“You spin me right round baby, right round. Like a record baby, right round, round round.”
Sure, British new wave band Dead or Alive were “probably” talking about vinyl records in 1984 with their smash hit, “You Spin Me Round (Like a record),” but who can really be sure? With the introduction of the CD just a couple years prior, maybe DoA was leading the charge as spokesmen of the compact disc movement. An era that would usher in bulky multi-disc stereos and anti-skip protection portable players, all centered around a shiny donut-like disc that made selecting your favorite tracks so much easier.
Which brings up an interesting question – what were the first albums released on CD?
With cassette tapes reigning supreme for so long, which record companies and artists took the plunge and banked on the future success of the CD? Let’s take a brief history lesson and go behind the music, shall we?
First bands to release CDs
Oh mama, mia! Can you believe that ABBA was the first popular artist to release an album on CD? Yep, long before their discography became synonymous with over-the-top summer musicals, ABBA was breaking fresh ground in the audio world with the 1982 CD release of their 1981 album Visitors. I guess it makes sense that ABBA was among the first CD trailblazers. The band was probably just looking for “C” and “D” to help round out the first four letters of the alphabet.
Shortly after ABBA’s release, 50 more titles were released in Japan on October 1st, 1982, one of which was a re-release of Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. But for Americans, they’d have to wait a couple more years for their first stateside CD release when Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen released Born in the USA in September of 1984. A fitting album for a fitting time for a fitting first release. It may also be that Springsteen just wanted to show off his backside on as many different album covers as possible – America’s behind on full display in a pair of denim blues.
Fun fact: The first actual commercially produced compact disc was a 1979 recording of Chopin Waltzes by Claudio Arrau. And while it’s August 1982 release predates ABBA’s Visitors, it doesn’t get the crown for first popular music album release. Aww, poor Claudio.
First commercial CD player
While the birth of the compact disc (CD) was the brainchild (literally) of co-developers (or technology parents in this case), Philips and Sony back in 1982, the first commercially available audio CD player came at the hands of Sony’s CDP-101 player. The player was released in Japan in October of 1982 along with the release of 50 CDs to go with it, among them were Joel’s 52nd Street, Toto’s Turn Back, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and 46 more that would take too long to name.
First portable CD player
Portable CD players were actually introduced in the mid 1980s with the ‘84 release of the Sony Discman D-50, but most people weren’t foolish enough to buy them because they’d skip all the time. And not in the cool hip-hop record scratch way. Literally, walking and listening wasn’t an option at the time unless you wanted your music to start and stop uncontrollably. This allowed cassette tapes to maintain their majority share of the portable music market throughout the decade. But by the 90s, that all changed when anti-skip technology was introduced (I can still remember my first 3-second anti skip Sony player and how amazing it was). The Walkman was great but as the Discman’s technology improved, a new king ruled the walk and bop music market.
End of an era
During its creation and launch, the CD was poised to be the successor to vinyl. And while it did replace vinyl and cassettes as the format for nearly two decades, its primary focus shifted into a data storage medium over the years, especially it’s later years. With the CD-ROM and CD-Rs, compact discs went on to become much more than just an audio format. But all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately the end for the CD came when mp3 players and music streaming services took the audio helm in the new millennium.
To quote ABBA and bring this whole thing full circle, “Thank You For the Music” compact disc. Gone but never forgotten.
By the late 2000s, thanks in large part to the emergence of the MP3 in the early/mid 2000s, those shiny little discs began to see a steep decline in sales. And by 2015, only 24% of music sales in the United States were courtesy of the CD. Three years later, Best Buy, one of the leading CD retail sellers announced plans to significantly decrease focus on the sales of what was once the form of music entertainment. And while CDs are technically still being made today, it may not be long before this blog will have to be updated with the last band to ever have an album produced on CD. It’s only a matter of time …