What Was the First Album to Be Released on Compact Disc?

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First album released on CDArtist: Bill Joel

Album: 52nd Street (1978, released on CD, 1982)

The journey toward the CD began in the early 1970s when Sony and Phillips began working on an optical disc with digitally encoded sound that could be read by laser. Before the compact disc, it was all vinyl and cassette tape. It was even early enough that your cousin, or was it your uncle, still had an 8-track player in the dash of his car. There were lots of record players and cassette players, so no matter how great the new compact disc format was, there was one problem: Nobody had a compact disc player. And, if they did have one, what were they going to play on it? Somebody had to take the plunge and release something on the new format. Who was it?

The first time the public at large heard a CD recording was on the BBC television program Tomorrow’s World. The show played a recording of the Bee Gee’s “Lying Eyes” album from 1981. However, the first real test new disc’s capability had occurred in Langenhagen, Germany, near Hannover. It was a recording of Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) by Richard Strauss played by the Berline Philharmonic. Soon, this company, Deutsche Grammophon now part of PolyGram, was ready to start pressing CD’s for real. The first one they made was ABBA’s 1981 album “The Visitors.”

The first CD album to be released to the market, however, was Billy Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street in 1982. It had been a number one album for Joel. Coinciding with this release was Sony’s release of the first compact disc player for consumer use, the Sony CDP-101, in Japan. The price tag was a whopping $750 and the unit was huge by today’s standards, the size of a VCR. CD’s themselves were around twice the cost of an LP. The size problem was licked by 1984 when Sony introduced the Sony Discman, a portable version reminiscent of the ever-popular Sony Walkman.

In 1983 came the “Big Bang” of the digital audio revolution. Sony partnered with CVS records and CD’s and CD players were released into the U.S. market. They were received quite well. It took a bit longer for the rock industry to really catch on. At first, the industry resisted. Audio cassettes were very popular at this time, not to mention vinyl records. And, since many of the record companies themselves had invested in vinyl, switching to CD wasn’t an easy sell.

The CD players were still quite expensive. But, as the price of the players and the discs gradually came down, the compact disc became more popular in the rock and pop markets. Although many would complain about the lack of “warmth” the new discs had so many advantages, they were impossible to ignore. You could handle them with ease, they accentuated recordings and did away with some pitch problems inherent in vinyl (the wow and flutter), and no matter how many times you played one, you never heard pops and clicks like you did on your old vinyl records.

Dire Straits album, “Brothers in Arms” was the first CD to sell a million copies. David Bowie, in F February 1985, was the first artist to have all his albums converted to CD, including 15 albums and four greatest hits discs, all released by RCA Records. By 1988, there were 400 million CD’s and their production had completely overtaken the production of vinyl records.

1. Grayson, Robert. Sony: the Company and Its Founders. ABDO Pub., 2013.
3. John, Del Bianco Fred. 50 Favs of the ’60s ’70s ’80s. AuthorHouse, 2013.

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