Happy Birthday, CD

Posted October 2, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

The compact disc turns 30 today – and boy, oh boy has it aged.

If it wasn’t for iTunes and the crazy innovations of the modern tech age, the music world would be hosting an international Google+ party for the compact disc today. That’s because that circular midget of an LP that shines like a disco ball prism bounced itself into our evolving world of musc consumption back on October 1, 1982. Today, the compact disc turns 30 years old, at least in the eye of the public. Its street arrival gave way to the digital revolution and began the slow and painful demise of the cassette tape and even vinyl. Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (Columbia), originally released in 1978, was the first album to be digitally ready to the U.S. consumer. ABBA’s The Visitors was assembled first for compact disc, but wasn’t first to come out the gate for commercial purchase. Strangely enough, it was Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, released in 1984, that became the first compact disc to be manufactured on American shores, since the US depended on Japan and Germany to produce the compact disc and its players up to 1984. At the time of its release, CDs sold for a whopping $16.99 at regular retail price, while a Philips laser CD player would fetch for 500 US dollars. By the late-’80s, CDs became more affordable and the players became more economically-friendly.

Since then, over 200 billion copies of that shiny, devilishly vinyl replacement has been sold worldwide. In the 1990’s, the CD experienced its zenith, selling zillions of copies in ways vinyl didn’t. Shania Twain’s Come on Over (22 million), Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack (19.1 million), Britney Spears’s …Baby One More Time (13.9 million), Backstreet Boys’s self-titled disc (14.1 million) and Santana’s Supernatural (14.6 million) were some of the champions. Others like Pearl Jam’s Ten (12.1 million), Celine Dion‘s Falling Into You (13.1 million) and Mariah Carey’s Music Box (11.5 million) also proved to be groundbreakers in CD sales.

Today, onlookers shamelessly brush past electronic departments in mega box retail outlets like Target, Walmart and BestBuy as the CD ages with the shame that comes with any given fad. Today the norm is to conveniently download digital copies of singles (not even albums) to the modern-day Walkmans; that would be iPhones, Android devices, tablets or even the less-popular mp3 player. Streaming services, even YouTube, are also putting a major wallop on the CD’s survival rate. But don’t count the 30-year old CD out totally. It still has some luster left in its lifespan left.

Three-fourths of the sales spurred from Adele’s groundbreaking best-seller 21 have been in the form of the compact disc. By the end of 2012, it will most likely sell up to ten million copies across all the available formats.

Sure, CDs bears the old-school equivalence of the compact disc. Younger generations will frown upon it as being their mommy-and-daddy’s choice of music consumption. And audiophiles will probably forever tease that 90-minute CD-R disc for its frailties, experiential weaknesses, and its inability to defeat vinyl’s warmer audio sensibilities, but compact discs will always be that physical format that always connects us to digital. Without it, music would only live in the clouds.

October 1, 2012



About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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