Sound and vision blog

20 June 2008

The Longest Day (at 33-1/3 rpm)

21 June 2008 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the commercial LP.  The first vinyl long players were unveiled by Columbia Records at the Waldorf Astoria in New York in 1948.  Columbia chose to launch the LP on the longest day of the year because length was seen as the LP's most obviously saleable improvement over its predecessors.  To prove the point, the first 10-inch LP was a reissue of The Voice of Frank Sinatra, the singer's first record, which had previously only available across four 78rpm shellac discs (one song per side, totalling 24 minutes).

Released by Columbia the same day, the first twelve-inch LP was a recording of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, played by Nathan Milstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Walter.  The format of 10-inch LPs for popular music and 12-inch LPs for classical would last into the mid-50s.

The existence of Columbia's long-playing discs forced competitors into similar innovations.  Hence RCA's development of the 7-inch 'single' the same year.  The vinyl single was originally conceived as a direct competitor to the long player, hence this RCA-designed autochange record player, which would automatically flip and swap discs so you could listen to up to ten 7-inch discs as though you were listening to an album. 

By 1954, 10-inch LPs had been enhanced to allow up to twenty-two minutes of music per side, ending the direct competition between LPs and singles.  Both formats would remain the standard commercial audio medium for thirty years.

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