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Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 11/08/97

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

The fall and rise of the 3" CD single

Putting me in a room with a lot of second-hand records and CDs is always bound to be dangerous, if only in a purely financial sense. However, my attending the Parramatta Record Fair yesterday didn't just result in my buying a Bros picture disc and the long-lost debut album by Geisha (although, to be fair, both of those events did take place). It also led me to a reflection on the strange history of the 3" CD single.

When I first began buying CDs seriously at the beginning of the decade, the 3" single was already on the way out in Australia. To put that into some sort of perspective: the first store where I used to regularly buy CDs had a very large rack to sell vinyl records from, a slightly larger rack to sell cassettes from, and a small selection of CDs out the back. (These days, they don't even sell many tapes, I believe.)

Anyway, amongst the dozen or so CD singles (nearly all of them imported from Germany), there were perhaps two or three 3" singles, unwanted and unloved. I happened to acquire one at the time (it was Sheena Easton's '101'), which until very recently was the only three incher I owned. (No puns please.)

Given that record companies always liked the fact that singles and albums were physically distinct on vinyl, why didn't the 3" take off? I'm no expert, but there are at least two obvious reasons. The first is that, because of the relatively small volumes and high production costs, many CD pressing plants declined to install pressing equipment for 3" discs, making it rather difficult for record companies to actually offer them to the general public.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, early CD singles set a precedent, maintained to a fair extent to this day, of including not only the A and B sides of the conventional single, but also extended versions and remixes. This made them in some respects the logical successor to the 12" rather than the 7" single, and everyone was happy enough to accept that 12" singles were the same size as albums. (Yes, I know that the improved sound quality of a 12" doesn't carry over to a 5" single, but no-one said this analogy was perfect.)

Of course, one inevitable result of this accident of history is that 3" singles have now become collector's items -- so much so, in fact, that one of the stands at the aforementioned record fair was almost entirely devoted to 3" singles. And it is this stall which I can credit with tripling the size of my 3" CD collection, with the Wham! Solid Gold EP and Kim Wilde 'Love In The Natural Way' CDs which you see pictured here. What's really surprising is that, despite the fact I haven't seen a new 3" CD in around 5 years, my PC's CD drive is still able to play them.


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