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An extended play (EP) is a vinyl record, CD, or music download which contains more music than a single, but is too short to qualify as an LP. Usually, a CD single has around 10–28 minutes of music, an EP has up to 36 minutes, and an album generally has 30–80 minutes. Mini-LPs generally contain 20–30 minutes of music. In the United Kingdommarker, the Official Chart Company defines a cut off between EP and album classification at 25 minutes length or four tracks (plus alternative versions of featured songs).


EPs were released in various sizes in different eras. The earliest multi-track records were ca. 1919/20 vertically-cut 78 rpm discs issued by Grey Gull Records, known as "2-in-1" records with finer-than usual grooves, like Edison Disc Records. By 1949, the 45 rpm single and 33⅓ rpm LP were competing formats. 7" 45 rpm singles had a maximum playing time of only four minutes per side.

Partly as an attempt to compete with the LP, introduced in 1948 by rivals Columbia Records, RCA Victor introduced "Extended Play" 45s in 1952. Its narrower grooves, achieved by lowering the cutting levels and, if required, compression, could hold up to 7.5 minutes per side but still be played by standard 45 rpm equipment. These were usually LPs split onto three 7" EPs, either sold one at a time or in boxed sets. This practice became much less common with the advent of triple speed record players.

Some classical music albums released at the beginning of the LP era were also distributed as EP albums — notably the seven operas that Arturo Toscanini conducted on radio between 1944 and 1954. These opera EPs, originally broadcast on NBC radio and issued by RCA which also owned NBC, were made available both in 45 RPM and 33⅓ RPM. In the 1990s, they began appearing on compact disc. RCA also had success in the format with their top money earner, Elvis Presley, issuing 28 Elvis EPs between 1956 and 1967, many of which topped the separate Billboard EP chart during its brief existence.

During the 1950s, RCA released several EP albums of Walt Disney films, containing both the story and songs. These usually featured the original casts of the films. Each album contained two records, plus a fully illustrated booklet containing the complete text of the recording, so that children could follow along. Some of the titles included Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and what was then a recent release, the 1954 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The case of 20,000 Leagues was highly unusual in that, not only did it not use the film's cast but years later, a 12-inch 33⅓ RPM album of the film, with nearly the identical script and yet another totally different cast, was issued by Disneyland Records in conjunction with the 1963 re-release of the film.

In the 1950s and 1960s, EPs were usually compilations of singles or album samplers and were typically played at 45 rpm recordings on 7in (18 cm) discs, with two songs on each side.Other than those issued by RCA, EPs were relatively uncommon in the US but were widely issued in the UK and other European countries during the fifties and sixties. From November 1967, EPs were included in the UK singles chart. The first EP to benefit from this was The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, a double-EP containing six songs from their TV film, Magical Mystery Tour, which reached #2 in the UK singles chart. After this time, the line between an EP and a 'single' containing more than 2 tracks became more blurred.

Stevie Wonder included a bonus 4-song EP in his 1976 double LP Songs in the Key of Life. In the 1970s and 1980s there was less standardization and EPs were made on 7" (18 cm), 10" or 12" (30 cm) discs running either 33⅓ or 45 rpm. Some novelty EPs used odd shapes and colors and a few were picture discs.

Alice in Chains is the first band to ever have an EP reach #1 on the Billboard album chart. The EP, Jar of Flies was released January 25, 1994. Linkin Park and Jay-Z's collaboration EP, Collision Course, was the next and latest to have reached the #1 spot after Alice in Chains.

Defining "EP"

The first EPs were 7-inch vinyl records with more tracks than a normal single (typically 4 to 6). Although they shared size and speed with singles, they were a recognisably different format to the 7" single. Although they could be named after a lead track, they were generally given a title. Examples include The Beatles' The Beatles Hits EP from 1963, and The Troggs' Troggs Tops EP from 1966, both of which collected previously-released tracks. The playing time was generally between 10 and 15 minutes. They also came in picture sleeves at a time when singles were usually issued in paper company sleeves. EPs tended to be album samplers or collections of singles. EPs of all original material began to appear in the 1960s. An example is The Kinks' Kinksize Session EP from 1964.

In the 1970s, 'Maxi-Singles', usually containing three reissued tracks became popular such as Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" from 1971 and David Bowie's "Space Oddity", a single from 1969 which was reissued in 1975 in RCA's Maxi-Million series, both of which reached #1 in the UK. The 12-inch single was introduced in 1977, and commonly had extended or additional tracks compared to the 7-inch release. The first available 12-inch single was actually of reissued material. It contained 3 tracks and was by The Who. The tracks were "Substitute" in side 1, "Pictures of Lily" and "I'm a Boy" in the side 2. It was issued on the Polydor label. 12-inch EPs were similar, but generally had between 3 and 5 tracks and had a length of over 12 minutes, and like 7-inch EPs were given titles. EP releases were also issued in cassette and 10-inch vinyl format. With the advent of the Compact disc, more music was often included on 'single' releases, with 4 or 5 tracks being common, and playing times of up to 25 minutes.

EPs of original material regained popularity in the punk era, when they became commonly used for the release of new material, e.g. Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP, which featured four tracks.

Since, by the 1980s, most 'singles' were available on formats with more than 2 tracks, the definition of an EP was not simply down to the number of tracks or playing time. An EP is typically seen as four (or more) tracks of equal importance (as opposed to a 4-track single with an obvious A-side and 3 B-sides).

In the UK, a release with more than four distinct tracks or with a playing time of more than 25 minutes is classified as an album for chart purposes.


The Mars Volta ran into problems with their five-track album Frances the Mute before its release; the final 32-minute track, "Cassandra Gemini", was divided into eight semi-arbitrary sections so the band would be paid an album's wages rather than an EPs. Autechre decided to name one of their releases EP7 even though it contained 11 tracks and was over an hour long. On the other hand, Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and Weezer's The Green Album are not considered EPs even though they fall short of half an hour.

Some artists, especially in the days of vinyl, have released full-length albums that could fit the definition of a modern-day EP. Conversely, there are EPs that are long enough to be albums. Marilyn Manson's Smells Like Children for example, which is 54 minutes long, Modest Mouse's Interstate 8, which is 55 minutes long, and Estradasphere's The Silent Elk of Yesterday clocks in at 74 minutes, as does Harbinger of Metal by Reverend Bizarre and The Bird and the Bee Sides by Relient K. This is particularly the case with the rare double EP, which contains two discs. The 5 track "Tulimyrsky EP" by Finnish Viking Metal band Moonsorrow is counted as an EP even though it clocks in at 1:08:18 (the title track alone is 30 minutes long) simply because it contains two cover versions; "For Whom The Bell Tolls" by Metallica and "Back To North" by Merciless. Dream Theater's "EP" A Change of Seasons is an EP by name only; it clocks in at 57:31, making it album length, but it consists of one studio song (A Change of Seasons) and four live tracks.

There are also some EPs which are even shorter than the standard single. It has become customary in recent years for new bands to release their first release nominally as an "EP" to give it grander connotations than a single. By giving the release a unique name (as opposed to it being named after the lead track on the CD) the band can garner more attention for the other tracks on the CD. Using the example of Arctic Monkeys, by calling their first release Five Minutes with Arctic Monkeys rather than Fake Tales of San Francisco (the first track on the CD) they also put the second track "From The Ritz to the Rubble" in the limelight. Thus, Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys is more akin to a double-A side than a standard EP. Subsequently, similar releases by other new bands could be described as "triple-A sides" or even "quadruple-A sides". Furthermore, albums like Slayer's Reign In Blood are considered as an LP even though the original version is only 29 minutes long.

The 7-inch EP in punk rock

The first recordings released by many punk rock bands were released in 7-inch EP format, mainly because the short song nature of the genre made it difficult to create sufficient material to fill an LP. Many such bands also were unsigned, or signed to a minor record label that did not have the funds to release a full length album, particularly by newly formed bands. As many record stores would not sell demo tapes, the 7-inch EP became a standard release for punk rock bands, who could sell them cheaply nationwide, and thus be heard beyond the areas where they performed. These records would vary in length, having anywhere from 2 to as many as 10 or more songs (4 being somewhat of a standard), and occasionally recorded at 33 rpm to lengthen running time (outside of punk rock many people refer to any 7-inch record as a "45", as it has been the standard speed for such records). Some of these recordings would qualify as singles, although this term was sometimes eschewed as being a mainstream design for determining commercial airplay, which did not apply to the vast majority of such bands. The term "single" also had a way of being somewhat dismissive of any tracks other than the primary one, relegating them to B-sides, when many bands, having a 7-inch record as their most significant release, would put all their best songs on the recording. Using the term EP in such cases would be considered technically incorrect, as they were not "extended", and the term "7-inch" became a standard. For bands that went on to achieve commercial success, it was often customary for the original EP tracks to be released later on full-length albums, or to be somehow re-issued in another format.

The split 7-inch EP has also been a widespread feature in the genre, in which two bands would release such a record together, each performing on one side. This was a way to cut costs, particularly for self-released EPs, and was often used as a way for a more established band to help promote a promising newer act. Alternately, two bands with friendly relations with each other would release split EPs together. In some countries, split EPs are also used by major record labels to promote two new albums by wholly different artists, usually in the form of radio promos.

In cases where a band has too much content to fit on a 7-inch platter, but not enough for an LP, 10-inch and 12-inch records were utilized, usually at the 45 rpm speed more popular among dance music. Some more modern punk bands have also put out novelty 5-inch records, though due to a very short playing time and higher production cost than 7-inch discs, they are rare and usually utilized by bands with extremely fast songs.

Jukebox EP

Filben Maestro Juke box
In the 1960s and 1970s, record companies released EP versions of long play (LP) albums for use in jukeboxes. These were commonly known as "compact 33s" or "little LPs". They played at 33⅓ rpm, were pressed on 7-inch vinyl and frequently had as many as 6 songs. What made them EP-like was the fact that some songs were omitted for time purposes, and the tracks deemed the most popular were left on. Unlike most EPs before them and most 7-inch vinyl in general (pre-1970s) these were issued in stereo.

See also


  1. Official UK Charts Singles Rules
  2. Official Rules For Chart Eligibility — Albums

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