OTHER FORMATS & ODDITIES
"I declare that the Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen."
- Timothy Leary
In the 1960s there were several music formats other than the prevalent vinyl record. Because the Beatles were the most popular band in the world during this time, their music was released on just about every format in existence and every new one that came along. This section includes those and some other unusual releases.

 
 
Reel-To-Reel Tape
In 1948 the Magnecord Company sold the first open-reel stereo tape recorder but it wasn't until 1954 that RCA Victor sold the first prerecorded open reel stereo tapes. Later known as reel-to-reel, the format was popular because it offered fidelity equal to or better than vinyl records.

In the US, Meet the Beatles and Yesterday and Today were released on five-inch reels at a 3 3/4-IPS playback speed. Other US Beatle albums were released on seven-inch reels using both 3 3/4-IPS and 7 1/2-IPS playback speeds.

Until mid-1969 Capitol manufactured its own reel-to-reel tapes. By the time Abbey Road was released, Capitol had sub-contracted the job to Ampex.


 
Four-Track Cartridge
In 1963 George Eash designed and patented a four-track cartridge system called the Fidelipac. The 1/4-inch tape played in an endless loop at 3 3/4-IPS and held two stereo programs. The mechanics of the system were complicated and not very reliable, yet perfect for many applications.

George Muntz, an entrepreneur, had Fidelipac players manufactured in Japan and then custom installed in automobiles. Muntz players caught on quickly, starting in California before spreading east. In 1964 and 1965 a number of major labels, including Capitol, began issuing old and new releases on four-track cartridges, and the Fidelipac looked like it was going to be the next big thing in consumer audio. A number of home players even appeared.


 
The Beatles, Beach Boys and Kingston Trio! Flexi-Discs
The Evatone Company manufactured two different sizes of this compilation flexi-disc as "a surprise gift" to promote the Capitol record club:

- Capitol mailed the five-inch round flexi-disc (left), along with ads and sign-up forms.

- The trifold seven-inch "square" flexi-disc (right) had various record ads and a photograph of the Beatles. It was inserted into magazines in 1964.

Both records contained the Beatles' Roll Over Beethoven, the Beach Boys' Little Deuce Coupe and the Kingston Trio's The Saints.


 
KFWB Promotional Single
Capitol Records manufactured this custom single to promote Los Angeles radio station KFWB and the grand opening of a Wallich's Music Store in nearby Canoga Park, California. It was available at the store or through the station.

 
Eight-Track Cartridge
In 1963 William Lear, founder of the Learjet Aviation Company, became a distributor for Muntz Electronics, mainly to install four-track cartridge systems on his Learjets. Dissatisfied with the unreliable Muntz technology, he had a cartridge designed that allowed two tracks (or one stereo program) to be played off a quarter-inch tape that held a total of eight tracks. This design, the eight-track cartridge, quickly became the dominant portable and car audio format of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the first tape format to achieve a national mass market.

The eight-track cartridge used the same tape width and speed as the four-track cartridge but had fewer parts and an integral pressure roller. For several years, some tape players could play both four- and eight-track cartridge formats. The first Beatle eight-track cartridge was Rubber Soul, issued in late 1965.


 
Playtape Cartridge
This small two-track cartridge was introduced in late 1966, another endless loop format similar to four- and eight-track cartridges. Four- and eight-track systems had a distinct disadvantage in they had two or four equally spaced loops. This presented the problem of juggling album content to minimize track switching in the middle of a song or prevent long periods of silence. By contrast, when the Playtape reached the end of the recording, it simply started over.

Beatle Playtape cartridges began appearing in 1967 and almost the entire Capitol Beatle catalogue was released in this format. Because of its length, the album The Beatles was divided into five different volumes. The cartridges were played in inexpensive Playtape Music Machines sold by Sears and MGM. The more expensive MGM model had tone controls and a better speaker.

Some cartridges had a Beatles' label glued over another poor selling Playtape. The format's popularity lasted only through 1968.


 
Audiocassette
The audiocassette tape system was based on an idea to make reel-to-reel tape smaller. In 1963, Norelco, a division of the Dutch company Philips, demonstrated the first audiocassette using 1/8-inch tape at 1 7/8-IPS. It was sold the next year in the US with the Norelco Carry-Corder dictation machine.

The audiocassette was at first unsuitable for music because its slow playback speed produced a low fidelity unsuitable for music. The quality was gradually improved and the first music cassette was introduced in 1966. By 1968, most major record companies were issuing them. Noise reduction systems and the use of chrome and iron bases in the tape allowed audiocassettes to increase their dynamic range. Eventually, the audiocassette overtook vinyl records in sales.


 
Pocket Disc
The Americom Corporation introduced the Pocket Disc in early 1969. Sometimes called a "hip-pocket record" because of its portability, the four-inch double-sided flexidisc sold in vending machines for 50 cents. Several companies manufactured battery operated single play turntables for the records which spun at 33 1/3-RPM. All Beatle Pocket Discs were packaged in generic red or blue cardboard covers.

Beatle releases were:

Hey Jude/Revolution (2276/M-221)
Get Back/Don't Let Me Down (2490/M-335)
The Ballad of John and Yoko/Old Brown Shoe (2531/M-382)

Because the Pocket Disc was so small, the length of Hey Jude was cut in half.

The bottom right picture shows an Americom prototype Pocket Disc vending machine from a press announcement printed on the back page of a January 1969 issue of Billboard magazine. The format sold poorly and was abandoned within a year.


 

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