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LONG PLAY RECORDS LP

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

Description: Records, History, USA

Known For: The LP (Long Play), or long-playing microgroove record

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BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

The Long Play Records (Long Play) = LP

The LP (Long Play), or long-playing microgroove record, is a format for phonograph (gramophone) records, an analog sound storage medium. Introduced by Columbia Records on June 21, 1948 during a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, it was soon 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” up to the present.

At the time the LP was introduced, nearly all phonograph records for home use were made of an abrasive (and therefore noisy) shellac compound, employed a much larger groove, and played at approximately 78 rpm, limiting the playing time of a 12-inch record to less than five minutes per side. The new product was a 12 or 10-inch fine-grooved disc made of vinyl and played with a smaller-tipped “microgroove” stylus at a speed of 33⅓ rpm.

Each side of a 12-inch LP could play for more than 20 minutes. Only the microgroove standard was truly new, as both vinyl and the 33⅓ rpm speed had been used for special purposes for many years, as well as in one unsuccessful earlier attempt to introduce a long-playing record for home use. Although the LP was especially suited to classical music because of its extended continuous playing time, it also allowed a collection of ten or more typical “pop” music recordings to be put on a single disc.

Previously, such collections, as well as longer classical music broken up into several parts, had been sold as sets of 78 rpm records in a specially imprinted “record album” consisting of individual record sleeves bound together in book form. The use of the word “album” persisted for the one-disc LP equivalent.

The LP was soon confronted by the “45”, a 7-inch fine-grooved vinyl record playing at 45 rpm, introduced by RCA Victor in 1949.

Originally expected to compete with the LP, boxed “albums” of 45s were issued, as well as “EP” (Extended Play) 45s, which squeezed two or even three selections onto each side, but the 45 succeeded only in directly replacing the “78” as the format for issuing “singles” of individual popular songs.

Reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorders posed a new challenge to the LP in the 1950s, but the higher cost of prerecorded tapes was one of several factors that confined tape to a niche market. Despite the later introduction of cartridge and cassette tapes, which were more convenient and less expensive than reel-to-reel tapes and became popular for use in automobiles beginning in the mid-1960s, the LP was not seriously challenged as the primary medium for listening to recorded music at home until the 1970s, when the audio quality of cassette tapes was greatly improved by better tape formulations and noise reduction systems. Only the 1983 advent of the digital Compact Disc (CD), which offered a recording that was truly noiseless and not audibly degraded by repeated playing or careless handling, succeeded in toppling the LP from its throne, but only after the initially high prices of CDs and CD players had come down.

Along with phonograph records in general, some of which were made of other materials, LPs are now widely referred to simply as “vinyl”. In the 21st century, a renewed interest in vinyl has occurred and the demand for the medium has been on a steady increase yearly in niche markets, though most modern listeners still prefer compact discs or digital file formats.

Soundtrack discs

The prototype of the LP was the soundtrack disc used by the Vitaphone motion picture sound system, developed by Western Electric and introduced in 1926. The maximum playing time of each side of a conventional 12-inch (30 cm) 78 rpm disc, slightly less than five minutes, was not acceptable. The disc had to play continuously for at least 11 minutes, long enough to accompany a full 1000-foot reel of 35 mm film projected at 24 frames per second. The disc diameter was increased to 16 inches (40 cm) and the speed was reduced to 33⅓ revolutions per minute.

Unlike their smaller LP descendants, they were made with the same large “standard groove” used by 78s. The groove started at the inside of the recorded area and proceeded outward. Like 78s, early soundtrack discs were pressed in an abrasive shellac compound. They were played with a single-use steel needle held in a massive electromagnetic pickup with a tracking weight of five ounces.

By the very early 1930s, all motion picture studios were recording on optical soundtracks, but sets of soundtrack discs, mastered by dubbing from the optical tracks, were made as late as 1936 for distribution to theaters still equipped with disc-only sound projectors

Radio transcription discs

Syndicated radio programming was distributed on 78 rpm discs beginning in 1928, but the desirability of a longer continuous playing time soon led to the adoption of the Vitaphone soundtrack disc format for this purpose. 16-inch 33⅓ rpm discs playing about 15 minutes per side were used for most of these “electrical transcriptions” beginning in about 1930. Transcriptions were variously recorded inside out like soundtrack discs or with an outside start.

Some were recorded with a vertically modulated “hill and dale” groove, as this was found to allow a wider dynamic range and an extension of the high-end frequency response, not necessarily a great advantage in practice due to the limitations of AM broadcasting. Initially, transcription discs were pressed only in shellac, but by 1932 pressings in RCA Victor’s vinyl-based “Victrolac” were appearing. Other plastics were sometimes used. By the late 1930s vinyl was standard for nearly all kinds of pressed discs except ordinary commercial 78s, which continued to be made of shellac.

In addition to pressed discs, beginning in the mid-1930s one-off 16-inch 33⅓ rpm lacquer discs were used by radio networks, mainly to archive recordings of their programming, which was all broadcast live, and by local stations to delay the broadcast of network programming or to prerecord some of their own productions.

In the late 1940s, magnetic tape recorders were adopted by the networks to prerecord shows or repeat them for airing in different time zones, but 16-inch vinyl pressings continued to be used into the early 1960s for non-network distribution of prerecorded programming. The LP’s microgroove standard started to be incorporated in the late 1950s, and in the 1960s the discs were reduced to 12 inches, becoming physically indistinguishable from ordinary LPs.

Unless the quantity required was very small, pressed discs were a more economical medium for distributing high-quality audio than tape, so the use of LP-format transcription discs continued into the 1980s. The King Biscuit Flower Hour is a late example.

RCA Victor

RCA Victor introduced an early version of a long-playing record for home use in September 1931. These “Program Transcription” discs, as Victor called them, played at 33⅓ rpm and used a somewhat finer and more closely spaced groove than typical 78s. They were to be played with a special “Chromium Orange” chrome-plated steel needle.

The 10-inch discs, mostly used for popular and light classical music, were normally pressed in shellac, but the 12-inch discs, mostly used for “serious” classical music, were normally pressed in Victor’s new vinyl-based Victrolac compound, which provided a much quieter playing surface.

They could hold up to 15 minutes per side. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, was the first 12-inch recording issued. The New York Times wrote, “What we were not prepared for was the quality of reproduction….incomparably fuller.”

Unfortunately for Victor, it was downhill from there. Many of the subsequent issues were not new recordings but simply dubs made from existing 78 rpm record sets. The dubs were audibly inferior to the original 78s. Two-speed turntables with the 33⅓ rpm speed were included only on expensive high-end machines, which sold in small numbers, and people were not buying many records of any kind at the time. Overall record sales in the U.S. had crashed from a high of $105.6 million in 1921 to $5.5 million in 1933, due to competition from radio and the effects of the Great Depression.

Few if any new Program Transcriptions were recorded after 1933 and two-speed turntables soon disappeared from consumer products. Except for a few recordings of background music for funeral parlors, the last of the issued titles had been purged from the company’s record catalog by the end of the decade.

The failure of the new product left RCA Victor with a low opinion of the prospects for any sort of long-playing record, influencing product development decisions during the coming decade.

Columbia

CBS Laboratories head research scientist Peter Goldmark led Columbia’s team to develop a phonograph record that would hold at least 20 minutes per side.

Research began in 1941, was suspended during World War II, and then resumed in 1945.

Columbia Records unveiled the LP at a press conference in the Waldorf Astoria on June 18, 1948 in two formats: 10 in (25 cm) in diameter, matching that of 78 rpm singles, and 12 in (30 cm) in diameter.

Although they released 100 simultaneously to allow for a purchasing catalogue, the first catalogue number for a ten-inch LP, CL 6001, was a reissue of the Frank Sinatra 78 rpm album set The Voice of Frank Sinatra; the first catalogue number for a twelve-inch LP, ML 4001, was the Mendelssohn Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64, played by Nathan Milstein with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Bruno Walter. These two albums are therefore the first long-players.

Physical Aspects

Owing to marketing attitudes at the time, the 12-inch format was reserved solely for higher-priced classical recordings and Broadway shows; popular music appeared only on 10-inch records. Executives believed classical music aficionados would leap at the chance to finally hear a Beethoven symphony or a Mozart concerto without having to flip a seemingly endless series of four-minute-per-side 78s, but popular music fans, used to consuming one song per side at a time, would find the shorter time of the ten-inch LP sufficient.

This belief would prove to be mistaken in the end, and by the mid-1950s the 10 inch LP, like its similarly sized 78 rpm record, would lose out in the format wars and be discontinued. Ten-inch records would reappear as mini-albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States and Australia as a marketing alternative.

When initially introduced, 12-inch LPs played for a maximum of 45 minutes, divided over two sides. However, in 1952, Columbia Records began to bring out extended-play LPs that played for as long as 52 minutes, or 26 minutes per side.

These were used mainly for the original cast albums of some Broadway musicals, such as Kiss Me, Kate and My Fair Lady, or in order to fit an entire play, such as the 1950 production of Don Juan in Hell, onto just two LPs. The 52+ minute playing time remained rare, however, because of mastering limitations, and most LPs continued to be issued with a 30- to 45-minute playing time throughout the lifetime of their production. However, some albums would eventually exceed even the 52-minute limitation, with single albums going to as long as ninety minutes in the case of Arthur Fiedler’s 1976 LP 90 Minutes with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, made by Radio Shack.

However, such records had to be cut with much narrower spacing between the grooves, which allowed for a much smaller amount of dynamic range on the records, and meant that playing the record with a worn needle could damage the record. It also resulted in a much quieter sound. (Other notably long albums included the UK version of The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath, with both sides exceeding 26 minutes in length; Genesis’ Duke, with both sides exceeding 27 minutes; Bob Dylan’s 1976 album Desire, with side two being just shy of thirty minutes; Brian Eno’s 1975 album Discreet Music, whose A-side exceeded 30 minutes; Miles Davis’ 1972 album Get Up with It, totalling 124:15 over four sides; Todd Rundgren’s 1975 album Initiation, totaling 67:32 over two sides, as well as his band Utopia’s 1974 self-titled debut, totaling 59:17 over two sides, and his 1973 album A Wizard, A True Star, whose second side nearly reaches thirty minutes; and La Monte Young’s Dream House 78′ 17″, whose two sides were each just under 40 minutes (the running time of the album is indeed 78:17).

Spoken word and comedy albums, not having a wide range of musical instrumentation to reproduce, can be cut with much narrower spacing between the grooves; for example, The Comic Strip, released by Springtime Records in 1981, has a side A lasting 38:04 and a side B lasting 31:08, for a total of 69:12.

In any case, the standard 45-minute playing time of the LP was a significant improvement over that of the previous dominant format, the 78 rpm single, which was generally limited to three to four minutes.

At around 14 minutes per side for 10-inch and 23 minutes per side for 12-inch, LPs provided a measured time to enjoy a recording before having to flip discs.

Some record turntables, called record changers, could play a stack of records piled on a specially designed spindle and arm arrangement. Because of this, many multiple-record sets were released in what’s called “automatic sequence.”

A two-record set would have Side 1 and Side 4 on one record, and Side 2 and Side 3 on the other, so the first two sides could play in a changer without the listener’s intervention, and then they could simply flip the stack over. Larger boxed sets used appropriate automatic sequencing (1+8, 2+7, 3+6, 4+5 for example) to allow for ease of continuous playback, but difficulties if searching for an individual track.

In contrast to compact disc players, very few record players, e.g., laser or selected linear tracking turntables like Sharp RP-107/117, could provide a per-track programmable interface, so the record albums play in the same order every time. As the LP achieved market dominance, musicians and producers began to pay special attention to the flow from song-to-song, to keep a consistent mood or feel, or to provide thematic continuity, as in concept albums.

Vinyl records are much more vulnerable to being scratched than CDs. On a record, a scratch can cause popping sounds with each revolution when the needle meets the scratch mark. Deeper scratches can cause the needle to jump out of the groove altogether. If the needle jumps ahead to a groove further inward, information gets skipped. And if it jumps outward to the groove it just finished playing, it can repeat in an infinite loop, serving as the simile for things that continuously repeat (“like a broken record”).

Additionally, records used in radio stations can suffer cue burn, which is a result of putting the needle on the record and then backing it up approximately a quarter turn so that it will play at the proper speed when the DJ starts the song. When this is done repeatedly, a hissing sound will preface the start of the actual song.

The large surface area of the record, being vinyl and therefore susceptible to becoming statically charged, pulls dust and smoke suspended particles out of the air, also causing crackles, pops and (in the worst cases of contamination) distortion during playback. Records may be cleaned before playing, using record cleaner and/or antistatic record cleaning fluid and anti-static pads.

Since LP discs are delicate, as well as heavy for their size, people are less inclined to lug a stack of them around – for example, when visiting friends or when traveling – than a similar quantity of music compiled onto 90-minute cassettes, compilation-tapes or today’s digital formats.

The average LP has about 1,500 feet (460 m) of groove on each side, or about a third of a mile. The tangential needle speed relative to the disc surface is approximately one mile per hour, on average. It travels fastest on the outside edge, unlike audio CDs, which change their speed of rotation to provide constant linear velocity (CLV). (By contrast, CDs play from the inner radius outward, the reverse of phonograph records.) This allows the lock groove effect used by The Beatles on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on which the last track, “A Day in the Life”, runs into a continuous loop that will repeat as long as the record player is on.

Thin, closely spaced spiral grooves that allowed for increased playing time on a 33⅓ rpm microgroove LP led to a tinny pre-echo warning of upcoming loud sounds. The cutting stylus unavoidably transferred some of the subsequent groove wall’s impulse signal into the previous groove wall. It was discernible by some listeners throughout certain recordings but a quiet passage followed by a loud sound would allow anyone to hear a faint pre-echo of the loud sound occurring 1.8 seconds ahead of time.

This problem could also appear as “post”-echo, with a tinny ghost of the sound arriving 1.8 seconds after its main impulse.

The RIAA equalization curve (used since 1954) de-emphasizes the bass notes during recording, allowing closer spacing of record grooves and hence more playing time. On playback, the turntable cartridge pre-amplifier reverses the RIAA curve to flatten out the frequencies again.

Disc jockeys (or DJs) in clubs still rely heavily on vinyl records, as cuing tracks from cassette tapes is too slow, and the quality insufficient, and CDs did not allow creative playback options until quite recently.

The term “DJ,” which had always meant a person who played various pieces of music on the radio (originally 78s, then 45s, now cuts from CDs or tracks on a computer) – a play on the horse-racing term “jockey” – has also come to encompass all kinds of skills in “scratching” (record playback manipulation) and mixing dance music, rapping over the music or even playing musical instruments, but the original dance club (non-radio) definition was simply somebody who played records (LP tracks or 12″ singles) in a club, alternating between two turntables.

The skill came in subtly matching beats or instruments from one song to the next, providing a consistent dance tempo. DJs also made occasional announcements and chatted with patrons to take requests while songs were actually playing, similar to what radio disc jockeys have been doing since the 1940s.

When the LP was introduced in 1948, the 78 was the conventional format for phonograph records. By 1952, 78s accounted for slightly more than half of the units sold in the United States, and just under half of the dollar sales. The 45, oriented toward the single song, accounted for 30.2% of unit sales and 26.5% of dollar sales. The LP represented 16.7% of unit sales and 26.2% of dollar sales.

Ten years after their introduction, the share of unit sales for LPs in the U.S. was 24.4%, and of dollar sales 58%. Most of the remainder was taken up by the 45; 78s accounted for only 2.1% of unit sales and 1.2% of dollar sales.

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WORKS

Hit Singles

1951 “The Morning Side of the Mountain”
“It’s All in the Game” 18
“All Over Again” 10
1952 “Please, Mr. Sun” 22
“You Win Again” 13
1953 “A Fool Such As I”
“Baby, Baby, Baby” 26
1954 “Secret Love” 28
1958 “It’s All in the Game”(new version)
“Please Love Me Forever” 61
“Love Is All We Need” 15
1959 “Please, Mr. Sun”(new version) 11 18
“The Morning Side of the Mountain”(new version) 27
“My Melancholy Baby” 26 27 29
“It’s Only the Good Times” 86
“I’ve Been There” 53
“I Looked At Heaven” 100
“(New In) The Ways of Love” 47
“Honestly and Truly” 65
1960 “Don’t Fence Me In” 45
“I Really Don’t Want To Know” 18
“It’s Not the End of Everything”

AlbumsIt’s All In The Game Tommy Edwards MGM E 3732
The Very Best of Tommy Edwards (1963, Cat. No. E/SE 4141)
Tommy Edwards in Hawaii (1960, Cat. No. E/SE 3838)
Tommy Edwards (Lion Records of Canada, Cat. No. L 70120)
For Young Lovers (1959, Cat. No. E/SE 3670)
Tommy Edwards’ Greatest Hits (1961, Cat No. E/SE 3884)
Tommy Edwards Sings (Regent MG 6069)
[edit] Production notesThe recording “Honestly and Truly” is only heard on compact disc in mono, because the original stereo master tape was either lost or destroyed.

The recording “Take These Chains From My Heart” is heard on compact disc in re-channeled stereo, because, as with the above song, the original stereo master was lost or destroyed.

These recordings were issued on the MGM record label, unless otherwise noted.

“It’s All In The Game” (1958 version) was produced by Harry Myerson. He is assumed to be the producer for all tracks from this point forward, although this can not be confirmed.

The orchestra was conducted and the arrangements were made on all records by LeRoy Holmes.