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Seven Inches of Heaven

It starts with a ragged saxophone solo, its hook is played on woodblocks, cli-clik click click, before the clean sounding preppy American boys come in with “When (cli-click click click), when you smile, when you smile at me..”

I’m ashamed of it now of course but “When” by the Kalin Twins was my first 7-inch single and I’m stuck with the fact. I envy my sister who first fell for the Everly Brothers’  “All I Have to do Is Dream”, still worth a listen. But she had her moments of shame too, Pat Boone and, wow, Russ Conway. Sorry sis but we’ve all got our loads to bear.

But we were both delighted when the shellac single was displaced by the flimsy vinyl slice. 78s cracked, warped or melted at the slightest provocation. With the 7-inch single music really came of age. A song then, dear children, wasn’t just an electronic squirt into a plastic matchbox, it was a thing. You could give it to someone, wrapped up in pretty paper. You could possess it yourself, taking it out of its bag in front of your admiring and jealous friends. You could put it on your Christmas or birthday list. You could play it again and again and again until someone screamed at you to stop. You knew every inch of its seven, from the first exciting bite and rumble of the needle to the fade and the click of the auto-change. You couldn’t get enough of it.

To those brought up on “Henry Hall’s Guest Night” it was unthinkable that music could be so loud, so fast, played by unskilled teenage musicians, with words you couldn’t hear. You couldn’t hear the words! People said that with almost tears of incomprehension. The old men didn’t know, but the little girls understood, and us boys weren’t far behind. I still couldn’t tell you the lyrics of Eddie Cochran’s “C’Mon Everybody”, but the guitar riff is something my body will always remember.

We split into rival groups, if on parallel tracks. Beatles or Stones? Elvis or (gulp) Cliff? Yes, he was cool forty years before the Millennium Prayer made us retch, and we noted how he never made a bad b-side ( For evidence  “We Say Yeah”, “Put on Your Dancing Shoes”, “Do you Wanna Dance” and more). These things mattered.

In the 60s the world suddenly filled with ‘bands’ (not ‘groups’), who were too clever to be captured in seven inches, who demanded more space to solo and sneered at the 45 or the very idea of “Top of the Pops”. The empire struck back and Mums ‘n Dads annexed the charts with horrors like Ken Dodd and Petula Clark, culminating in the “Melody Maker’s” infamous headline “1967 – The Year of Englebert!”. Yes I remember it, and I was there.

In fact I was soon right there. In the face of the early 70s’ minging choice of Showaddywaddy and the Bee Gees at their most bat-like, I opened a record shop. I had served my apprenticeship in South London during the first reggae boom when dodgy characters would sell us sublime singles from the back of a van. The clientele in St Ives were somewhat more staid, demanding bands (brass of course) and choirs, but we kept the faith and added a Penzance shop to the empire of Chy-An-Stylus records. To counter the misery of the Osmonds and disco we ransacked the record company catalogues and installed a huge rack of 7-inch oldies which were amazingly still being pressed. Being fans ourselves we took no prisoners and kept no rubbish – every single single was a classic, and I can still hear the squeaks of casual summer visitors as they leafed through them with increasing joy.

The new age started with a frantic Sire 45 called “Blitzkreig Rock” by a band we’d never heard of called The Ramones. It could have been a one-off wonder – lots of great singles were – but soon afterwards a talented young percussionist by the name of Rat Scabies pounded an intro followed by a fuzzy riff at high speed with the simplest chords preceding a beautifully dumb set of lyrics. “New Rose” isn’t just one of my Desert Island Discs but a friend of my heart and the name of my boat. After the Damned came the deluge. Punk was pop not ‘Rawck’  and the single was its life-blood. To the horror of EMI, CBS, RCA, and other arrangements of letters, bands started pressing their own singles, grabbing a review in the NME and selling them to shops like mine, where your esteemed editor helped to feed them to the ravenous hordes. A punk band set up in our cellar. Kids started to make music not just consume it. It was an even more golden age than the 60s because anyone could play. Soon another huge rack of ‘new wave’ singles set up beside the oldies, customers danced and sang, and God was in his heaven.

And that was the peak, the start of the 45’s slow decline. Gonzo disco tunes needed more than seven inches to induce the necessary trance. 10” singles came out, then cassette singles, then CD singles, but it was never the same. Each was more bland than before. Hip-hop did away with singing, sampling did away with originality. The record business and I fell out and I walked, while the three-lettered corporations quietly took back the reins.

Pop music isn’t dead, in fact it’s hitting top form, but although you can hear it when you like, you can’t own it any more. On a top shelf at home is a line of 45s from the weird: – “We Found New Energy in Northampton” – to the mainstream: – “Dancing Queen”  – to the home-made:-  the original pressing of “Jilted John” – to the outright crazy, represented by the 1974 German Eurovision Song Contest entry “Ghengis Khan” – check it out, it’s great – adding up between them to a high water-mark in low culture, a blessing to the ears and above all a big smile on the face. .. a big smile on the face … a big smile on the face……kdunk, kdunk, kdunk, kdunk.

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