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The Rise And Fall Of The Little LP

December 31, 2022

Article printed in Record Collector magazine for January 2023

The Stones did it, the Beatles did it, the Yardbirds did it, The Kinks did it. The Small Faces did it beautifully, but only in France. What they did was release EPs – Extended Play 7” vinyl, the size of a single but typically with four tracks which played at 45 rpm. Many EPs had tracks unavailable elsewhere as well as very cool picture sleeves and are now highly sought after – check out current prices for Five Yardbirds or Kwyet Kinks. The heyday of the vinyl EP was 1963 to 1967 although there were sporadic attempts to resurrect the format during pub rock and punk rock, resulting in classic releases like The Count Bishops’ Speedball and Eddie And The Hot Rods Live At The Marquee.   

I had always assumed that the USA was immune to the appeal of the Extended Play but two recent additions to my collection have proved me wrong. First was a six-track version of Todd Rundgren’s Something / Anything? double vinyl LP and more recently the four best tracks from The J.Geils Band’s Bloodshot. Both releases come in picture sleeves that are a miniature version of the LP sleeve and both were released by Little LP’s Unlimited. Intrigued, I began to dig around. 

Courtesy of the excellent Both Sides Now Stereo Newsletter (BSN) I I discovered that the term “Little LP” was applied for the first time to six releases from the back catalogue of Cadence Records. Each contained six tracks with a maximum playing time of about eight minutes per side at 33 1/3 rpm. All six were released in October 1961and flopped but encouraged Mercury to put out ten titles the following month, albeit with a similar lack of success. Enter the Seeburg jukebox company, who according to the BSN website “liked the idea of Little LPs, but wanted them in stereo to play in a jukebox they had planned. In September 1962 they began to tease the industry about a new juke box that would be ‘revolutionary’. The curtain was unveiled later in September on their new stereo jukebox console which could play Little LPs and had places to display album covers for them. Seeburg pointed out that jukeboxes had largely become fixtures in adult rather than teenage venues, and Little LPs with adult content such as easy listening or country would sell very well in bars and other adult meeting spaces.” Even before the new jukebox was available Seeburg had signed up sixteen major labels including Columbia, Decca, London, Mercury and RCA-Victor. By January 1963 the catalogue comprised 233 Little LPs, with sales of more than 200,000 units by 1964. From this initial run, sought after releases include Surfer Girl, Shut Down, Volume 2, Today! And Best Of (The Beach Boys) plus Meet The Beatles, The Beatles Second Album and Something New (The Beatles) with some achieving price tags of £200 plus.

By 1967 there were 1000 Little LPs in the catalogue but Seeburg found it hard to run the business in addition to its core juke box business so Little LPs were sold to Garwin Sales who in turn sold the business to Baskase. By 1970 there were virtually no new releases, but in the spring of that year two new businesses were formed to market Little LPs, and this is where rock’n’roll really enters the picture. Company number one was Gold Mor from New Jersey who would release 57 titles by January 1973. Company number two was Little LP’s Unlimited from Illinois who were more productive, releasing 134 titles by May 1973. The two companies agreed that big hits did not belong on Little LPs, because they were already on the juke box. Hence the Little LP for Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water did not include the title track. However the two newcomers disagreed on design. While Gold Mor felt the covers should accurately reflect the full-colour parent LP cover, Little LP’s Unlimited did not think colour covers were important, so their Little LPs had monochrome covers from the start, as you can see from my J.Geils and Todd Rundgren releases. 

In 1971 Seeburg started producing jukeboxes that would not play at 33 1/3 rpm. It was the beginning of the end for Little LPs. In an attempt to boost sales Little LP’s Unlimited started issuing quadrophonic releases but quadrophonic jukeboxes were rare: by 1976 there were no further releases of Little LPs from either label. 

A search on Discogs shows that many of the Little LP’s are now highly collectable. These include Déjà Vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Tumbleweed Connection and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (Elton John), Four and Houses Of The Holy (Led Zeppelin), Burn (Deep Purple), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Black Sabbath), Aqualung (Jethro Tull), American Beauty (Grateful Dead), Brothers And Sisters (Allman Brothers Band), Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic (Steely Dan), The Smoker You Drink…(Joe Walsh), Billion Dollar Babies and Muscle Of Love (Alice Cooper), In The Right Place (Dr. John) and Harvest (Neil Young). Most sought after (and highest priced) is a 1972 four track distillation of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street which has sold for £295. All these releases came with a monochromatic sleeve and sometimes with a strip of juke box labels. The full colour picture sleeves adorning Gold Mor‘s releases included a very desirable Goats Head Soup taster (Rolling Stones) plus There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Sly and the Family Stone), Santana (Santana) and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (Paul Simon), this last one in Quadrophonic sound. 

If you agree that the 7” vinyl single is the sexiest art-form ever created then you need some of these small but perfectly formed releases in your collection. Less Is More. Go Little.

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One Comment
  1. Mike Baess permalink

    Great piece Simon. I remember buying the 2 A Hard Day’s Night EPs on the Spanish Odeon label in 65 and a few months later the Twist And Shout EP in Woolworths, Swiss Cottage. A notable mention should go to UA who put out the Flamin’ Groovies Slow Death EP in 76.

    Sent from my Galaxy

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