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What is the difference between an LP and EP?

The LP and the EP. Not terms that are used so much these days. But in the 60s, and to a lesser extent, the 70s, that is what you asked for in the record store. They both refer to vinyl, of course.

The Demise of Vinyl

This probably started in 1963 with Philips releasing their cassette in Europe. It had an effect. Its release in the US a year later had even more of an effect. The ‘musicassette’ had arrived.

Other technologies confined it to history until the resurgence of vinyl. Suddenly the LP was back. And so was the EP, with many of the 60s LPs and EPs now being collector’s items.

But what is the difference between an LP and EP? And what exactly were they?

difference between an LP and EP

The LP was the Long Player, or album as we would call it today. The EP was an Extended play. A halfway point really between the LP and the Single. Let’s take a closer look at both.

The LP

In terms of modern music, the LP, Long Player, or album, however you want to call it, stands as a giant in music.

Its history goes back a long way. You can trace it back to a French inventor, Edouard-Leon Scott, who probably invented it in 1857. In 1901 we got the first 78 rpm records.

The arrival of 33 and a third

Many years and increasing technological advances saw us get what we now know as the LP courtesy of CBS records in 1948. It was new. Playing at 33 and third rpm. Twelve inches across and giving us about twenty minutes of music on each side, the ‘album’ had arrived.

This effectively changed the face of music and made it, in some ways, an album-focused media. It was, and still is, an analog microgroove system. The sound quality is superior to its digital format CD competitor.

All but gone but back again

It all but disappeared, though, in the wake of the ‘digital revolution.’ Consumers wanted music they could carry around with them, play in their cars. Convenience began to dominate. But some realized the quality of the sound just wasn’t as good. They wanted their vinyl, their LP. And in the 90s, back it came. It is now rapidly growing in popularity.

The LP has been a fundamental, irreplaceable part of music for decades. The EP, though, was something else.

The EP or Extended Play

The EP or Extended Play

It can be a confusing title. The LP was the standard format along with the ‘single.’ Extended Play indicated to some that it could be an extension of an album. It wasn’t; it was an extension of a single.

However, it was a groove system, and it was analog. It played at 45 rpm, the same as a single, and it could have been an excellent format.

More tracks

The EP was produced with four or five tracks on it. Usually including a hit single. But in a period of musical history where the single was gaining popularity, there was a problem with the EP.

The ‘single buyers’ didn’t need or even want an extra few tracks. They also didn’t want to pay the extra money. Singers and Bands brought out an LP. Released a single from it, and then some did an EP which usually introduced an extra couple of tracks.

Why didn’t it really catch on?

It was expensive to make for the record company. That made it expensive to buy for the consumer. At the time, only the biggest artists with guaranteed record sales got to release them.

What is the difference between an LP and EP? – Limited sales?

Limited sales

Looking back, I can remember only having three EPs in what was quite a large album collection.

The first was ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Beatles. All the tracks came from their first album, which I couldn’t afford to buy, so I bought the EP instead. It served its purpose in that case. But it wasn’t always the way.

The second was ‘The Rolling Stones’, their first EP, and the third ‘Five by Five’ also by the Stones. That was bought only to get the Chuck Berry cover ‘Around and Around.’ The rest of it was awful. A record thrown together. Even Richards and Jagger changed their songwriting credits names to make people think the songs had nothing to do with them.

That sort of attitude may have been the death knell for the EP. Songs not considered good enough for albums. Releases were just thrown together for money. Surely not? Record companies trying to screw people for money? Whatever next.

Cashing In?

A lot of record companies tried to cash in on the popularity of certain bands. Even The Who and Led Zeppelin had EP releases. Just tracks taken from existing albums, of course.

But it wasn’t only in the pop or rock world. EPs were being released all over by Jazz, and Country artists, and even Classical music offerings. They all suffered the same fate.

It is a shame, really, because they could have thought about what could have been achieved with an EP musically. And it could have had its place. Instead of thinking just about how much money they could get.

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What is the difference between an LP and EP? – The revival of the EP?

The punk era saw a revival of the EP. This time though, the tracks were songs that the bands or artists wanted to be put out. By this time, artists were having more control over what they did. That was a refreshing change of pace.

However, the EP never did challenge the LP or even the single. I think a lot of people realized, sometimes subconsciously, that the LP or album had musical and creative integrity. The EP, however, was just a way for record companies to make money by doing very little.

Fast Forward

Today even the single has largely disappeared from view, and we just have our albums. Our LPs. Long may they stay with us.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what is what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear hear and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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