Records, Albums, 45s, LPs, Singles & Spindles

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When we hear about awards received at the Grammys, there are the categories Record Of The Year and Album Of The Year. Well, these days you might have a young person asking you what that means.

While we were growing up there was a favorite pastime for me and my sister Karen, especially around the holidays. It was playing records. When we bought or played records, that referred to the small vinyl recording disc with one song on each side (an "A" and "B" side). It had a big hole in the middle to enable the record to slide down on something called a spindle, a centering device so that the record held steady while spinning on a platter-like surface. It was these discs that the recording industry lived on initially, because many new artists had only a song or two prepared for distribution starting out. Radio also counted on these records, also called singles, because it often took only one song to propel an artist to the top of the charts and playlists. It was also easier for a radio station to organize a playlist using single songs. These singles were also called "45"s, because they would spin completely around 45 times in one minute while playing.

When we bought or played albums, that referred to the bigger round vinyl recordings. Albums contained at least 8 or more songs by an artist. In most cases 2 of those songs would be chosen to be distributed as 45s over several months to get more exposure on radio and in jukeboxes. However, in the 60s and early 70s an artist would distribute up to 4 songs as 45s over several months (usually 12 weeks per song depending on overall sales performance and popularity). Sometimes an artist would record a song ahead of an album release to create excitement and anticipation. Albums were larger discs with a smaller round hole in the middle. Albums also were made to spin at a slower speed, so that the multiple songs on it could be played in a row. Their records were often called "33"s, spinning at 33 and 1/3 revolutions per minute. They were also called LPs (long-playing records). Albums were fun to get because they contained a lot of information about the artist in the packaging, and especially in the case of rock and R&B recordings, you got posters! There was often a nice photo of an artist on the front cover. My sister and I often referred to LPs as "record-albums." 

In many cases, consumers ended up buying a song or two more than once. If they liked it they would buy the song on a single after hearing it on the radio or jukebox. If they liked the artist and song even more, they would buy their album of multiple songs which also contained the single recordings they had already bought. The popular group The Beatles sold both records and albums with great success because of the sound and song structure of their great recordings. Their persona and showmanship helped those items to sell well, too.

Today the terms record and album seem dated. We buy CDs and MP3s and upload individual songs online if desired. We no longer have to buy entire albums. Instead we can pick or buy only the songs we like from an official "album" release. Radio stations no longer solely depend on singles for organized airplay. Many stations play several songs throughout the day from new multiple-song releases. Taylor Swift's debut album release had as many as 6 songs in rotation on radio station playlists when it was new, even while only one song was selected as the single, or "focus song" during her debut album's peak popularity. 

These days record companies send radio stations the song they want to highlight for an artist, and that is still referred to as the "record"or "single"---even though the format no longer exists physically. That single would be played over a period of time to establish the song and the artist. Then a followup single would be selected to continue to popularize the album. Artists still make albums on CD, but the distribution of the individual songs has changed drastically with the advent of online music purchasing.

So the Grammy category Record Of The Year is the winning recording that had been selected to be highlighted for airplay as the "single." The Album Of The Year is the long-playing release on a CD of multiple recordings which won on the merit of the entire multiple-song project. 

But wait a minute---then what is Song Of The Year? On the surface, it is essentially the same thing as Record Of The Year. The "Song" is usually a single that was immensely popular and had strong musical integrity. A winning Song Of The Year was rarely a song that wasn't also released as a single. 


But the rock group Goo Goo Dolls helped to display the changing times of the recording industry in a big way when, in 1998, their song "Iris" spent nearly five months at the very top of radio airplay charts without having been released as a single from their millions-selling album "Dizzy Up The Girl." The song's popularity was helped by its use in the movie "City Of Angels" starring Nicolas Cage. Although not a Grammy-winner, the song won a radio industry award as Song Of The Year, based on the immense popularity of the tune overall and its airplay which lasted nearly the whole year on radio stations all over the U.S. 

Article source: Me. I've been around long enough to have bought records and tapes, play them on the radio and now playing them on a computer on 93.3 The Bus and our newest radio station, Throwback 105.3. 

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