David Fricke, in his “Fricke’s Picks” column published in Rolling Stone‘s February 22, 2007 issue, hinted at a bigger story with his assessment of a Steppenwolf B-side only track from 1971 “For Madmen Only” as being “8:46 of feedback and organ drone.” First question that immediately came to mind: Could this be the longest 45 B-side?
Released June 1971
US picture sleeve
Zero to 180 recently had an opportunity to share turntable responsibilities with Tom Avazian, who made the shrewd move at one point to pull out a 7-inch copy of Undisputed Truth‘s “Ball of Confusion” — psychedelic soul masterpiece from 1970 — an impressive feat of audio engineering when you consider this A-side runs 7:03 (almost as long as “Hey Jude”) and retains optimal fidelity from start to finish.
In an era of long-form programming, I wonder, did Steppenwold’s 8:46 B-side make that much of a splash? As it turns out, from a juke box operator’s perspective, the situation was, if not “madness,” then certainly problematic, as reported by Earl Paige in his July 24, 1971 Billboard piece – “Programmers Rip Lengthy 45s“:
CHICAGO — Jukebox programmers are increasingly dismayed over the trend to long singles, but are not in agreement over the seriousness of the problem. The flip of the latest Steppenwolf single “For Madmen Only” is labeled by one programmer as “madness.”
However, other jukebox programmers are using the Steppenwolf release without concern for its long length (8:46 minutes) because the flip “Ride With Me” is such a strong record, they said.
“Not only is the single long,” said Peoria, Ill. programmer Bill Bush at Les Montooth Phonograph Service in reference to the “For Madmen Only” side, “but the first quarter of it is dead silence. This is going to create problems on jukeboxes because people will think something is wrong with the record or jukebox.”
“I think the whole song is madness,” he said. “But the other side is a terrific record and I would have used 175 copies. Now we’re really wondering.”
A&H Entertainers programmer Wayne Hesch, Arlington Heights Ill., long embattled with the record companies over lengthy singles, is going to use the Steppenwolf record “on basically a request only basis.”
He said: “My argument is that there are only so many peak playing hours in a location. These peak hours vary from location to location. These long singles simply cut down on the number of singles people can play. It’s that simple.”
But Modern Specialty Co. programmer Pat Schwartz, Madison, Wis., disagrees. “Programmers are just cutting their own throat if they boycott super singles like this because of the one consideration of length. We’re selling service. If the location and patrons want a record, I will do anything to provide it. Besides, I don’t think there are enough long singles to worry about.”
“For Madmen Only“
Dunhill, indeed, was aware of the strong reaction to “For Madmen Only,” a tipping point of sorts for certain outspoken jukebox programmers, such as Bill Bush, who is quoted again in a separate news item further down the same page, “Dunhill Reacts to Long 45 Problem” (“Apparently, the jukebox industry just isn’t communicating with record producers,” Bush said, “we are important and have our own requirements, which are different often from radio stations.”)
Bill Bush’s letter to ABC-Dunhill is quoted in a news item “Dunhill Long Disk Jukebox Bonanza” published the following week in Billboard‘s July 31, 1971 edition:
“If the average record plays three minutes, this means that if our machines play continually they can only play twenty selections in an hour.
“If record companies continue to press numbers in excess of three minutes, it greatly affects our income. There have been numerous singles in the past in excess of six and seven minutes, but I have never heard of one being as long as ‘For Madmen Only.’
“If we were to place ‘Ride With Me‘ on our machines and a customer played both sides, we would be giving him as much ‘time’ for his quarter as we did thirty years ago. By way of economics, I’m sure you’ll agree, even ABC/Dunhill could not exist selling at the prices of thirty years ago.“
In hindsight, Steppenwolf’s B-side was perceived as a shot across the bow by jukebox operators, whose bread-and-butter concerns were proving unable to penetrate the increasingly ambitious artist bubble of the post-Sgt. Pepper era.
“Bush added that he hopes the record manufacturers and jukebox programmers can bridge a communication gap that has long been discussed in jukebox industry meetings. “It is not our wish to become involved in the pressing of records, or to interfere with you. We only want you to realize some of our problems in regard to time and quality of material.“
In that same July 31, 1971 issue of Billboard (just a couple inches away from the “Dunhill Long Disk Jukebox Bonanza” piece) is this related editorial, “Jukebox $ingles Mean $ales,” which gets right to the point:
“From time to time record manufacturers indicate they are conscious of the jukebox singles market, but of late this consciousness is growing. It is sharply focused this week by ABC/Dunhill’s reaction to jukebox programmer complaints about overly long singles — in this case one that runs 8:46 minutes.”
“Ops ‘Resigned’ to Long Single, Billboard wearily announced on the front page (below the fold) of the following week’s edition (August 7, 1971), which quotes Maurice Oseroff, owner of Pittsburgh one-stop Mobile Record Service:
“From time to time, we have had complaints. I think the general feeling among programmers is that they would rather have a long record that plays than a short record that doesn’t. We would prefer records be not too long. When they’re over 5 minutes, that’s ridiculous.“
Nat Freedland would report on the issue for Billboard‘s October 16, 1971 issue — Lengthy Flip Sides Perplex Operators — with the upshot being Steppenwolf’s willingness to resolve the issue by agreeing to re-issue “Ride With Me” with a much shorter alternate choice (“Black Pit” – 3:45) for the B-side.
And it wasn’t just hippie bands incurring the wrath of the coin operators: Hank Thompson, even came under fire for “Mark of a Heel.” Larry Baunach, sales/promotion director for Dot Records, Thompson’s label, told Billboard‘s Earl Paige, “I tried to get the producer of the Thompson record to cut it down, but it still couldn’t be less than 3:37” for Paige’s ‘Jukebox Programming’ update – “Singles Go Longer; Soul 45’s Grow Too” – published in the following week’s October 23, 1971 edition.
Indeed, 1972 would see the release of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations, a twelve-minute recording (from their album All Directions) that was trimmed to just under seven minutes for issue as a single.
Playing time highlighted in red to symbolize jukebox operators’ lost revenue
But Steppenwolf’s concession to the jukebox operators — replacing “For Madmen Only” with a three-minute track — did not stem the rising tide of discontent. Billboard‘s Earl Paige would file this report in the June 10, 1972 edition, Urge Look at Long 45s“:
CHICAGO — One of the leading critics of long singles has called for wider attention to the problem. Noting that singles are still averaging over three minutes, Wayne Hesch, Rolling Meadows, Ill. operator, said: “The jukebox manufacturers, one-stops and more operators have to look at this.
Hesch, a director of Music Operators of America (MOA), has long complained that lengthy singles consume too much prime playing time in the locations. MOA has promised to poll its members on the subject. At a recent board meeting, MOA president John Trucano said: “We are by no means resigned to long singles.”
The current top ten on the “Hot 100” averages 3:08 with Roberta Flack’s big hit the longest at 4:15. A year ago, Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” (3:42) and “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones (3:39) paced the 3:05 average of the top ten.
Five years ago, the longest record was “Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35” by Bob Dylan at 4:25. But there were three under 2 minutes holding the average to 2:42. A group of bullet singles moving into the top ten now average 3:25 paced by Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (4:35) and Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” (3:45).
By the following year, lengthy singles would be cited as the top problem by attendees at the Jukebox Programmers Conference held in Chicago, as reported by Billboard’s Anne Duston in her piece “Programmers Rip Trend to Long 45” in the March 17, 1973 issue.
Nor were we any closer to resolution three months later, as detailed in Billboard‘s June 2, 1973 report, “Programmers, Labels Argue Long Singles“:
“Conclusions, if any, include the fact that LP cut airplay on FM is the growing conduit for new acts, which in turn leads to longer singles, if indeed, any at all. While FM is becoming more Top 40ish,” said Ovation Records president Dick Schory, he added: “I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to the 2 1/2-min. single.”
Other cogent observations from this article —
- “‘Record companies do not exist for the sole purpose of aggravating the jukebox operator,’ said [Jules] Abramson [sales manager for Phonogram/Mercury], who said Phonogram is interested in the jukebox programmer. He also pointed out, for the first time in any of the long debate over lengthy singles that manufacturers are charged more for long 45s. He said any minute or fraction of a minute over 5-minutes costs the record company 25 percent more in publishing royalties.“
- “Bill Bush [moderator and program foreman of the Les Montooth Phonograph Co., Peoria, Ill], though, then explained that he had conducted an experiment with 25-cent play. The audience grew silent as Bush related how he took a top location open 22 hours a day and programmed the hottest 10 long 45’s he could find. ‘The results were 46 plays in 14 days, and that’s not making us much money.'”
- “Epic artist Bobby Vinton interjected still another puzzling point. He said he made a short record and the radio stations wouldn’t play it. ‘They said it wasn’t long enough to get into.’ Mercury artist Johnny Rodriguez said, ‘You can’t put a stopwatch on creativity.'”
Billboard‘s Earl Paige also returns to beat the drum in the following month’s edition (July 14, 1973) with his piece, “Lengthy 45’s Still Hot Controversy“:
“Other alternatives might be dual pricing, with a 25-cent per side price on lengthy records. Seeburg engineer John Chapin and other engineers at the committee meeting said dual pricing is technically possible. Bush, though, said he experimented with quarter pricing and caught flak from the location and found little play resulted.
[Stan] Gortikov [president, Recording Industries of America (RIAA)] questioned the jukebox people at length on the value of the flip side, wondering if possibly longer cuts from LP’s might be tested on boxes by being made the flip side of certain releases.“
Later that year, jukebox manufacturer, Seeburg, decided to take matters into its own hands by proposing a higher price point — a quarter per side — for lengthy singles, as reported by Earl Paige & Ingrid Hannigan in their report for Billboard‘s November 24, 1973 issue, “Jukebox Conference Idea Sparks Seeburg Quarter Play for Lengthy Singles“:
Other potential solutions? The two-part disc, as noted in Billboard‘s December 11, 1971 issue. Or, short versions of singles specifically produced for the jukebox industry, advocates Vincent DeMattia of Sagittarius Vending in Billboard‘s November 25, 1972 issue (and to which CBS readily agreed, prompted in part by Liza Minelli’s unforgivably lengthy Christmas offering, “Ring Them Bells” (5:44). Both the artists and labels should take seriously the idea of providing alternatives to lengthy singles, since jukebox operators are “the largest group buying single records today,” argues DeMattia.
Who’s the Current Record-Holder?
Longest 45 B-Side
Ken Barnes notes in his ‘On the Records’ column for the March 27, 1987 issue of R & R:
“You readers have got it together! A few weeks back, I asked if anyone could find a longer 45 than Bruce Springsteen’s new ‘Incident on 57th Street,’ which hit the 10:03 mark. Jim Dawson here at R&R found a Steppenwolf B-side that timed out at 8:46, but I thought Bruce was secure until two readers, KWAV/Monterey [Program Director] Michael Reading and WDGY/Minneapolis’s John Pratt, sent xeroxes of a Camel B-side clocking in at 10:27!“
… and the award goes to Camel‘s “Lunar Sea” (1976) — 10:27
Wait! One 45Cat contributor notes that the B-side (“Sebastian“) of “Mr. Raffles (Man It Was Mean)” by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel from 1975 edges out “Lunar Sea” by a twenty-second margin. The label of the UK release advises listeners, “Increase volume to compensate for reduced level”:
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel‘s live version of “Sebastian” (1975) — 10:49
German 45 that announces total playing time to be in excess of ten minutes
The Longest 45 A-Side?
Live version of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Incident on 57th Street” (1987) — 10:03