Remix, Re-Package, Re-issue – the Golden Era of the 12″ Single

If the 7″ single was the perfect format for delivering the sweet thrill of pop music to the masses, the 12″ was something else entirely. Part cynical marketing ploy by greedy record companies eager to milk every last cent from ever willing music fans, it also afforded artists an opportunity to try things they wouldn’t dream of putting out on an album. From radically worked remixes to bonus tracks that saw artists dabble with different styles, the 12″ single was the format of choice for fans who were unashamed musical nerds, the completists who eagerly gobbled up anything their favourite bands cared to release.

It proved so successful (and lucrative) for some acts, that they abandoned the 7″completely choosing to release material between albums exclusively through the 12″ medium. For other bands it was nothing more than a cash cow – with multiple 12″ releases of the same single, each containing a different bonus track, or a tired re-hash of the title track. The advent of the compact disc signalled the death knell for the 12″ as a popular format, and for vinyl in general. With the recent revival of interest in vinyl, we take a look at some of the best 12″ singles released during the eighties, the golden era for this format.


1. Blue Monday – New Order

The biggest selling 12″ single of all time from a band that without question were true aristocrats of the format. Released exclusively as a 12″ and with a running time of nearly seven and a half minutes it is still one of the longest tracks ever to chart in the UK. Coupled with the stark, anonymous Peter Saville designed artwork, it has become the most iconic 12″ release of all time. Still sounds amazing.


2. Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go – Soft Cell

The seedy glamour of Soft Cell’s debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret spawned a number of monster hits but it was this clever re-working of their most popular song together with a cover of the Supremes ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ that turned a classic song into a clubland favourite. A dub version of the title track and the additional song ‘Memorabilia’ made this a must have 12 inch.


3. The Killing Moon (All Night Version) – Echo and the Bunnymen

The album track was good but this extended cut is the definitive version of one of the great songs of the Post Punk era. This didn’t just feel like a song with bits tacked on to the end for the sake of it – with a completely reworked intro, an extended virtuoso guitar break by Will Sergeant in the middle eight and one long, orgiastic outro, this was immeasurably better than the original single version.


4. The Spangle Maker EP – Cocteau Twins

Between 1982 -1986, Scottish trio released a staggering eight 12″ EPs and five albums – a remarkably prolific spell for a band who eschewed the throwaway nature of the three minute pop song for something a little more weighty and artistic. Gorgeously packaged, each of their EPs felt like event releases and this three track EP featured the only song from that period that was released as a 7″ also. ‘Pearly Dewdrops Drop’ is one of their best – beautiful, ethereal Goth that paved the way for a host of other acts influenced by their unique sound.


5. This Charming Man (New York Mix) – The Smiths

Another incredibly prolific band, who rarely if ever released a duff track throughout their short career. Morrissey may have decried the whole ‘re-issue, re-package’ approach but he was remarkably quiet as the Smiths songs got the same treatment during their spell with Rough Trade (there are over 50 versions of this one song in their discography). He drew the line with this remix by dance producer Francois Kevorkian – apparently he hated it, denouncing it very publicly. It’s hard to see why – it retains the spirit of the original while giving it a more cutting edge feel.


6. Two Tribes (Carnage Mix)  – Frankie Goes To Hollywood

The Frankies were an 80s pop phenomenon, exploding onto the scene with debut single ‘Relax’. Much of their success can be attributed to the influence of producer Trevor Horn,  who used all the studio wizadry at his disposal to create some of the biggest selling singles of the 80s. Nobody milked the 12″ format quite like the Frankies  – four different 12″ singles of this came out at the time but it is the carnage mix that showcased this track at its dazzling best.


7. You Made Me Realise E.P. – My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine have made some of the most pioneering, ground-breaking music of the last 30 years. ‘ Loveless’ remains their masterpiece album, spawning a host of feeble imitators, but ‘Loveless’ wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for this five track E.P., released in 1987. This was the turning point for the band; before this, they were a derivative 60s inspired, slightly fey jangly pop group. With these five songs, we witnessed the genesis of what they were to become – still one of the best things they ever released.


8.  Let’s Go To Bed – The Cure

As a follow up to the bleak, uncompromising Pornography, this was something of a surprise. The despair of that harrowing album was traded for something that sounded almost jaunty in comparison. It also became a chart hit for the Cure and an indie disco staple – those who frequented Dublin’s The Source nightclub will remember this particularly fondly. B-side ‘Just One Kiss’ is something of a forgotten  gem and makes this worth tracking down for that song alone.


9. The Sound of the Crowd – Human League

Sheffield Synthpop outfit Human League are best known for massive chart hits like ‘Don’t You Want Me’ but they used the 12″ format to indulge their more experimental side. An album of radically remixed versions of their songs ‘Love and Dancing’ is arguably their finest long playing effort, and 12 inch singles like the ‘Sound of the Crowd’ were the perfect marriage of their innate pop sensibility and the influence of Kraftwerk on the bands music.


10. Blasphemous Rumours -Depeche Mode

Another hugely successful 80s synthpop band that unleashed a succession of alternate versions of their big chart hits. Invariably, these remixes and reworked versions pushed another side of the bands music and gave them the kind of freedom that the radio friendly 7″ version didn’t allow. Take your pick from a string of songs released by Depeche Mode in the 80s and you are sure to find a bigger, better and bolder 12″ cut.