel EP's will list at $1.29. Material for the release was culled from the label's LP albums.

ABC-Paramount early stereo 45 December 8, 1958, Billboard:

Am-Par's Hat in Stereo Singles Ring

NEW YORK - ABC-Paramount has jumped into the single stereo records market with the release of eight stereo singles and one stereo EP. Stereo singles were released as a result of a survey ordered by ABC-Paramount head Sam Clark, and carried out by sales chief Larry Newton. Results of their survey was that stereo juke boxes are ready for regular releases of stereo singles right now. The firm is releasing stereo singles featuring Eydie Gorme, Teddy Randazzo, the DeCastro Sisters, Paul Anka, Ferrante & Teicher, and the Keymen. The stereo EP features four sides by Eydie Gorme from her best selling albums.

December 29, 1958, Billboard, Page 4:

Roulette Debs First Stereo Singles

NEW YORK - Roulette Records has entered the stereo singles market. The label's first stereo singles release spotlights ten disks [Roulette SSR-8001 to SSR-8009 and Tico 3001], all taken from current Roulette stereo LP's. The stereo singles, which retail for 98 cents, include titles by Jimmie Rodgers, Tyree Glenn, Joe Williams, Count Basie, Joe Newman, and Marco Rizo [Tico]. Basie is represented by three separate platters, while Rodgers and Glenn each have two singles in the stereo release.

January 19, 1959, Billboard, Page 3:

Mercury to Wax Stereo Singles, EP's for Growing Juke Demand

CHICAGO - Mercury Records this week goes into production on stereo singles and EP's to meet a growing demand for such product from juke box operators.... Mercury's stereo 45's will be priced at 98 cents for singles and $1.29 for EP's, identical with monaural prices, it was announced.... The initial singles release of five items, of which four are established sellers in the monaural bracket, is made up of the Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," Patti Page's "Trust In Me," the Gaylords' "Again," the Diamonds' "She Say," and Dick Contino's "Dream."

In a separate story on the same page,

Jubilee stewreo single Big Potential for Stereo Singles

NEW YORK - Stereo singles will be playing an increasing role in the record business this year. This is indicated by two facts - (1) four manufacturers are now marketing stereo phonos at the low price of $39.95, and (2) two more juke box manufacturers have now entered the stereo field.... Mercury Records' jump into the single stereo business is an indication of the attention that manufacturers are paying to this potential new market. Up until now there have been token introductions of stereo singles and EP's, with Victor the only firm among majors out with both EP and single stereo disks.

After a poll, Billboard reported that firms who have already released or who would soon release stereo singles included Mercury, MGM, RCA-Victor, Jubilee, Stere-O-Craft, Omega, Am-Par, Concert Disc, Harvest, World Wide, Savoy, and Counterpoint. Firms with stereo EPs included Decca, RCA-Victor, King, Mercury, Bethlehem, Disneyland, Omega, Concert Disc, and Stere-O-Craft.

On Page 4, another issue that would be around for decades made its debut:

Stereo Waxing in Pioneer Stage as Techniques Vary

NEW YORK - Now that stereo records are with us for real, many A&R men, on both pop and classical levels, are having second thoughts about how stereo should be recorded. Their second thoughts stem from the fact that stereo recording is such a new technique that there are few ground rules, and everyone involved in it, from the A&R man to the engineer, is really pioneering.... Currently there is controversy over whether a stereo record should have wide separation or narrow separation, with some firms favoring one, and vice versa. Does the consumer want to purchase a stereo record with a widely separated band so that he really makes use of the two speakers in his equipment? Or would he rather hear a good blend on each speaker so the recording does not sound gimmicky?

Interestingly enough, that question has never been definitively answered, but seems to depend on who is mixing the records. In 1971, for example, wide stereo was quite in vogue, but by the end of the 1970s, the mixing was done with much less separation. 1980s bands like the Cars favored wide stereo, while other punk bands of the time mixed to almost-mono. Quadraphonic sound, popular for a brief time in the mid-1970s, was either sounding like rechanneled stereo, because the back channels of QS and SQ quad were "derived" as in the discussion above, or was discrete four channels that sounded quite unnatural and almost unnerving to a listener (but interesting to record collectors who got the equivalent of a four-track master they could mix themselves).

Early Capitol stereo 45 April 13, 1959, Billboard, Page 6:

Capitol's Hat In Stereo Singles Ring

HOLLYWOOD - Capitol will invade the stereo singles field on April 27 with an initial release of six sides. Four of those sides will be simultaneous stereo and one-track singles while two will be dual-track versions of earlier monaural releases.

Four simultaneous stereo-monaural singles will feature Peggy Lee, Bobby Hammack, Ronnie & Roy and Earl Holliman. Stereo repeats of earlier monaurals will be Ray Anthony's "Walkin' To Mothers" and Johnny Otis "Castin' My Spell".

Disks will be $1.15 per single. Capitol won't stick to a regular stereo singles schedule but will issue dual-track singles when it feels market demands or the material itself particularly warrants.

Goodbye, Jimmy, Goodbye May 18, 1959, Billboard.

On this date, the Billboard Hot 100 started indicating the hit songs that were available on a stereo single. The first such list indicated that stereo singles were available from the following labels: Warner Brothers, Liberty, Chancellor, Hunt, Dolphin (Dolton, issued on Liberty), ABC-Paramount, Felsted, Crest, Capitol, RCA-Victor, Dot, Keen, Monument, M-G-M, and King.

Two of these, "Goodbye, Jimmy, Goodbye" by Kathy Linden (Felsted), and "Three Stars" by Tommy Dee (Crest), have remained elusive over the years and may have been a communication error. One possible explanation is that King Records may have reported the actual stereo single releases of Ruby Wright's versions of these two songs, and somehow in the reporter's notes, the artists got confused. In any case, research concerning the indications of stereo single availability on the Billboard Hot 100 chart have shown that information to be generally accurate, but not 100% reliable. The inaccuracies may be on either the record label's end (where they may have been planning a stereo single, but changed their minds), or an error on the magazine's staff's part. Once a song was indicated to have a stereo single, that information never changed, so if it were in error, the error was never corrected on the Hot 100 chart.

First #1 stereo single Additions for the rest of 1959 were as follows: Abner (5/25), Unart (5/25), Roulette (6/1), Dolton (on its own label) (6/1), Original Sound (6/1), Carlton (6/8), End (6/15), Mercury (6/15), 20th Fox (6/29), Laurie (6/29), Big Top (7/6), Jamie (7/20), Kapp (7/20), Hi-Fi (7/20), Madison (8/3), Top Rank (8/10), Ace (8/24), Colpix (8/24), Bethlehem (8/24), and Warwick (8/24), Columbia (9/7, on a 33), and Brunswick (9/21).

In the July 13, 1959, issue of Billboard, the first #1 song available as a stereo single appeared, "Lonely Boy" by Paul Anka.

By the July 27, 1959, issue, 12 of the top 20 songs were listed as being available on stereo single (and 21 of the top 40), indicating that the record labels were issuing stereo singles for the big hits. But July, 1959, was apparently the zenith of popularity for the stereo 45. At that point, it had been about a year that stereo 45s had been around, and record labels were assessing how well they were selling. And they weren't liking what they were seeing.

By August, the big stereo 45 boom had seemingly peaked. Fewer labels were being added, and fewer songs were available on stereo single.

Columbia, never a fan of RCA-Victor's 45, even in stereo, you'll recall had been "waiting to see if a demand developed." They waited throughout the whole stereo 45 buildup and decided they didn't want to issue any. Instead, with the stereo 45 peak just passed, they decided to take out their old 7" 33-1/3 rpm idea and see if their 33-singles would catch on as stereo singles.

By the end of the year, only 9 of the top 20 were available on stereo single, and 14 of the top 40. And since September, no new labels had released stereo singles for the first time. By the start of 1960, record labels were having second thoughts about the stereo 45. Also, for the releases of stereo 45s in 1960, far fewer copies seem to have been pressed.

Yes, it's a FAKE - where is this? In the January 16, 1960 edition of Billboard, the Hot 100 first listed the Fireballs' "Bulldog" as being available on stereo 45. This has been one of the most frustrating stereo singles for collectors to find, and the offering may have been cancelled. Released about the same time as the stereo single for "What In The World's Come Over You" by Jack Scott, it probably would also have had the red stereo single label, as show by the FAKE label illustration at right.

Three weeks later, another "phantom" stereo single was listed. In the February 1, 1960, issue of Billboard, Lloyd Price's "Lady Luck" was listed as available on stereo single. No one has seemingly found a copy of that one either, in over 50 years of looking.

By February 1, only five of the top 20 songs were available on stereo singles, and only 12 of the top 40. Changes were coming.

On February 8, 1960, probably because of pressure from Columbia, Billboard began listing stereo 45 and stereo 33 availability separately. Immediately, five Columbia stereo singles on 33-1/3 rpm appeared on the Hot 100.

Page's lone holdout In the June 6, 1960, issue of Billboard, "One of Us (Will Weep Tonight)" by Patti Page is the last new stereo single listed for some time. By August 1, 1959, there are no songs in the top 20 available on stereo single, according to Billboard, and by August 22, there are no stereo singles among the top 40. By September 5, the Hot 100 has no more stereo singles listed. The last one, "One of Us (Will Weep Tonight)", was last on the August 29 chart at #61. It looks like the stereo single experiment is over, but this was apparently just a lapse in Billboard's staff getting the information from the record labels. On September 19, 1959, 16 stereo 45s and 3 of Columbia's stereo 33s are suddenly listed.

By 1961, stereo singles dwindled down to a mere trickle, with RCA-Victor and ABC-Paramount the last holdouts. Fewer and fewer stereo 45s appeared on the Hot 100, until April 10, 1961, when there were none. The last stereo 45 to be listed was Ferrante & Teicher's "Exodus." Columbia still had their stereo-7 33s for two weeks after that, with Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry" the last listed stereo-33, which was last sighted April 17, 1961. The next week, even though "Don't Worry" was still on the charts, all indications of stereo singles were gone. For all intents and purposes, the commercial stereo single experiment was over. It had lasted just under three years.

Artist of the Week Package With the commercial failure of the stereo single in 1961, the stereo-33 was still being made for juke boxes. In fact, by this time almost all the stereo-33 singles were being packaged in groups of five and shipped to the jukebox companies as "Artist of the Week" offerings. Not surprisingly, it was the stereo juke box that started the whole stereo single thing, and those stereo juke boxes still provided an outlet for the discs after the big dreams for commercial success of the stereo single had faded away. This will be covered in Part 2.

The commercial failure of both stereo 45s and stereo 33s left the industry to tinker with other formats. In the spring of 1961, just as the stereo singles were making an exit from the charts, the idea of 33 1/3 rpm EPs was tried. The first to attempt to sell the "compact double" to record stores was (surprisingly enough) Parkway Records, who put out a Chubby Checker mono-33 EP with four songs. Capitol and RCA quickly tried their hands in it, but they all found the same thing: no sales to speak of. All abandoned the idea.

The First Little LP In October, 1961, Archie Bleyer at Cadence put out six mono discs with three songs on each side. He called them "Little LPs," and the name stuck. His first approach was to try to sell them in record stores and even grocery stores, but again, sales were dismal. He soon gave up the idea, as did Mercury, who tried Bleyer's idea with ten of their own Little LPs. Later, an exec at Mercury summed up the Little LP sales in 1961 as "Bombsville."

But Seeburg, the jukebox company, saw some real potential in these Little LP discs. They developed a new jukebox by late summer, 1962, and talked more than a dozen record labels into providing stereo Little LPs for jukebox use. By this time, everyone agreed (even Columbia) that trying to sell 7" 33 1/3 rpm records to the public wasn't working. But using Little LPs in jukeboxes to promote the sale of full LPs was a decent enough idea. And so it started. By January, 1963, Seeburg had some 233 Little LPs in their catalog, and this swelled to over a thousand by 1966. Little LPs (called "jukebox EPs" by collectors for years), had their place, and it was always the jukebox, never the commercial record store. This will be covered in Part 3.

Finally, we get back to the "compatibility" issue. Remember that in 1958, stereo records were "incompatible" with mono players because the cartridges in mono players had no vertical give, and would damage records? Starting in 1958, mono cartridges were also built with vertical flexibility, and by 1968, the record companies realized that the really old mono players with the old cartridges were almost all flushed out of the system. So, they began making singles stereo only, and dropped mono albums, too. What was this new "compatible" disc? Actually, it was the same old stereo disc that was incompatible in 1958, it was just that the mono players had changed. So when they said, "Compatible stereo, playable on most modern monaural phonographs", they weren't talking innovation, they were talking about the 1950s mono players being obsolete (although there were a few technical wrinkles that needed to be worked out). The reintroduction of stereo on singles starting in 1968 is covered in Part 4.

We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this discography. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with any of these record labels. Should you be interested in acquiring the stereo singles listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 2014 by Mike Callahan.

Thanks to Dave Dzurick, Barry Margolis, and Thomas Reed.

On to Part 1. Early Stereo 45s (1958-1961)

On to Part 2. Stereo-33 Singles (1959-1964)

On to Part 3. Compact-33 Juke Box LPs

On to Part 4. Re-introduction of Stereo on 45s (1968-1972)

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