Complete Collector: CD-3s ? The small wonders that never caught on

The first collectibles — and the first major casualty — of the CD age were the 3-inch discs that the industry intended to be the replacement for the 7-inch single. There was just one problem.
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The first collectibles — and the first major casualty — of the CD age were the 3-inch discs that the industry intended to represent the next wave in the digital revolution, as the replacement for the 7-inch single.

Capable of holding up to 20 minutes of music, 3-inch CDs were launched during summer 1987, when the first promotional issues were dispatched to radio. Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies,” Squeeze’s “Three From Babylon” and Stevie Wonder’s “Skeletons” were among the earliest promo issues.

There was just one problem: While the discs’ manufacturers, Digital Audio Disc Corp of Terre Haute, Ind., launched the discs on schedule, the snap-on plastic adaptors necessary to center the discs within the CD player didn’t arrive quite so punctually. The oversight was rectified within weeks, but the damage was already done. Nice format — shame it can’t be played.

From the start, the industry was hopelessly divided over the CD-3. Rykodisc, the newly established CD-only label, was first into the commercial marketplace with Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” remix. But Philips, pioneers of the CD in the first place, announced that they wanted no part of this latest innovation.

For every label that seemed set to jump on-board, another appeared equally determined to sabotage the format by continuing to issue all its discs as 5-inchers. And the public, tired of waiting for the businessmen to make up their minds, did it for them. They rejected the CD-3 outright.

Before that, of course, there was a flurry of releases, and some surprisingly spectacular ones at that. The jazz and classical specialists Delos issued a number of CD-3s in late 1987; the following year, Rhino launched a series of four-song packages under the overall title Big Hits Come In Small Packages, and featuring the Turtles, the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys and more. The first Beatles CD-3, repackaging the pre-fame 1961 Tony Sheridan material, followed from Romance Records.

Atlantic, Dunhill Compact Classics, MCA, Polygram, Virgin (U.K.) and even Deutsche Gramophone were among the other labels to move into the CD-3 field during 1988-89, while EMI plowed ahead with a CD-3 box set of 12 Queen singles issued in the U.K., Germany and Japan.

Criticized at the time for a remarkably eccentric selection of material — the 12 singles were apparently plucked at utter random from throughout the band’s entire catalog — The 3" CD Singles box is now one of the most in-demand CD-3 releases of all time, with or without an adaptor to play it with.

Public resistance to the CD-3 was not unreasonable. In itself, the CD-3 offered no benefits or advantages in the slightest, particularly when balanced against the tangible inconvenience of needing to attach an adaptor to every disc (very few discs were packaged with one of their own) before playing.

Soon, only Sony remained unequivocal in its support for the 3-inch CD, even forging ahead with plans to launch a dedicated 3-inch player on the Japanese market during 1988. However, they, too, would run headlong into another of the format’s drawbacks that same year, with the long-awaited release of Bruce Springsteen’s Chimes Of Freedom EP.

The original EP ran to 25 minutes; the format could hold just 20. Cuts were made, and fans were outraged. How ironic, then, that when the EP was reissued on a 5-inch disc in 1999, the edited CD-3 master was inadvertently utilized for the first run of pressings! The oversight was corrected for subsequent issues.

Despite the format’s unpopularity, it has survive