Black Vinyl at 33⅓ RPM

Neumann Record Cutting Machine
Image: JacoTen

On June 21, 1948, Columbia Records introduced the long-playing record album, in short the LP, in a public demonstration at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, New York, which soon was adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry. Apart from relatively minor refinements and the important later addition of stereophonic sound capability, it has remained the standard format for vinyl “albums”.

To take a look at the origins of the LP, we must start with the player piano. It was a self playing piano with a pneumatic or electro-mechanic mechanism operating the instrument with programmed music. The music was mostly ‘written’ on perforated paper or metallic rolls. It became very popular in American households, even though it was not able to play emphasized notes intended by the artist. In 1877, Thomas Edison published his idea on the phonograph, which made him famous. It contained a wax cylinder driven by a mechanical motor. An acoustic playback head then picked up different depths converting them into acoustic energy. About ten years later, a revolutionary change hit the “record industry”. Emile Berliner knew about the many limitations, the cylinders had in the sense of quantity and usability. He decided to build a flat disc on which the grooves were pressed. However, development went further and in 1946, the very first LP was produced, but it took further changes , since many issues in equalizing the inner grooves, vinyl formulations and many others still appeared.

Columbia Records started their research on the LP in 1941 and resumed their work in 1945 due to the difficulties during World War II. When the LP was introduced, the first two long-players were Frank Sinatra’s The Voice and Mendelssohn‘s Concerto in E Minor.

The LP immediately succeeded. It was a perfect format for Broadway musicals, and shows like My Fair Lady and South Pacific boosted the distribution of the new format. To the LP’s success also belonged the fact that smaller labels were able to produce and distribute music with a high quality sound without a high technology studio. This paved the way for independent bands and helped the music industry to broaden with a greater variety of music styles.

The advantage of the LP was, of course, its playing time. An average LP has approximately 460m of groove on each side. Some bands began to play ‘tricks’ on the LP like the Beatles. Their track A Day in Life is located at the end of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and runs a continuous loop unless the player is turned off.

At yovisto you may enjoy a historical documentation, following the process of recording music and bringing it to American households in the 1950’s via LPs.

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