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 The Kinks: vinyl EP, 1965 The Kinks: vinyl EP, 1965

An example of an EP, Soft Science from Canada's Sproll released in 2006. An example of an EP, Soft Science from Canada's Sproll released in 2006.

An extended play or EP, is typically the name given to vinyl records or CDs which are too long to be called singles but too short to qualify as albums. Usually, an album has eight or more tracks (anywhere between 25-80 minutes), a single has one to three (5-15 minutes), and an EP four to eight (or around 15-30 minutes). Some artists, especially in the days of vinyl, have released full-length albums that could fit the definition of a modern-day EP (Yes' Close to the Edge is nearly 39 minutes long; Prince's Dirty Mind is seconds short of a full half hour.) Conversely, there are EPs that are long enough to be albums (Marilyn Manson's Smells Like Children for example, which is 54 minutes long; Estradasphere's The Silent Elk of Yesterday clocks in at 74 minutes, 54 seconds).

There are also some 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 more grand 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'.

A remix single is not considered an EP unless it also has other songs on it (an EP/single hybrid). The name "extended play" has become something of a misnomer, for though it originally was used for singles that were extended beyond the standard length, it is now more often synonymous with an album that is shorter than usual; indeed, EPs are sometimes referred to as "mini-albums" (see below). For this reason, among others, they are referred to as "EPs", the full name being used much more rarely.

EPs were released in various sizes in different eras. In the 1950s and 1960s, EPs were typically 45 RPM recordings on 7" (18cm) disks, with two songs on each side. By coincidence, the format gained wide popularity with the coming of Elvis Presley, and it is sometimes erroneously stated that the term "EP" derived from his initials. Nevertheless, he practically ruled the Billboard EP charts, hitting the top 10 sixteen different times, six of them going to number 1, the latter staying at the top for 86 weeks. Through his EPs, Presley earned 6 Gold, 10 Platinum, of which 2 were Multi-Platinum RIAA certifications, representing sales in excess of 16.5 million units, the most ever, by any recording artist, whether solo, or group.

In 1967, The Beatles released a double-EP containing all the songs from their TV film Magical Mystery Tour. In the 1970s and 1980s there was less standardization, and EPs were made on 7" (18cm), 10", or 12" (30cm) discs running either 33⅓ or 45 RPM. Some novelty EPs used odd shapes and colours, and a few were picture discs.

Alice in Chains is the first and only band to ever have an EP reach #1 on Billboard album chart. The EP, Jar of Flies was released January 25th of 1994.


Defining "EP"

The term EP is also sometimes applied to compact discs with short playing times. However, since a CD can carry any amount of material up to around 80 minutes, the distinction between a CD EP and a short CD LP is somewhat arbitrary and is based on artistic and marketing factors. For example, EPs are usually released as a promo or as a method for an artist to release a collection of songs unfit for an album. Some artists prefer to use the term "mini-album" instead of "EP", bringing a stronger significance to the work instead of it being counted as a mere add-on to an artist's discography. Today, an artist will often make and record a batch of songs, all together, and then set some aside for an upcoming album, and the rest for the EP. In this way, an EP is a preview of the upcoming album, which is typically released 1-2 months after the EP.

Music fans have been divisive on whether, for example, a five-track release of 60 minutes would be considered an EP or an album; this choice is left for the artist to determine themselves. The Mars Volta ran into problems with their five-track album Frances the Mute before its release; the final two tracks, "Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" and "Cassandra Gemini", were divided into nine semi-arbitrary sections so the band would be paid an album's wages rather than an EP's.[1] Fans of doom metal or experimental music such as Opeth and Current 93 are very familiar with albums containing a very low track count; indeed, Opeth's eight albums all contain single-digit track counts. Dream Theater often has few songs on their albubums, such as Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence or Train of Thought, yet almost every song is in the double digits for play time. Meshuggah released a single track 22 minute EP, "I", comprised of a set of sections that could easily be categorised as indivdual tracks or or simply different parts of a very complex song. A more famous example is that of Pink Floyd's albums Animals and Wish You Were Here; both are clearly albums, but each have only five tracks (two of the tracks on Animals barely add up to three minutes, while the remaining three each well exceed ten minutes).

As fans of classical music can point out, distinctions based on track count does not always lead to a clear cut distinction. Beethoven's 9th Symphony could be split into only four tracks, yet it lasts over 71 minutes, depending on the tempo.

The 7" EP in punk rock

London's  1977 4 track EP available in 7" and 12" formats. London's 1977 4 track EP available in 7" and 12" formats.

The first recordings released by many punk rock bands were released in 7" EP format, mainly because the short song nature of the genre that resulted 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" EP became a standard release for punk rock bands, who could sell them nationwide at a cheap price, 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 recorded at 33 RPM as often as 45 (outside of punk rock many people refer to any 7" 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, delegating them as b-sides, when many bands, having a 7" 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.

Split 7" EP

The split 7" 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.[2]

See also

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