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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

45 records deliver vintage spin

By Cynthia Reugh For The Spokesman-Review

If you’re old enough to remember DJ’s Sound City, you might recall the first 45 record you purchased, those iconic yellow spindle inserts or perhaps just an obscure one-hit wonder, such as “Popcorn,” by Hot Butter or “Playground in My Mind,” by Clint Holmes.

While most music is streamed these days, playing vinyl on an old-fashioned record player affords a nostalgic listening experience which can’t be replicated on any phone or tablet.

The Recording Industry Association of America recently reported its 17th consecutive year of sales growth for vinyl. Like siblings, 33⅓ LPs and smaller 45s share many common traits, but while LPs offer listeners a relaxing, immersive musical rendezvous, the brevity of 45s commands a more hands-on, up and down approach. Now celebrating their 75th anniversary, both of these retro formats were slow to be accepted by the public.

“People wanted to keep their 78s,” said John Johnson, who hosts “Johnson’s Improbable History of Pop” Saturday evenings on Spokane Public Radio. Early on, 45s outsold LPs. “What really changed it was when Elvis started selling … I think the whole rock and roll revolution really kind of fueled the popularity of 45s,” Johnson said.

Back then, a number of Spokane-area musicians worked with Sound Recording Company, the only custom music pressing operation of its sort in this region. Those artists included Idaho banjo player Arly Nelson and country pop group the Moms and Dads.

“Three of the members were from North Central High School,” Johnson said.

Other notable Spokane area musicians who graced the label of a 45 include Dale Miller, who released two songs in conjunction with Expo ‘74, and Charlie Ryan, who along with Neil and Ron Livingston, recorded the classic 1955 tune, “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

“It was based on a race he had with a guy coming back up the old Lewiston grade on his way back to Spokane one night,” Johnson said.

The single was distributed by Souvenir Records of Coeur d’Alene. A 1972 remake of “Hot Rod Lincoln” became a smash hit for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.

Even legendary country singer Tom T. Hall connected on 45 with the Lilac City when he used the format to complain about being trapped in a local motel room with his 1973 single titled, “Spokane Motel Blues.” Also floating around the vinyl universe, are a number of Spokane-labeled 45s which were distributed as a subsidiary line of former New York-based music giant, Scepter Records. The singles include songs by Goldie and the Gingerbreads, one of the first all-female rock bands.

Top 40 radio and cultural changes fueled the sale of all records well into the 1960s, but by the end of that decade, LPs had moved to the vinyl forefront, due in part to the popularity of concept albums such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles.

“45s became more of a teenage phenomenon,” Johnson said. “You could take a chance for 89 cents with your allowance money on a 45, but an LP was a big investment,” he said.

For musicians, 45s provided a quick shot at fame.

“It exposed people to bands,” said Bob Gallagher, who owns 4000 Holes Record Store. “The 45s were kind of a cheap way to get the good song.”

And sometimes the only way. Artists who originally released songs as 45-only tracks include The Who, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. That unique draw of 45s was enhanced by the lure of a flip side bonus .

“It was really cool when you found out that the B-side of the 45 you bought isn’t on the album,” Gallagher said.

Especially when it became a big hit, like Led Zeppelin’s “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do,” which was on the backside of their 1970 “Immigrant Song” single.

Over the years, countless social messages have been delivered with 45 records, but songs don’t have to be serious to be memorable. The 1970s were riddled with novelty tunes that poked fun at pop culture, including “Disco Duck,” “King Tut,” and Dickie Goodman’s 1975 hit “Mr. Jaws,” which combined spoken words with clips from popular songs.

As music shifted to cassettes and CDs in the 1980s and 90s, some continued to find their groove with vinyl.

“The ’90s was a heyday of 45s, because we were getting all of the alternative and punk bands and they went out of their way to make 45s special,” said Gallagher, who lauded the colorful picture sleeves of that era.

He recently got in a new Pearl Jam 45 that includes exclusive material.

“It’s kind of old-school, but it’s the way that people like to buy records, because you get something extra,” said Gallagher, who offered his own brief insight into the continued appeal of 45s. “Vinyl-itis … sometimes you just really like records.”