Skip to main content

The 12 Best 12-Inch Vinyl Singles

Spin these tracks and connect with your inner DJ.

The 12-inch single (or “maxi” single, as it was called back in the ’70s and ’80s) tends to be synonymous with DJs, conjuring up visions of dual turntables. Yet there is so much more to this form of media! When vinyl records ruled the radio waves as well as the dance floors, the 12-inch was a great way for record companies to get a new release out to the public immediately, and there were sonic benefits as well. Putting an entire song or two on one side of a large slab of vinyl like this means big grooves, along with the potential for tons of bass and incredible dynamic range.

Today, 12-inch singles still exist, but they tend to be more biased towards electronica, house and the occasional Record Store Day release. Here are a dozen — some new and some old — that I think you’ll enjoy.

1. All of a Sudden – The Chemical Brothers

“All of a Sudden” is the latest single drop from the Chemical Brothers, which is actually the B-side of their song “No Reason.” Their signature heavy driving beats (on both sides) deliver a solid bottom end that you might not be used to, even with vinyl. Hang up that disco ball and turn up the volume!

2. 1999 – Prince

Prince may just be the undisputed king of the 12-inch, in part because so much of his music was being played in clubs, but also because he had such a prodigious output. All his singles deliver the maximum level of dynamics the medium is capable of, but if this one happens to be your first purchase, you’ll be hooked for life.

3. Paranoimia – The Art of Noise

Released in 1986, the three versions of the title track and a bonus edit of “Dragnet 89” have Max Headroom nodding in approval. All are full of fun electronic sounds that fly all over the room, weaving in and out of the signature synth backing track that anchors it all. Though many 12-inch singles are 45 rpm. with one track on each side, this one is meant to be spun at 33, so you can dance for about 10 minutes before you have to flip it over.

4. It’s Tricky – RUN-D.M.C

Nothing says hip-hop to me like RUN-D.M.C. This 33 rpm 12-inch features five versions of “It’s Tricky”: Club Mix, Uptempo version, the album version, “scratchapella” version, and the “Tricky Reprise.” “Proud to be Black” is a bonus track at the very end.

5. Cruel Summer – Bananarama

Considering it’s been a warmer than normal summer and big hair is starting to make a comeback, this one seems totally appropriate to make the list. The title track delivers a more solid beat than the LP version (which is very compressed), and the three vocalists come through with much more presence.

6. High and Dry – Radiohead

This eclectic group has released a wide range of 12-inch singles for nearly 15 years now. “High and Dry,” from their second album, The Bends, accentuates the atmospheric aspect of their music perfectly, creating a massive sonic landscape in your listening room (or in your headphones). Most 12-inchers deliver more overall level, but this one does a particularly good job of revealing the intimate vocals and the separation of the three guitars that are the foundation of the Radiohead sound.

7. Prime Time – The Tubes

The ’70s art band The Tubes were well known for attracting top studio engineers to assemble their albums, and this track from Remote Control was produced by Todd Rundgren. As with most 12-inch singles, the wide grooves produce additional sonic nuggets that even the well-crafted LP hides — like backup singer Re Styles, who sounds much more present in this release.

8. Become – Beach House

Here’s a 12-inch that blurs the line between maxi single and EP. There are five new Beach House tracks here, and the group’s dreamy sound really comes to life on vinyl, with a Twin Peaks-like feel. In addition to the ethereal vocals, there are some heavy synth bass grooves to rattle your walls.

9. Peek-a-Boo! – DEVO

The alternative DEVO anthem “Peek-a-Boo!” is another great example of taking a fairly dense track and achieving greatness by spreading it all out on one album side. The jumble of grungy, distorted guitars and synthesizers all have their own voice here. Keep this one at the front of your record crate on party night.

10. The Look of Love – Dusty Springfield

This is one of the few 12-inch single releases pressed by an audiophile label, the now defunct Classic Records. Good as the standard album sounds, this version really shows off just how great your Hi-Fi system can sound. The only thing that did a better job at capturing Dusty’s slinky voice is the master tape!

11. I Scare Myself – Thomas Dolby

Here’s another track that sounds absolutely brilliant with all the extra groove space, and again, it’s not just about slamming bass, but about inner detail. “I Scare Myself” was recorded with such a huge feel, you’ll swear there are surround sound speakers hidden somewhere in your room.

12. Fight The Power – Public Enemy

The theme song from Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing demands the forcefulness that only a 12-inch single can provide. There are a few options out there, but I suggest the extended version, with the full unedited 6:45 rendition from the theatrical release, and the sanitized radio version on the flip side.

Keep reading