Wednesday 14 March 2007
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Why singles are top of the pops again

By Chris Hastings, Arts and Media Editor
Last Updated: 11:55pm BST 16/09/2006

The music industry is well accustomed to the most unlikely of comebacks, but not even the most far-sighted pop pundit could have predicted the return to popularity of the 7in vinyl single.

In the past five years, the number of singles sold has soared six-fold and now exceeds one million for the first time since 1998.

Person browsing vinyl section
The vinyl records department of an HMV store

The launch of compact discs and the download market had seemed to sound the death knell for the 45rpm format beloved of older generations, but dozens of leading acts, including Arctic Monkeys, Goldfrapp, Primal Scream, The Kaiser Chiefs and Keane, now insist that their material is released on vinyl — a development that has prompted some music critics to predict that it will be CDs rather than singles which bite the dust.

Most remarkably, it is teenagers who are driving the single's resurgence. According to figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the number of 7in singles sold rose from 178,831 in 2001 to 1,072,608 last year.

Gennaro Chastaldo, a spokesman for HMV, the high street music chain, said: "It says something about a band's status if they have a presence on vinyl. These days, if you release material in the form of a seven inch single, you have really made it.

"Kids think vinyl is really cool and having a vinyl release is like a badge of honour for a band."


The return of vinyl, introduced in Britain in 1949, is also influencing the make-up of the Top 40. The Denial Twist, a single by The White Stripes, recently made it into the Top 10 on the back of vinyl sales alone while Arctic Monkeys, currently one of Britain's biggest-selling acts, sell two thirds of their singles on vinyl.

Rob Campkin, the head of music at Virgin Retail, said 80 per cent of all releases now included a presence on vinyl with between 20 and 30 singles being stocked in the format by his company every week.

"Seven inch vinyl singles are coming into their own because the nature of commercial chart music is changing," he explained.

"Indie music has now become mainstream pop and it is dominated by acts who have embraced vinyl. Kids like the artwork you get with a seven inch vinyl cover. They can pin it on their wall."

Alex Needham, the deputy editor of NME, said that reports of the vinyl single's demise had been greatly exaggerated. "People have been saying vinyl has been on the way out for the last 25 years but it's still here and still in the shops.

"I think people like the physical presence of the seven inch single, the artwork you get with it and even the smell of the vinyl. You don't get these things with digital downloads or even CDs. Something like an MP3 has no tangible form.

"The CD single also seems very 1980s. I think people are aware that it is a piece of software for holding information. By contrast, the vinyl single is a design classic.

"I think it's very possible that the CD might become obsolete in an age of download music but the vinyl record will survive."

Sales of 7 in singles peaked in 1979 when 89 million were sold. This year, 58 million singles are expected to be bought, in all formats including downloads. The renewed love affair with the 7in single means that record shops are now prominently displaying the products again. HMV's store in Oxford Street has given pride of place to vinyl in its singles department.

Virgin will also provide more space to vinyl records when it opens a new 25,000sq ft Virgin megastore in Manchester's Arndale shopping centre. The store will have turntables and listening booths of the kind popular in the 1950s. The vinyl revolution has, however, caught some of the big music labels napping and it is the smaller, independent labels who have signed up bands that like to release their music on vinyl.

The surge in the popularity of vinyl has encouraged companies to bring out new ranges of turntables.

Big department stores such as John Lewis and Selfridges now stock turntables and dozens of other models are available through internet sites which specialise in electronic goods and home entertainment systems.

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