introduction to 33 rpm singles and doubles

Es­ti­mated reading time is 10 min­utes.

THE FIRST RECORDS to reach a large au­di­ence and keep that au­di­ence for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions were 10-inch records that played at ap­prox­i­mately 78 rev­o­lu­tions per minute. The orig­inal format fea­tured only one song on one side, hence it was known as a single. The name stuck to the format when it was made into a two-sided medium with one song per side. 1

In 1948, Co­lumbia Records al­tered the home lis­tening ex­pe­ri­ence and the record in­dustry with the in­tro­duc­tion of the 12-inch, 33⅓ rpm long-playing record. And as we all love a good ab­bre­vi­a­tion, it was im­me­di­ately dubbed the LP by Co­lumbia. These records were pressed on vinyl—far more durable than the fragile shellac of the 78 records—and fea­tured ‘mi­crogrooves’ that al­lowed more music to be squeezed onto the disc. And in 1949, all records were in mono­phonic sound2


Ini­tially, the LP had no im­pact on the type of music that teenagers were calling their own: black rhythm & blues-based sounds that would be­come known as rock & roll.


The pri­mary value of the new medium was al­lowing lis­teners to hear ex­tended pieces of music with fewer in­ter­rup­tions walking back and forth from the chair to the turntable to flip the record over.

With a 78 rpm multi-record album, lis­tening to a 40-minute sym­phony could re­quire as many as fif­teen such walks. As an LP could hold up­wards of twenty min­utes per side, just one trip to the turntable was re­quired per sym­phony or quartet.

The LP was suc­cessful, al­though mostly with adult record buyers who lis­tened to clas­sical music, jazz, and the kind of (mostly white) pop music that we refer to today as ‘easy-listening.’ The long-playing album was also pop­ular with fans of both Broadway-based mu­si­cals and movie soundtracks.



Elvis’s first hit on the pop charts was Heart­break Hotel, cer­tainly, one of the least “pop” records ever to reach #1. As the little-record-with-the-big-hole, the 45 was easy to handle: grab a stack with your hand and your thumb fit right into the holes, making them easy to trans­port from home to party.

The little record with the big hole

Rather than fight Co­lumbia in its own el­e­ment, RCA Victor coun­tered with a com­pletely new cre­ation: in 1949, they in­tro­duced the 7-inch, 45 rpm single. While this format only al­lowed two-and-a-half min­utes per side, its com­pact form and af­ford­able price (one dollar versus four for an LP) made it the ideal medium for pop music.

From 1949 through the demise of vinyl in the ’80s, the two speeds were usu­ally syn­ony­mous with the two for­mats: sin­gles played at 45 and al­bums at 33⅓ rpm. But a few at­tempts were made to broaden the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the medium, es­pe­cially the single. 3



Elvis’s first long-player was RCA Victor LPM-1254, ELVIS PRESLEY, and it was al­most as big a splash as his 45s: RCA re­ported im­me­diate sales in ex­cess of 360,000 copies, making it their fastest-selling pop LP up until that time.

The little record with the little hole

What is for­gotten by all but his­to­rians and the oc­ca­sional record col­lector is that Co­lumbia also in­tro­duced 33⅓ rpm mi­crogroove sin­gles in 1949. But this par­tic­ular format wasn’t pop­ular with record buyers and the 45 quickly es­tab­lished it­self as the medium for the short mes­sage of pop music. By 1952, the 7-inch, 33 rpm single was part of recording in­dustry history.

With no com­pe­ti­tion, the little-record-with-the-big-hole re­ceived a tremen­dous boost in the mar­ket­place with the ad­vent of rock & roll in the mid-‘50s. Teenaged record buyers glommed onto this newer format, pos­sibly as a way of dif­fer­en­ti­ating them­selves from their par­ents’ music, prob­ably be­cause its dura­bility more easily with­stood the abuse re­ceived at their own hands.


Elvis RCA C33 ad

Introduction to 33⅓ rpm singles

In 1958, RCA Victor at­tempted to ex­pand their share of the pie with stereo 45s. Co­lumbia re­sponded with stereo 45 rpm EPs in ’59, fol­lowed by 33⅓ (just 33 from here on) rpm stereo sin­gles, fol­lowed by RCA’s 33 mono sin­gles. These ex­per­i­ments lasted a few years and were then qui­etly shelved, but during 1959-62, Amer­ican record buyers had an al­ter­na­tive to the 45 single and re­jected them all.

During that time, RCA Victor in­tro­duced what is prob­ably the best known of these try-outs: the Com­pact 33 Single. Col­lec­tors refer to all 33 rpm sin­gles man­u­fac­tured by all record com­pa­nies as com­pact 33 sin­gles. In No­vember of 1960, RCA Victor in­tro­duced the new format with an­nounce­ments in in­dustry trade mag­a­zines, such as Bill­board and Cash Box:

“Basic to the growth of any in­dustry is new product. RCA Victor starts 1961 with the all-important in­tro­duc­tion of the Com­pact 33 single and double.

Over a mil­lion homes will be in­tro­duced to this ex­citing new kind of record by a Spe­cial Com­pact 33 made for a pro­mo­tional tie-in with Dr. West tooth­brushes, sup­ported by a far-reaching na­tional ad­ver­tising and pro­mo­tional campaign.

This pre-selling of Com­pact 33 will open new mar­keting vistas for both Pop­ular and Clas­sical music for the en­tire industry.”

The new Com­pact 33 Single car­ried a sug­gested re­tail price of 98¢, the same as a stan­dard 45. Com­pact 33 Dou­bles with two tracks per side were priced $1.49, the same as a stan­dard 45 rpm EP. The first of these records were shipped in Jan­uary 1961.


The first Com­pact 33 Sin­gles were shipped in Jan­uary 1961 with a sug­gested re­tail price of 98¢, the same as a stan­dard 45 rpm single.


RCA Victor Vice Pres­i­dent and Gen­eral Man­ager George Marek was in­volved in the de­ci­sions re­garding this new format. For Marek, get­ting cus­tomers started on music—“any kind of music”—was al­most an ob­ses­sion. “As the cig­a­rette people be­lieve, the habit is every­thing.” 4

“All sin­gles product will be is­sued si­mul­ta­ne­ously on the Com­pact 33 and 45. The long-term out­look is the 33 rpm speed will even­tu­ally phase out the 45 rpm . . . with the Com­pact 33, a market can be cre­ated for those who like pop music but do not wish to buy or cannot af­ford a twelve-inch LP. The new record should also be ap­pealing to those who want to sample a new artist thru a single and then, if pleased, ac­quire a long playing record of that same artist.”





To pro­mote the new Com­pact 33 format, RCA Victor is­sued three var­ious artists com­pi­la­tion “dou­bles” (or EPs) in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Nestle cor­po­ra­tion. None of these is an in-demand item and can be found for a nom­inal cost. Had RCA in­cluded an Elvis track on the Head­line Hits For Teens album, it would be worth hun­dreds of dol­lars today.

Disk firms doubt retail value

Within a matter of months, it was ob­vious that the ex­per­i­ment was doomed. June Bundy of radio sta­tion WBUC in West Vir­ginia con­tributed an opinion piece to the June 19, 1961 issue of Bill­board:

“At first we thought the Com­pact 33 Single was a good idea inas­much as it would cut down on the pos­si­bility of get­ting a record on the wrong speed when playing mixed shows using both sin­gles and albums.

How­ever, we have fast changed our minds. Ac­tu­ally we can see no ad­van­tage what­so­ever in changing from the present 45 to any­thing! Since the Com­pact 33 is the same di­am­eter, it does not offer any ad­van­tage in filing. There doesn’t seem to be any no­tice­able im­prove­ment in fidelity.


“The 45 is so much easier to handle since you can stick a finger through the holes in a whole stack of records and pick them up without drop­ping half of them.”


The 45 is so much easier to handle, since you can stick a finger through the holes in a whole stack of records and pick them up without drop­ping half of them. Both in picking out records for an air show and in using them on my record hops, I find 45s handy as a pocket in a shirt, while the Com­pact 33 is a pain in the neck. One 33 in the stack fouls up the whole stack or rack of disks.”

In an ar­ticle ti­tled “Disk Firms Doubt Re­tail Value” in the Sep­tember 22, 1961 issue of Bill­board, as­so­ciate ed­itor and colum­nist Ren Gre­vatt noted:

“After con­sid­ering the con­cept as a re­tail en­tity, most diskers called last week were pes­simistic. There were rec­ol­lec­tions of var­ious ex­per­i­ments with new con­cepts in disks, such as RCA Vic­tor’s Com­pact 33 Sin­gles, Columbia’s Stereo 33, in­tro­duced some time be­fore, and others. In none of these cases, did the disks in ques­tion make a se­rious dent in the mar­keting picture.”

Decades later, Mike Callahan of the Both Sides Now web­site ob­served, “The record-buying public still dis­liked the 33s. As sin­gles, you couldn’t put your thumb through a stack of them to keep from drop­ping them, and the fi­delity wasn’t much im­prove­ment, if any, to most cus­tomers’ ears. Within a very few months, Columbia’s dream of a single-speed in­dustry (at 33-1/3, of course) failed completely.”


C33 LatestFlame BillboardAd

Elvis compact 33 singles

The five Com­pact 33 Sin­gles is­sued in 1961-62 are among the few com­mer­cially re­leased Elvis sin­gles that should be con­sid­ered rather rare records. They sell for ten to a hun­dred times as much as their 45 rpm counterparts!

Ini­tially, each Elvis record was shipped with a pic­ture sleeve that was graph­i­cally iden­tical to the stan­dard 45 rpm sleeve, ex­cept that it stated that it was a Com­pact 33 Single. These pic­ture sleeves are even rarer and more valu­able than the records.

The Elvis Records US web­site has an in­ter­esting his­tory of this format ti­tled, “The Rise And Fall Of The Com­pact 33 Record.” It is based al­most en­tirely on ads and ar­ti­cles from trade mag­a­zines of the time (1960-62). I drew some of my back­ground data from this and it is highly rec­om­mended reading for those in­ter­ested in this format.

The values that I have as­signed to the records in the chap­ters that follow are based on the re­al­i­ties of the cur­rent mar­ket­place. That is, I spent hours in­ter­preting the data re­garding the sales of these five records on eBay via Popsike.


For years I have been telling others in the col­lec­tables field that eBay is where the blind gather to lead the blind or to be led by the blind, only to fall upon deaf ears


So many Elvis web­sites seem to be heavily de­pen­dent on cer­tain price guides and their “of­fi­cial” values that they simply copy that book’s as­signed values. No orig­inal re­search ap­pears to have been done by the web­mas­ters. Hence, mul­tiple sources re­in­force the il­lu­sion that these records—notably the first three of the five—are worth con­sid­er­ably more than they ac­tu­ally sell for in to­day’s market.

I am not ar­guing for eBay as the ar­biter of values for col­lec­tables. Quite the op­po­site: my opinion re­garding their sellers is that many ap­pear ab­solutely clue­less when it comes to grading records and pic­ture sleeves. I am amazed at how many ads I have looked at where the sleeve is no­tice­ably in­fe­rior to the printed de­scrip­tion by the seller.

Nonethe­less, eBay is a force to be reck­oned with; it cannot be ig­nored by anyone at­tempting to as­sess the value of a col­lec­table. That said, please keep in mind that es­tab­lished dealers—especially Elvis dealers—will get con­sid­er­ably more than sellers on eBay for choice Elvis items in choice condition.



HEADER IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is a scene from Wild In The Country with Elvis and Tuesday Weld. This was an­other at­tempt by Presley to es­tab­lish him­self as a ‘real’ actor to be taken seriously—and yet still he had to sing some­thing, right? After all, it was Elvis! This movie was re­leased in June 1961, just when RCA Victor was trying to es­tab­lish the Com­pact 33 single was a vi­able format and an al­ter­na­tive to the 45 rpm single. Nei­ther en­deavors bore much fruit.


Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000

POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have in­cluded this sep­a­rate “33 RPM Sin­gles” cat­e­gory here on Elvis – A Touch Of Gold be­cause they are usu­ally con­sid­ered a quite dif­ferent critter than the normal 45 and are often out­side of the in­ter­ests of many Elvis col­lec­tors. Which is a shame, as they should be on every col­lec­tors’ want-list.

I will write one ar­ticle per title, meaning that this whole cat­e­gory is sched­uled to have only six parts—the sixth being de­voted to the sole Com­pact 33 Double re­leased during this time. After reading this “In­tro­duc­tion to 33 rpm Sin­gles and Dou­bles” pro­ceed to the other articles.

The ar­ti­cles below will make the most sense if read in the fol­lowing order:

1.   Elvis By Re­quest com­pact 33 double EP album

2.   Sur­render com­pact 33 single and pic­ture sleeve

3.   Sur­render com­pact 33 single in living stereo

4.   I Feel So Bad com­pact 33 single and pic­ture sleeve

5.   His Latest Flame com­pact 33 single and pic­ture sleeve

6.   Can’t Help Falling In Love com­pact 33 single and pic­ture sleeve

7.   Good Luck Charm com­pact 33 single and pic­ture sleeve

8.   Elvis com­pact 33s around the world in the sixties

For the ar­ti­cles listed above, I com­posed one basic ar­ticle and used it as a tem­plate for the others. This is be­cause as readers are steered to them for in­di­vidual reading, each ar­ticle needs to be self-contained. For those of you reading all of them, I can spare you the boredom of re­dun­dancy: read the first ar­ticle on Sur­render and then only the text in red print on the other articles.



1   I used “ap­prox­i­mately” above be­cause phono­graph records (or gramo­phone records in the UK) were often man­u­fac­tured by the same com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­tured the record players. In the spirit of com­pe­ti­tion, many com­pa­nies pressed their records to play a frac­tion faster or slower than the stated speed of 78 rpm.

They also made their ma­chines to play at the same plus or minus speed, meaning that their records sounded better on their ma­chines! The in­dustry even­tu­ally re­al­ized that this was self-defeating and stan­dard­ized 78 rpm as the speed for records and ma­chines in the 1920s. This format dom­i­nated the market into the 1950s.

2   The cor­rect ab­bre­vi­a­tion for monaural should be ‘mona,’ but that wouldn’t work for ob­vious rea­sons. In­stead, the sound was ab­bre­vi­ated as ‘mono’ from mono­phonic sound reproduction.

3   The record in­dustry has oc­ca­sion­ally at­tempted to market al­bums that play at 16⅔ rpm for pop­ular music. Nor­mally, that speed is re­served for spoken word records.

4   Marek was true to his word: He once is­sued an album called CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE CLASSICAL MUSIC! 


Leave a comment

Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments