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RCA introduced the EP album during the “battle of the speeds”

RCA’S FIRST “EP” WASN’T WHAT YOU THINK! Three years be­fore they signed Elvis Presley, RCA Victor in­tro­duced record-buyers to the 45 rpm, extended-play EP record. This new format was an ex­ten­sion of their 45 rpm single that had been launched in 1949. That format had been de­vised to sally forth into the mar­ket­place and do battle with Columbia’s 33rpm long-playing LP album.

In 1952, RCA was trying to whittle away at Columbia’s growing album sales so they in­tro­duced the “ex­tended play 45” record. This new format had finer grooves than their 45 rpm sin­gles that al­lowed up to eight min­utes of playing time per side. Each EP record was housed in a card­board jacket sim­ilar to an LP.

RCA hoped this more af­ford­able mini-LP would draw cus­tomers away from Columbia’s more ex­pen­sive LP. The so-called “Battle of the Speeds” lasted only a few years and ended up a draw as both the LP and the 45 be­came the in­dustry norms. 1

 

The Battle of the Speeds be­tween Columbia’s 33rpm LP and RCA Vic­tor’s 45 rpm single ended a draw as both for­mats be­came in­dustry norms.

 

Below you will find nine­teen pages of ad­ver­tising that RCA Victor ran in the Oc­tober 25, 1952, issue of Bill­board. Each page was a full-page in that over-sized mag­a­zine, making it an im­pres­sive and ex­pen­sive ad cam­paign. I am posting these pages as they help to settle three ques­tions about the format:

1.  When did RCA Victor in­tro­duce the 45 rpm, extended-play record?

2.  What did RCA Victor sug­gest as a re­tail price for this new format?

3.  What did RCA Victor call this new format?

 

Elvis EPA 747 light 600

On March 23, 1956, RCA Victor re­leased three Elvis Presley al­bums si­mul­ta­ne­ously: one LP and two EPs. All three were ti­tled “Elvis Presley” and bore the same cover art and shared from the same pool of record­ings. The single-record EPA-747 quickly sold 400,000 copies, giving the format its first real best-seller. 2

Extended-play economy packages

Aside from those three ques­tions, I as­sem­bled this post to show readers how charming and ef­fec­tive ad­ver­tising can be using simple, cartoon-like line-drawings! Here are the an­swers to the three ques­tions:

1.  RCA Victor in­tro­duced the 45 rpm, extended-play record in 1952, not quite three years after the 45 rpm single.

2.  RCA Vic­tor’s ini­tial EPs from ear­lier in the year had car­ried a sug­gested re­tail price of $1.49 for single-record pop ti­tles but that price was low­ered to $1.40 with this Oc­tober ad cam­paign.

3.  RCA Victor re­ferred to this format as an “ex­tended play 45” and a “45 rpm single-record album.” In later ads, they re­ferred to it as an “economy package.”

By the time Presley signed with Victor, the price of EPs had come down to $1.29! This was in­deed an economy package as pur­chasing four sides on two sin­gles would have cost al­most two dol­lars! The price for EPs re­mained at $1.29 until the format was fi­nally dis­con­tinued by RCA in 1969.

 

Elvis 1956 Record EPB 1254 cover front pink light 575 1

EPB-1254 was the only two-record Elvis EP album that RCA Victor re­leased to the gen­eral re­tail mar­ket­place. It sold a re­spectable 150,000 copies, which may be the most ever by a two-record EP in the US. Later in 1956, they did a second two-record EP along with a three-record EP (SPD-22 and SPD-23, re­spec­tively), al­though they were used as bonuses with the pur­chase of an RCAV­ic­trola record-player. 2

Evolution and expansion

The RCA Victor ad cam­paign began on page 27 of Bill­board and was ti­tled “Evo­lu­tion And Ex­pan­sion – A Re­view of the RCA Victor Fall/Winter 1952 pro­gram.” Three more pages of ar­ti­cles follow that ad­dressed the record com­pany and its product, many of them were about the new EP format. The ar­ti­cles end on page 52 with a cat­alog of EPs that pro­vided “Music to Play on Christmas Day.” 

On the re­pro­duc­tions of the pages below, I in­cluded the orig­inal Bill­board page number below each image. The im­ages are small but if you click on them, they ex­pand to 600 x 800 pixels. Even then, the text in the ads may not be read­able. Should you want to read the teeny weeny print, click HERE.

 

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BeatriceKay RCA EPB 3000 a 600

In early 1952, RCA Victor is­sued both one-record and two-record EP al­bums as part of their in­au­gural re­leases. The artist that RCA Victor chose for the first two-record EP was Beat­rice Kay (EPB-3000), a pop singer who is all but for­gotten today. But Kay’s ca­reer began in 1913 when she was 6 years old and lasted until 1974. Along with being a recording artist, she also starred in vaude­ville, radio, movies, and tele­vi­sion.

Decline and deletion

The extended-play album never re­ally caught on in a big way in the US. The only EPs have passed the mil­lion mark in sales and been cer­ti­fied as million-sellers by the RIAA were both by Elvis:

•  Elvis – Volume 1  (EPA-992, 1956)
•  Jail­house Rock (EPA-4114, 1957) 3

The Bea­tles self-titled album on Vee-Jay (VJEP-1-903) prob­ably sold a mil­lion in 1964 but was never cer­ti­fied by the RIAA and the req­ui­site doc­u­men­ta­tion for that cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is long gone. 4

Fi­nally, in his book Vinyl: A His­tory of the Ana­logue Record, Richard Os­borne summed up the life and times of the EP al­bums with three sen­tences on page 106:

“Its main ad­van­tages were soon per­ceived to be the for­mat’s lower price than the LP as well as its ability to house the best songs from an LP, or, al­ter­na­tively, four pre­vious hit sin­gles. Pop­u­lated with pre­vi­ously re­leased ma­te­rial, the EP found it hard to pro­duce an in­di­vidual iden­tity and sales never matched those of the cheaper two-track, seven-inch single. More­over, the EP failed to match the sin­gle’s public per­for­mance ability due to the fact that its nar­rower grooves ren­dered it a qui­eter format.”

The Battle of the Speeds in the early 1950s be­tween Columbia’s 33⅓ rpm LP and RCA Vic­tor’s 45 rpm records ended up a draw as both for­mats be­came in­dustry norms. Click To Tweet

RCA EP ads Billboard header 700

FEATURED IMAGE: The drawing at the top of this page is by an un­cred­ited artist, pos­sibly a member of RCA’s art or pro­mo­tional de­part­ment. Art such as this was stan­dard fare for ad­ver­tising and gen­eral il­lus­tra­tions in mag­a­zines of all stripes back in the ’50s. This figure was cropped from page 31 of the RCA Victor ad cam­paign. I dark­ened the image a few de­grees so that it con­trasts with the white back­ground of the page.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The EP format quickly adopted two-tracks-per-side as the norm for pop music, meaning most EPs had about five min­utes per side.

2   The Bea­tles 1967 Mag­ical Mys­tery Tour was a two-record EP that easily passed the mil­lion mark in global sales. Un­for­tu­nately, as the EP format was con­sid­ered dead in the US, it was not is­sued here. RCA Victor is­sued a second Elvis two-record EP along with a three-record EP (SPD-22 and SPD-23, re­spec­tively), al­though these were in­tended as give­aways with the pur­chase of an RCA Vic­trola record-player.

3   Aside from those two, four­teen other Elvis EPs have been cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for Gold or Plat­inum Record Awards.

4   At the height of Beat­le­mania, Capitol re­leased two at­trac­tive Bea­tles EPs with the al­most iden­tical ti­tles of Four By The Bea­tles and 4-By The Bea­tles. De­spite every­thing else with their names on it selling mil­lions of copies at that time, these two records tanked.

 

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David Gibbs

As 12-year-old, I thought I had struck gold when I came across a second-hand copy of the Kid Galahad EP for 2 shillings (10 pence today). SIX songs. I could not be­lieve it. I sub­se­quently pur­chased all of the EPs still avail­able and later found some deleted ones in var­ious places. I had to order the last one, Easy Come Easy Go, in 1967 and to this day I think I was the only one in Leeds that bought it. Of course, RCA in this in­stance gave me the miserly 4-track ver­sion. I love the little bug­gers.

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