I have a collection of more than forty-five forty-fives, accumulated by when I was fifteen, a third of my current age.

My life has always revolved with music – not around it, and not it around my life, but spinning together. I have several dozen (perhaps a hundred?) vinyl LPs, each one made to revolve one hundred times every three minutes as it plays from outside in, each one twelve inches in diameter. And I have more like a thousand CDs, each one 4.75 inches in diameter and playing at a constant linear speed about 1.3 metres per second, making about 500 rotations per minute when it starts at the inside and slowing to about 200 RPM by the time it reaches the outside edge – if it does. Each of these is a collection of songs made to be played in sequence.

But a forty-five – originally made as competition for the 33 1/3 to replace the 78 – has one song per side. It has a large hole in the middle, made so that it would be easier to play them in quick sequence – a large spindle, easier to slide onto a tapered top, so a changer could play through a symphony on several discs with minimal interruption. It plays from the outside in, and it’s a one-shot deal; before you get to the large hole, the song is over.

There’s another song on the other side; it’s not expected to be as good. On the backside of “Rasputin” (which we played many times) is “Don’t Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night” (which I could not possibly say anything more about). On the backside for “Bette Davis Eyes” is “Miss You Tonight.” Backing “Industrial Disease,” it’s “Solid Rock”; the B-side of “Urgent” is “Girl on the Moon”; Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” is backed with “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got”; “Turn Me Loose” is backed by “Prissy Prissy”; “Echo Beach” has “Teddy the Dink”; for “Harden My Heart,” it’s “Don’t Be Lonely”; with “Start Me Up” you get “No Use in Crying”; for “Da Da Da” it’s “Sabine Sabine Sabine.” You may conclude that they didn’t want to have two hits on the same single – they could sell more records if they had one hit each. So you get the two sides of the record: one made to be number one with a bullet, the other to take the bullet.

There are exceptions. The back of “Seven Bridges Road” by The Eagles is “The Long Run”; on “Another One Bites the Dust” it’s “Don’t Try Suicide.” Both of those B-sides were also popular. And some of the forty-fives just have two versions of the same song – such as “How Long” by Rod Stewart and “Heat of the Moment” by Asia.

And there are hidden treasures, too. Listen to this: “Urgent” by Foreigner, as sung by the Doobie Brothers. Where did I get that? It’s just the 45 of the song by Foreigner, played at 33 1/3. Slightly less urgent, much more doobie flavour.

Forty-five thus has a taste of revolution (forty-five per minute), of double-sidedness, of one shot (and then a flip and one more shot). It also has a taste of a revolver. Something over a century ago now, when the bullets of the day seemed not to have enough stopping power for colonial invaders who wanted to quell the natives quickly, bigger bullets were specified. A few manufacturers stepped up to the plate, and the winner was Colt. We are familiar with the Colt .45, yes? It’s a revolver. Six shots. Big bullets, much more forceful than the .38s they had been using: these ones were almost half an inch wide (.45 means it’s .45 inches in diameter). You get not just one shot, not just two, but six, if you can. And it makes a big hole, fairly well guaranteed to cap the number of its target’s days.

Six shots with a forty-five. Six-forty-five: another term that relates to shooting – the nominal 6 cm by 4.5 cm negative format for medium-format cameras (actually 5.6 by 4.2). They fit 16 rather than 12 photos on a roll of 120 film. A 4:3 aspect ratio and a 4:3 ratio of number of photos. Just as you have 60 seconds in a minute and 45 revolutions in a minute – also 4:3. And then there’s 33: 3+3=6, yes, but consider this: the factors of 45 are 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15. They add up to 33. But there is no third. Oh, but 45 is still prettier. You have 3×3=9, and 9×5=45, and 4+5=9.

But what you really want to know is that it all comes around to 45, it all adds up to it: all the single digits. 0+1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=45. Once around, and there you are, and then you’re back to 0 – the big hole in the middle. The needle is clicking against the inside track as it rotates over and over again, making its little “forty-five, forty-five, forty-five” sound. Time for the next song. Would that be the B side? Or did you save the A for the second spin?

One response to “forty-five

  1. Note also with those 4s and 3s: the width of a CD it 4.75 inches, which is like 45 with (4+3) in the middle. And photo buffs will likely know that 135, which is 45×3, is the name of the standard 35 mm film format, just as 120 is the name of the medium-format roll.

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