With the resurgence of vinyl record sales I have recently jumped on the bandwagon and started to enjoy buying vinyl all over again. It’s mainly records from the ‘80s that I collect and I fear that, at least in part, it may be a vain attempt to rekindle my youth as the years fly by at an alarming rate!
I have written before about the joy of walking into the record shops of yesteryear on a Monday morning to pick up all the new releases that had entered the UK Top 40 that weekend. My local store had every 7” single from the Top 40 in numerical order and I would habitually sweep the shelf from 40 to 1 to fill the gaps in my collection.
To the side of the Top 40 singles was another shelf, a shelf that in my early days as a music collector I wouldn't venture anywhere near. It was a strange place, the records were all familiar but they were at the same time different, they were bigger, they cost more money... they were 12” singles!!!
The first 12” single is claimed to be ‘Straight From My Heart’ by Swamp Dogg in 1973. This was a promotional copy of the 7-inch single, intended for DJs, and the B-side was left blank.
I don't think I fully appreciated the 12” single until 1984 when I became a huge fan thanks mainly to my favourite group at the time, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and their song 'Two Tribes'. I loved the track and, of course, had already bought the 7”. However, for the first time I was drawn to the other shelf... the shelf that I had never before gone near... the 12” singles shelf. And there it was! The 12” version of my favourite track by my favourite group... I simply had to have it!
In 1984 a 7” single would usually cost £1.99 and a 12” single around £3.99... give or take a few pence! For a 13 year old getting 50p a week pocket money it was a huge investment, but I bought it and it became the first 12” single I ever purchased. However, there was to be a twist in the plot and it's one that has haunted me all of my life.
By 1984 the 12” single was at its peak and almost every artist would release their song on 7” and 12”, with fans often buying both. In the case of Frankie Goes To Hollywood they took this to the next level and released a series of 12” versions of 'Two Tribes' including 'Annihilation', 'Carnage' and 'Hibakush-ha' remixes. This was brilliant marketing by ZTT Records who, driven by the genius of Trevor Horn, exploited the popularity of the 12” single to the max. That didn't help me at the time though!
Each week that the song was at number one they would release another 12” remix and each time I would realise that I couldn't afford to buy them. Since then I have searched for all the 12” versions of 'Two Tribes' and still have a couple left to collect. I regularly cry myself to sleep each night thinking about this and will probably do so until my collection is complete!
You may remember that I formed my first mobile disco in 1985 with my mate Paul... no need to remind you of what it was called... ahem! [‘Discobusters’ for anyone who missed the article when Rich admitted to this! – Ed] Paul was a bit older than me and had a full-time job which meant he had more money and so could buy lots of records. He amassed an impressive collection of 12” singles that he kept on shelves in his bedroom and in various other storage areas around his mum’s house – including the airing cupboard! He had almost every 12” single from 1984 to 1986. It was a hugely impressive collection of which I was incredibly envious... and I bet he's got every 12” version of 'Two Tribes' too!!!
The first commercial 12” single was released in 1976 and was ‘Ten Percent’ by Double Exposure.
In 1986 I decided to go it alone and formed my own mobile disco. As I began to get more bookings, I had more money to spend on records each week. I would often buy both the 7” and 12” version of the bigger songs and my record collection quickly swelled. This introduced me to the world of remixes, which were often included on the 12” where the 7” was restricted to the regular Radio Edit. I started to look out for remixes by Shep Pettibone as he was amongst the most prolific of the decade and would always deliver a creative yet useful remix for DJs to play. His work in the ‘80s included remixing artists like Terence Trent D'Arby, Miami Sound Machine, Bros, Belinda Carlise, The Communards, Five Star and Erasure, while in the early ‘90s he continued to remix mainstream artists including Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson and Madonna.
As a full-time DJ in the late ‘80s, the 12” was an incredibly useful tool. I regularly played them from artists such as Jive Bunny and New Kids On The Block as well as pretty much anything from the Stock, Aitken & Waterman stable, especially Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Big Fun, Brother Beyond and Rick Astley. The extended version of tracks from these artists often featured additional beats and loops whilst still remaining true to the original structure of the radio edit making them a brilliant DJ tool... why play three minutes of a track when you can play six minutes and get the same reaction on the dancefloor?
I created a range of tracks for Mastermix called Extended Floorfillers that took classic mobile DJ songs and made them longer by using clever production techniques. The range took inspiration from the 12” single but remained as close to the original track as possible to allow DJs to play them as part of their sets. Many 12” singles would feature experimental production techniques which often made them unplayable for DJs but a joy to listen to in the comfort of your own home. A few examples of extended 12” versions that I played as a DJ would include 'The Only Way Is Up' by Yazz & the Plastic Population, Black Box’s 'Ride On Time', the Micheal Jackson classic 'Don't Stop Till You Get Enough' and 'Born To Be Alive' from Patrick Hernadez. Brilliant tracks made longer but remaining true to the original.
Even back in the late ‘70s, 12” singles had proved hugely popular for disco music. As well as the better dynamic range, the wider groove spacing assisted DJs in locating the approximate area of the ‘breaks’ on the disc’s surface. Artists like Donna Summer were recording disco anthems that were perfect for extending and most of her catalogue, especially the Giorgio Moroder collaborations, were pressed on both 7” and 12” formats. The iconic 'I Feel Love' is a great example of how the 12” really worked, especially for DJs. Other tracks that are worth sourcing on 12” include 'Love Train' – O'Jays, 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us' – McFadden & Whitehead, 'The Love I Lost' – Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, 'Stayin' Alive' – Bee Gees, 'Disco Inferno' – Trammps and even Leo Sayer got in on the act with a splendid 12” version of 'Thunder In My Heart'. All great tunes and all great mobile disco tracks. My personal favourite from that decade, and the version I usually play when DJing, is 'You're The First, My Last, My Everything' by Barry White that includes a brilliant spoken intro before launching into the track.
Some record companies began producing 12” singles at 33⅓ rpm, as the slower speed enhances the bass on the record. However, 45 rpm gives better treble response and was used on many 12” singles, especially in the UK.
Throughout the ‘80s the 12” was king, with many including excellent intro and outro beats or middle breakdowns to allow you to create live mixes as part of your DJ sets. If you want to kill 13 minutes during your set I can highly recommend the 12” version of ‘Rapper's Delight’ by Sugarhill Gang! Increasingly in the 1980s, many pop and even rock artists released 12” singles that included longer, extended, or remixed versions of the actual track being promoted by the single. The perfect 12” featured the extended version on side one and the original 7” and b-side on side two... perhaps even adding a bonus track or the instrumental to complete the package.
A few personal DJ favourites of the ‘80s include 'The Crown' (12”) – Gary Byrd, 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ (Hot Remix) – Eurythmics and 'Red Red Wine' (12”) – UB40 that features vocalist Astro delivering a perfect lesson in 'toasting'. From 1986 the dance scene became huge and buying the 12” version of songs became a standard practise as part of my DJ career. 'Love Can't Turn Around' – Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, 'Theme From S'Express' – S'Express and 'Beat Dis' – Bomb The Bass were added to my collection.
The ‘80s also produced some amazing soul/disco tunes that were enhanced by a 12” mix. Examples include 'Somebody Else's Guy' – Jocelyn Brown, 'I Found Lovin' – The Fatback Band, 'Automatic' – The Pointer Sisters and 'Teardrops' – Womack & Womack which, in 1988, became a must-play track at all my gigs and still gets an occasional airing to this day. A brilliant track made so much better by the 12” mix.
New Order’s Blue Monday, released in 1983, became the biggest-selling 12” single ever.
By the end of the 1980s the musical landscape was changing with the emergence of the Indie scene and the ever-growing popularity of dance music. The 12” continued throughout the early part of the ‘90s but for me the creativity was beginning to make way for more functional remixes, which was great for DJs if not for a music collector. It was as if the 12” single had come full circle, from the extended versions of tracks in the ‘70s, to the uniquely creative versions of the ‘80s before returning to the standard extended mixes as we arrived in the ‘90s. A combination of my own personal tastes coupled with a change in direction for my DJ career meant that I was consuming music in a different way which probably accounts for my apparent dislike of the format in the ‘90s. However, I still enjoyed the extended version and continued to collect and play them throughout the decade until I temporarily hung up my headphones in 1999.
Some of the 12” remixes I would play in the ‘90s included 'Two Can Play That Game' (K-Klass Mix) – Bobby Brown, 'Insomnia' (The Monster Mix) – Faithless, 'Groove Is In The Heart' (12”) – Deee-Lite and 'Finally' (12”) – Ce Ce Peniston. All great mobile DJ tracks and always sounding so much better on the 12” format.
I think it's fair to say that as well as the change in music styles it was technology that was to be the final nail in the coffin for the good old 12” as vinyl made way for CD. The CD single would still include an extended mix, often several versions to choose from, but by the latter part of the decade the traditional 12” had become a thing of the past. Technology also moved on and as we entered the digital age the 12” was nothing more than a distant memory gathering dust in the attic of many DJs who collected them back in the day.
That’s why it seems strange that, after 35 years, I have started buying all those 12” singles again! I can't help it, it's become an addiction. I fell in love with them in the ‘80s and once again the love has been rekindled. The joy of selecting a record from my collection, placing it on the deck and listening to that wonderful sound as the needle first drops down is truly special. Then once the track kicks in I am immediately taken back in time, usually to when things were simpler and easier to understand. I'm also reminded, usually by my wife, that I am spending more money on records now than I did as a full-time professional DJ!
There are so many other tracks I could have mentioned and, as with all my articles, this allows you the chance to offer your own suggestions. In fact, I'm sure many of you reading this are already collating your own mental lists of 12” remixes to add to mine. Mastermix has many of the tracks mentioned in this article, and 100s more, as part of the excellent Classic Cuts range.
12” records were, and still are, a thing of beauty and I for one am quite happy to keep their legacy alive. They cost more, they took up more space and they often included versions that were totally useless to play as a DJ but equally they had a magical quality about them that continues to make this ageing DJ very happy. And let's be honest... we can all do with a little extra length can't we?
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 88, Pages 32 - 36.