What's old, shiny and round and refuses to die?

The 45rpm single of course, says Tim Healey, a record label chief who has discovered that the 50-year-old format is still the best for new bands

They hiss and rumble and crackle with static, their grooves coiling in to tightening whorls where the sound deteriorates further. As a means of communicating sound they are obsolete. And yet old-fashioned vinyl 45s inspire a remarkable affection - and are still very much alive.

This year is their 50th anniversary. Half a century ago, in 1949, RCA Victor produced a seven-inch disc operating at 45 revolutions per minute. The original required a new form of record player, with a large centre hole 1.5 inches wide. American jukeboxes incorporated the same feature, which is why, to this day, seven-inch singles come with that push-out middle piece which troubled my adolescence. What was it there for? Did it have a name? Today I know. In the trade, it is called the optional centre.

I was born in 1949, which makes me the same age as the 45rpm single. Like the rest of my generation I grew up with those lightly aromatic black discs, paper-sleeved and labelled Pye-pink or Decca-blue. Smuggled into my teenage bedroom they unleashed the Kinks, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones whose subversive excitements all hissed and popped and went thurrock, thurrock, thurrock with the amplified mechanism of my wonky Woolworth's Dansette. The 45 brought us the music of a revolution and it is easy enough to see how it might engender affection, not just in me, but in millions more besides. Last year, with the smash hit "Brimful of Asha", Cornershop lead singer Tijinder Singh gave the world his own mighty, nostalgic tribute to that glorious plastic circle.

Vinyl singles were never very easily stored; they were the wrong size for the bookshelves. Dim memories surface of bobble-footed wire racks, and of snap-locked carrying cases made of plasticised cardboard. But if you could afford to buy a new single, you'd buy the single - not waste your pocket money on a container. My 45s always ended up sheaved in paper carriers under the bed, where they tended to spill out on to the Jackson Pollock-patterned carpet for a light scouring with dust and fluff.

The scratches! The warps! My own precautions were casual enough, but those of some of my mates were appalling. Friendships exploded on the return of this or that loaned disc which came back with mysterious new tics and hiccoughs, or conspicuous knifed scars. "Look what you have done to the Spencer Davis Group!" I ended up acting like the public libraries, demanding at the very least a stylus inspection before lending out.

Satellite television, videos, remote controls: technology has changed the landscape of leisure since the Sixties. Languishing in the bathtub- bright sound of the modern CD, I had assumed the old vinyl single to be commercially dead. That was until I formed Luscious Peach, my own small independent rock/pop label, and planned our first release. It was to be a CD single, but wise PR types immediately warned me off. Don't launch a band on CD. Believe it or not, in the indie world where credibility is everything, groups still come out first on seven-inch vinyl. It is the traditional route for making a start cheaply.

The arbiters of taste on the indie scene are a handful of broadcasters such as John Peel and Steve Lamacq, and the journos of the inky music press, NME and Melody Maker. They all hate the idea of a band having money thrown at them. The group is supposed to start up in a garage and greet the world on scratchy vinyl. It's in the rules.

Plus, there's the collectors' market. Because seven-inch singles are the traditional format for The Next Big Thing - and because they are perishable - a mint condition debut single by a later famous band is a very collectable artefact. CDs just don't have the same appeal.

Garreth Ryan at leading distributors Shellshock told me: "It's a very sensitive market. As soon as a new group starts to pick up press attention, their vinyls fly out of the indie stores - much faster than the CDs do. Hardcore teenage musos prefer that format, but it's not just the kids who are buying them. It's the collectors, who may be middle-aged Japanese businessmen." Best of all, I was told, go for coloured vinyl - a highly collectable format. EMI, Britain's leading manufacturer, today produces more seven-inchers on coloured vinyl than on black. You can choose from the full rainbow of hues; you can even have transparent vinyl with little sparkly bits in it.

It's all quite daft, actually, like manufacturing fake antique toys. And 45s give you completely unnecessary problems. For example, the loudness of the sound you get on vinyl depends on the depth of the grooves you cut. Space is limited on a seven-inch single, and a long track is liable to sound relatively quiet, putting it at a serious disadvantage when it is played alongside rivals on radio. For maximum impact you need grooves cut as deep as ploughed furrows. That means you're stuck with the classic three- to four-minute track-length which gives you no more than eight minutes in total. For the same price - or less - you can manufacture shrink- wrapped CDs offering more than an hour's worth of crystal-clear sound.

But you've got to please the indiecrats - Peel, NME and the rest - and you've got to please your distributor, because he is the guy who gets your records into the shops, and he knows his market. So a combination of nostalgia, fetishism and commercial nous have united to keep a piece of outmoded technology at the cutting edge of popular music.

Which is why, when we release our new single by the disco-punk outfit Holy Roman Empire - a love song to Benazir Bhutto - it will be as a seven- inch disc of exotic purple vinyl, or maybe see-through vinyl with little sparkly bits. Hiss and pop it will go, and (in many a teenage bedroom, no doubt) thurrock, thurrock, thurrock. But I'm learning to love the format again - and incredibly it still offers our best hopes for success in the new millennium.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions