This allowed for up to 22 minutes of music per side, perfect for “serious” music like classical and original cast recordings of Broadway shows. By the time we reached the First World War, it had been decided that Emile Berliner’s rotating disc was the best approach. It marked the beginning of albums becoming the basis of the music industry, something that would continue for the next five decades. [This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca – AC]
While trying to wrap my head around the concept of moles and trying to remember Avogadro’s number, Mr. Seventy years ago this month, Columbia Records introduced a brand new format: the 12-inch long-playing microgroove album — the LP. Revolving at 78 RPM, each side of the 10-inch disc could hold around four minutes of music. And there was more to come. I was also interested on Global New Radio 640 on the subject. One lecture dealt with all the formats on which music has been stored since Thomas Edison first demonstrated his rotating cylinder in 1877. Keep reading. Another new invention, the 7-inch 45 RPM single (also made of polyvinyl chloride and using microgroove technology) became the chosen format for pop music. Twenty years later, though, artists like the Beatles and Pink Floyd were using this new LP pallet to make music far beyond the usual three-and-a-half minute song, paving the way for intricate conceptual pieces. Richards, my Grade 11 chemistry teacher, said something that has stuck in my head all these years: “A gas expands to fill the space available.”
This rule of chemistry and physics came to mind when I was preparing a history lesson for a college class I’m teaching on the music business. It worked, too. Because this was the maximum capacity of a record, it helped standardize the length of the popular song to between three and four minutes. Using a new raw material called polyvinyl chloride, Columbia figured out how the grooves of the record could be made smaller and placed closer together. The music expanded to fill the space available. And so it remained for the next 50 years.
Does the album have a future? Let’s take a close look.