It's clear that at least one of my old sparring partners will miss the CD single, but I cannot help thinking this is Pure Sentimentalism: The Next Generation, as those who fell in love with pop in the 1990s are steadily overtaken by the yearnings of age and the internal mythologisations of early discovery. The question is: will this ever be as endemic, as widespread, as the romanticism of vinyl clearly still is? I personally doubt it.
CD singles were pretty much the quintessential 90s pop product: taking off early in the decade as vinyl steadily became a niche for romantics, pretty much dead in the US by the decade's end, lasting longer in the UK but nonetheless beginning a rapid decline at the turn of the century, squeezed at one end by Napster and its successors and at the other by the chart rules introduced around that time restricting the length of CD singles and numbers of formats, a futile attempt to return to a vanished era of scarcity which rapidly killed off the collectors' market for rare tracks and remixes which by then made up a very significant part of the format's appeal - you no longer needed to buy a single simply for the lead track, that song was now absolutely omnipresent and unavoidable through countless other means. And that I think is the reason why the CD single will be very largely unmourned - by the time it became dominant, pop as a medium - at least in the form of its biggest hits - had become universal, no longer rationed by lingering echoes of austerity, puritanism and old-elite fear of loss of national power. The generation who grew up in the 1990s - and thus on CD singles - simply did not, on the whole, feel the same level of romantic attachment to the pop that captured their hearts the most in the way that earlier generations had. Music obsessives did, probably (and still to a greater extent than now, especially if - like Nick and myself - they felt the romanticism of geographical isolation in the last years before the internet became almost universal in our generation), but the wider audience did not. Once, almost everyone's experience of pop had been, to some extent, romantic (and thus much more likely to place within the audience a yearning for the specific methods by which they first discovered it). By the 1990s, multiple factors had greatly reduced the romanticism of pop, and those factors I suspect will make it far easier for those who grew up with the CD single to leave the format behind with few hankerings.
Nick comments about songs you love being "hidden and a bit inaccessible" which makes it "a bit more precious". He may not have meant it, but he sums up the entire experience of pop pre-mass media saturation, pre-elite approval, pre-celebification of politics, and everything else he was not old enough to truly be part of himself. I would suspect that comparatively few of our generation feel that kind of attachment, which is why we have been able to take the transition to mp3s without any particular sadness. This is also the reason why vinyl sales have increased in the last couple of years, to the point where the 45-rpm single, as a niche product, may well outlive the CD single as any kind of product - vinyl carries within it the mythos and the memories of the romanticism of scarcity, and can appeal to those who never experienced it themselves but wish they had. This is an appeal that the CD single will, I think, never be able to attain - by the 1990s, after all, we were already most of the way to where we are now.