45-rpm singles return -- The was discs are an inexpensive alternative to compact discs
Once upon a time, when MTV was merely three letters of the alphabet, they ruled the earth — wax discs that emitted music at the scratch of a needle. Eventually, LPs were made extinct by the compact disc, yet the vinyl heartbeat has not flatlined. Indie labels (and some majors) have resuscitated vinyl singles, mostly because, like Trix, they’re for kids: They’re inexpensive to make, affordable to those on the parental dole, and, just like 45s of old, pack a concentrated dose of sonic energy. So, if you don’t yet own a turntable (or traded yours in), here are reasons to get back into the spin cycle:
Art for artwork’s sake.
The bastard child of cheeky LP cover art, the 45 sleeve embodies a world of do-it-yourself, anticorporate creativity, often spotlighting the work of underground artists. And it doesn’t stop there. Digging into a vinyl sleeve is like opening a box of sugar cereal with a toy surprise inside. You might get colored vinyl (like the amber-hued ”Realalie”/”Saxon Princess,” by the Canadian band Tinker, on Bear) a picture disc (the Useless Playboys’ garage-lounge ”Bim Bam Baby”/”Cool,” on Man’s Ruin, which is emblazoned with a ’50s pinup), or the frameworthy creations of rock-poster king Kozik, who silk-screens his twisted cartoon images onto the sleeves of 45s on his label, Man’s Ruin. On the LP of Mike Watt’s ball-hog or tugboat? (Columbia), album guest Eddie Vedder scratched a message directly onto the vinyl: ”You can’t change the strap on D. Boon’s hat,” referring to Watt’s late bandmate in ’80s punk-jazzers the Minutemen. Eddie speaks! Well, sort of.
Put your kids through college!
Thanks to limited pressings, some 45s become highly collectible: The first Nirvana single, ”Love Buzz” (Sub Pop), now fetches $500. Singles also contain muscial rarities. Foo Fighters’ ”This Is a Call” (Roswell/Capitol) includes ”Winnebago,” a thrashy outtake from their debut album. On recent 45s, R.E.M. and Hole cover ”The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the Raincoats’ ”The Void,” respectively. Pavement-ites will want ”Father to a Sister of a Thought” (Matador) for its two previously unavailable B sides. Pearl Jam manages to place something new onto each of its singles. Flip over ”Immortality” (Epic), and you’ll find a dirgelike version of ”Rearviewmirror” — but by the Frogs, the Milwaukee gay folk duo.
The singular sensation of a 45.
The surest indication that vinyl is cool again came when artists from Mariah Carey to Portishead began adding snaps, crackles, and pops onto their CDs. Maybe Mariah discovered what many have known all along: There’s nothing quite like the electric feeling of holding a tone-arm and watching a needle get into the groove. Vinyl can sound fuzzier than digital recordings, but what you gain is bass and drum sounds so punchy, you can feel them pumping into your heart.