How the world’s first 45 RPM record changed music forever

On Family Fortunes, if the question cropped up to name the most famous musical figures in history, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would not be far from the top of the list. However, unlike The Beatles and their contemporaries occupying the slots surrounding the little pompadour prodigy, Mozart himself was never actually recorded. In fact, aside from a coterie of the European elite, in his short 35 years between 1756 and 1791, nobody had ever heard the man himself play. Back in those days, the class system was the defining element of music, but technology would soon change that.

The gramophone might have changed that when the first sound was captured in Paris by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. Scott’s recording of the French folk song ‘Au Clair de la Lune’ (‘By the Light of the Moon’) from April 9, 1860, might sound like an eerie mess but the groundwork was in place. Nevertheless, despite constant development thereafter, the technology still wasn’t fit for the explosion of pop culture. 

The next great leap forward for vinyl came when 45s first arrived over 70 years ago in 1949 as ‘Texarkana Baby’ by Eddy Arnold became the world’s first commercially released 45 RPM record. This single changed music forever. Kids were now able to snap up records for a handful of pocket change and could swap the newly portable rock ‘n’ roll vibes around until the disks were beaten up beyond recognition, by which time the next big single would be out anyway. 

45s ensured that music was now exchangeable on the playground and Eddy Arnold ensured that the sound of the future was rock ‘n’ roll. Less than a hundred years on from the biggest names in music remaining exclusive in grand concert halls, songs were now available for everyone. Old 78 RPMs had infused music with all sorts of eclectic influences and now, 45 RPMs were pushing it towards the youth culture reverie of rock ‘n’ roll. 

The single had actually been released on the radio a year earlier, but RCA went back into the archives to issue it as a single once the pioneering technology broke. Kids who had loved it from a year earlier snapped it up and it became a huge hit once more. The buzz of hearing it from home upped the demand for further 45 RPMs, and as a result, the demand drove down prices and ensured that the new single craze was here to stay. 

The song is a simple tale of love with saccharine lyrics and that was just fine for the youth. They were just fine dreaming of their own Texarkana Baby with “eyes that twinkle like a good old country star”. Now, things were perfectly set up for Elvis Presley’s fast rocking ways.

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