We look back on the 70th anniversary of the 45, introduced by RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, in 1949, with RCA flip sides from the next four consecutive decades by Elvis Presley, The Guess Who, Nilsson, and The Judds.
By Warren Kurtz
This month began with a pair of interviews, looking back at the 40th anniversary of the peak of the disco era, with Gloria Gaynor and Anita Ward, featuring their No.1 hits from 1979, “I Will Survive” and “Ring My Bell,” respectively in our Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides online series. In our print version of the Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides series, we celebrated the 50th anniversary flip sides of Hair related 45s on page 16 of our March 2019 issue, featuring the music of The Fifth Dimension, The Cowsills, Three Dog Night and Oliver. We dedicated our August 2019 issue to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and on page 18 featured flip sides from Woodstock performers Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker and John Sebastian.
The 60th anniversary of the plane crash which took the life of Buddy Holly and other performers was given a musical tribute on page 16 of our February 2019 issue with flip sides from Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Our September 2019 issue was dedicated to Motown’s 60th anniversary, and on page 16, flip sides were featured by The Miracles, The Four Tops, The Supremes and Lionel Richie. Now we end the year with the oldest anniversary milestone, the 70th anniversary of the 45 RPM. This inexpensive 7” vinyl product, introduced by RCA in 1949, was far superior in sound quality and sturdiness than its fragile 10” 78 RPM predecessor, which helped to propel the growth of jukeboxes. With a song on the A side and one on the flip side, Perry Como had four successful flip sides for the label in the debut year of the 45.
Flip side: Hound Dog
A side: Don’t Be Cruel
Top 100 debut: August 4, 1956
Peak Position No. 1
RCA Victor 47-6604
“Don’t Be Cruel”/“Hound Dog” became Elvis Presley’s biggest selling single, spending eleven weeks at No. 1. It was also his first single to have a picture sleeve. The A side was written by Otis Blackwell and the flip side was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, originally for Big Mama Thornton, as a blues song in 1952. In the Leiber and Stoller 2009 book Hound Dog, Jerry Leiber wrote, “Somebody changed the lyrics. I had written, ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog. Quit snooping ‘round my door. You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more,’ but Elvis sang, ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time. You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine.’ The song is not about a dog. It’s about a man, a freeloading gigolo. Of course, the fact that it sold more than seven million copies took the sting out of what seemed to be a capricious change of lyrics.” Mike Stoller wrote that Elvis was, “a guy with undeniable charisma and a kind of rhythmic irresistibility, not to me mention a damn good voice.”
The Guess Who
Flip side: Undun
A side: Laughing
Top 100 debut: July 12, 1969
Peak Position No. 10
RCA Victor 74-0195
When Canadian vocalist and keyboardist Burton Cummings received a telephone call to consider joining The Guess Who in the 1960s, he initially thought someone was playing a cruel joke on him. After learning that it wasn’t a prank phone call, he gladly accepted and joined the band in 1966. After several singles in Canada in the 1960s, this classic lineup broke through in the U.S. in 1969 with a song he had written with the group’s guitarist Randy Bachman called “These Eyes.” This became the first of two back to back Top 10 gold singles, which included another of their compositions, “Laughing.” On Burton’s 1996 live CD, Up Close and Alone, immediately after performing “Laughing,” he said, “I would like now to sing the flip side of ‘Laughing’ for you, which I think is the finest song that Randy Bachman ever wrote, and I was just the guy lucky enough to sing it.” He then played the light jazz rock number “Undun,” which originally ended up charting separately and reached No. 22 as “Laughing” was about to exit the Top 100 in 1969, a year filled with many successful flip sides, and Elvis’ return to the No. 1 spot, for the first time since 1962, with “Suspicious Minds.”
Flip side: Gotta Get Up
A side: Without You
Top 100 debut: December 18, 1971
Peak Position No. 1
RCA Victor 0673
1972 was the biggest year for Harry Nilsson. The single which started his string of three Top 40 hits that year was his cover of Badfinger’s “Without You,” from their No Dice album, which Nilsson took to No. 1 for a month that winter. This gold single became RCA’s biggest single of 1972, outperforming Elvis’ “Burning Love.” The flip side of “Without You” was the opening song from his Nilsson Schmilsson album called “Gotta Get Up.” This Nilsson composition featured a pounding piano and vocal style on par with that of Paul McCartney who, along with the rest of The Beatles, was a Nilsson fan. His lyrics started with, “Gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get home before the morning comes,” and sounded like something which could have been on The Beatles’ Revolver album. Jim Price’s horn arrangement, on which he played trombone and trumpet, and Henry Krein’s accordion, helped to bring a bit of a Beatles style to the record.
Flip side: Drops of Water
A side: Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)
Top Country Singles debut: 1986
Peak Position No. 1
RCA Victor PB-14290
The mother and daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna Judd achieved over a dozen No. 1 country hit singles for RCA in the 1980s, including “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days),” which topped the charts for three weeks in 1986. This song, from their 1985 album Rockin’ With the Rhythm, nostalgically looked back at simpler times. Its flip side came from their prior album, Why Not Me, and was called “Drops of Water.” This lively tune, with atmospheric lyrics, reflected on a lost love, and a wish of reuniting. There is power in Wynonna’s voice and harmonies in the choruses, a standard pair of ingredients in The Judds’ music. The following year The Judds brought their version of Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” back to the Top 10.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.