12” singles gained popularity in the UK during the disco period in the mid-to-late 70s. This was a genre that did not adhere to the typical ‘three minute pop song’ as disco tracks often had a playing time of well over 5 minutes. The grooves on 7” discs had to be kept fairly tight to fit these on to the vinyl. The closer the grooves, the quieter the playback, and this was not the dynamic sound range that DJs were looking for at club nights. The solution was a larger disc: a 12” diameter record (the same size as an album, but 12” singles were still played at 45rpm rather than the 33⅓rpm used on long-players) allowed wider grooves which preserved the sound quality; it also enabled DJs to cue records more easily as it the track bands could be more clearly seen. In the disco era, even if the commercial single was still issued on the 7” format, promotional 12” singles were routinely made available initially for DJ use. Ultimately both formats would be issued commercially (Enough Is Enough, the 1979 disco duet between Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, had the distinction of being issued on 12” by Streisand’s label CBS and simultaneously on 7” by Summer’s label Casablanca) and in some cases, 12” only for particularly long tracks.
By the early 80s, non-disco artists were also issuing their singles on 12” alongside the regular 7” which allowed for alternate mixes of the lead track to be made available for fans. Radio stations demanded that songs were restricted to the usual three minutes or so, so as not to unduly annoy listeners who didn’t like a particular song or artist and consequently the version of the song on a 7” was often not the original but an ‘edit’, a shorter cut of a track considered too long for radio airplay. 12” singles allowed fans to hear the song in its intended duration, or perhaps a more experimental version of the track that wasn’t commercial enough for radio. The format also allowed for more content than a 7” single: they generally had two tracks (A- and B-sides) and 12” singles could have three or four or more songs without compressing the sound quality. In some cases, the ‘featured track’ (advertised A-side) would appear on both and then each format would have exclusive extra content that would require consumers to buy both to have all the material.
Accordingly rules had to be re-defined regarding which releases were eligible for inclusion in the singles chart: some 12”, 45rpm records marketed as singles or EPs had playback durations similar to those of full-length album releases, and so a maximum playing time, and maximum number of tracks, had to be specified for chart compilation purposes, amongst other refinements. One single issued on both formats that didn’t cause any such concerns for chart compilers though was George Michael’s A Different Corner. The music featured on both versions was identical and there was nothing extra to be gained by music fans from buying the more expensive 12” version. The only incentive was the superior packaging: it came in a gatefold sleeve featuring an enlarged version of the arty photograph used on the 7” sleeve.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 24
A-HA Train Of Thought (Warner Bros W8786)
George MICHAEL A Different Corner (Epic A7033)