The wonderful story of “45 rpm” from 1949 to the present day

The latter, which rotates at about 78 revolutions per minute and is about 30 cm in size, went through major technical changes in the first half of the 20th century, from the mechanical gramophone to the jukebox, which was broadcast thanks to electronic amplification.

The famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso with the “Victrola” phonograph in 1913.

Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Thus, in 1948, “33 laps” appeared. This microgroove allows you to increase the duration of the disc without increasing the disc format. Here is the “small” new one, 33 1/3 rpm instead of 78 rpm (per minute) and five grooves per millimeter: this new disc contained a whole symphony. Added to this is the replacement of wax or rubber with vinyl resin, a durable and almost unbreakable material that has everything to apply itself…

“45 rpm” attack

Description of 45 rpm records.

Description of 45 rpm records.

Archives of the Southwest

But this is without counting the competition! RCA Records, another American record company that was also very important at the time, launched the vinyl record format in 1949: “45 rpm”. The latter is determined to revive the market for jukeboxes available in bars, restaurants and concert halls in the United States. With its unique size of 17.5 centimeters in diameter, “45 rpm” quickly seduces young people.

This media is ideal for streaming just one song per side. Thanks to him, we discover “loneliness”. Easily portable, less sudden, will accompany the development of popular music: rock and roll, pop, pop, …

For example, Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” sold 3 million copies in 1955.

“45 rpm” crosses the Atlantic and becomes a huge springboard for all the artists of the popular song in France from the 1950s, and this is almost forty years. Edith Piaf, Georges Brassens, Johnny Hallyday, Claude François or even recently Vanessa Paradis will go through the “45 rounds” to release their music.

This everyday object reached its apotheosis in the 1970s: in 1974, 200 million copies were sold…

May 3, 1993: End of production

After 33 laps in 1991, production of the 45 laps was decided to end on May 3, 1993. The advent of new listening formats such as the audio cassette (invented by Philips in 1963) or the CD (Compact Disc, launched in the early 1980s) will slowly dethrone it.

In 1992, 75 million CDs were sold against 5 million 45 rpm. You won’t find vinyl on supermarket shelves anymore…

For the expert interviewed in the 20 hour newspaper of Antenne 2 (France 2) of June 21, 1991:

Spectators […] can make their own “45rpm”… and it’s just a matter of buying a cassette and recording a title they like at home. This is the phenomenon of private copying, as a third of listening hours are currently recorded by people at home.

The return of vinyl

That is, “45 rpm” and vinyl records in general did not say the last word. Along with collectors and enthusiasts who have never left this format, many music lovers return to this medium. The sonic nostalgia created by grooves or formats for certain discs according to the year of manufacture and almost collector’s pockets revived the real craze for “black cake” from the early 2000s.

A 33 rpm vinyl record on a turntable.

A 33 rpm vinyl record on a turntable.


Many of the labels that produced the artists also returned to releasing vinyl records for the release of new titles. Artists themselves benefit from this trend, such as Daft Punk, White Stripes or Pharrell Williams.

In 2021, according to figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), vinyl records accounted for 23% of all albums sold in 2021.

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