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30 Years Ago: The First Compact Disc Released

Billy Joel, '52nd Street'
Columbia Records

Thirty years ago today, the first commercial compact disc was released in Japan, heralding a quantum shift in the way fans would consume music for the next two decades — and setting off a fresh torrent of profits for the record industry.

That compact disc was Billy Joel‘s ’52nd Street,’ already a multiplatinum hit since its original release in 1978. As Time points out, ’52nd Street’ wasn’t technically the first CD; the technology was originally tested on a pressing of Richard Strauss’s ‘Eine Alpensinfonie,’ and the first batch of discs to be manufactured was a run of ABBA’s ‘The Visitors,’ but it didn’t arrive in stores until later.

Of course, today, the CD seems rather quaint — a relic of a bygone era when we had to actually purchase physical goods in order to hear music. But at the time, it was space-age stuff, offering what seemed like a pristine alternative to the fuzzy hiss of cassette tapes and the numerous pitfalls of vinyl. And it carried a space-age price tag, too; in fact, the prohibitive costs of CD players — not to mention the discs themselves — kept most consumers from adapting the new technology for several years.

These days, many of us are more likely to listen to music on our portable digital players — and younger consumers may not even own copies of their favorite songs at all, opting instead to stream from YouTube or subscription services like Spotify. But even if it’s lost a bit of its commercial clout, the compact disc is still kicking on its 30th birthday. Will you celebrate by giving ’52nd Street’ a spin?

Next: The Top Albums (CDs?) of 1982

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