Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I am captivated by early stereo singles ('50s and early '60s). However, little history or background on this topic exists. Therefore, I am hoping you can answer a couple questions.

Was there one particular label that pioneered stereo singles, or did several act on it at once?

Exactly when did the first ones come out?
—Kirk Benefield, York, Pa.

DEAR KIRK: Sounds like a brief stereo singles revolution recap is in order.

Though the industry made and experimented with stereo recordings for several years earlier, not until 1957 did they become commercially available. For much of that first year, stereo could only be found on LPs.

In the fall of '58, RCA Victor issued the first batch of stereo singles. A somewhat appropriate circumstance since they are the label that, nine years earlier, issued the first 45 rpm singles. Right away, MGM came along with their first batch of stereo 45s..

As with the simultaneous introduction in 1949 of 45 rpm singles and a phonograph to played them, the first stereo singles came out at the same time as stereo juke boxes.

Since stereo phonographs in homes were nearly nonexistent in the late '50s, and with stereo records being thoroughly incompatible with monaural players, the juke box operators represented nearly the entire market for stereo singles.

Lack of players notwithstanding, and encouraged by glowing reviews for the hot new stereophonic medium, the industry zoomed recklessly ahead.

Between 1958 and '60, all of the majors (RCA, Columbia, Decca, Mercury, MGM, United Artists, Warner Bros., etc.) and dozens of the independents manufactured stereo singles. Still, with very few of singles buyers owning suitable players, the stereo singles sales line corkscrewed downward and off the chart. The difference between singles buyers (a market made up primarily of teenagers) and album buyers (adults wanting LPs who didn't mind paying the extra dollar for stereo) proved to be extreme.

As stereo LP sales increased dramatically from 1960 to 1962, stereo singles — and even mono Compact 33 Singles — fared so poorly that the entire industry raised the white flag.

By the end of 1961, about as much in unanimity as when they jumped on the bandwagon three years earlier, the industry ceased regular production of stereo singles.

In the late '60s, about the same time as the labels abandoned monaural albums, mono singles also became an exception rather than the rule. Stereo singles returned, this time to stay.

Websters can dig much deeper into stereo vinyl and CD collectibles by visiting Both Sides Now, a recommended site.

DEAR JERRY: I am seeking some information about "Alley Cat."

Who made it first? What year? Was it originally from a movie?
—Jane Kuhn, Calvert City, Ky.

DEAR JANE: This infectious piano instrumental first came out in Denmark, by Bent Fabric (nee: Bent Fabricius-Bjerre).

"Alley Cat" became a worldwide smash, and a Top 10 U.S. hit in the summer of '62.

Though it may have been used in films since, "Alley Cat" was not originally made for a movie or show.

There is one nice thing about instrumentals made in non-English speaking countries. Unlike vocals, they require no re-recordings to be made for release in the states, Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere.

DEAR JERRY: I have a few records I would like appraised; too few to buy a huge price guide, yet too many to expect you to cover in your column. Don't suggest going to any shops because there are none in this area. Any suggestions?
—Melanie Liston, Thawville, Illinois

DEAR MELANIE: Below (at page bottom) is a quick link to our online appraisal service: Once there, everything is clearly explained.

We also offer a great site for those wishing to buy or sell collectibles (also below).

IZ ZAT SO? Disregarding values boosted by picture sleeves, the most valuable stereo single record from the late '50s and early '60s is the Compact 33 Stereo Single of "Surrender" backed with "Lonely Man," by Elvis Presley. This 1961 issue can now bring upwards of $1,500.

What's it Worth? Get fast appraisals by e-mail!

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