A Brief History of the Record Album – Part 1

Columbia MM-800, 5-LP box set, c. 1948.

A little while ago  I was visiting my hometown of St. Louis and stopped into one my favorite record stores on the planet,Vintage Vinyl. I walked upstairs and ran into one of the owners,  Lew Prince, and we started chatting about a box of old 78 rpm records that was sitting in his office.  He  filled me in on  where the term “album” actually came from and gave me the collectible you see pictured above.

I was so fascinated by this piece of collectible vinyl that I began researching the history of the record album. Here is what I found out.

“An album or record album is a collection of related audio or music tracks distributed to the public. The most common way is through commercial distribution, although smaller artists will often distribute directly to the public by selling their albums at live concerts or on their websites.” – Wikipedia

The term “record album” comes from the way that 78-RPM phonograph discs were originally kept. Bound in a thick book that resembles a photo album below is what an original “album” looks like.

The very first collection to ever be referred to as an “album” was Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, released in April 1909 as a four-disc set by Odeon Records. It retailed for 16 shillings (approximately £56 or US$101 in 2005 currency).

In 1948, Columbia produced the first 12-inch, 33⅓-RPM microgroove record made of vinyl. With a running time of 23 minutes per side, these new records contained as much music as the old-style album of records and, thus, took on the name “album”. For many years, the standard industry format for popular music was an album of twelve songs, originally the number related to payment of composer royalties.

Originally, albums ranged in duration from half an hour to an hour, depending on the genre and record label. American pop albums tended to be around a half hour; British pop albums were somewhat longer, often containing 14 songs instead of 11 or 12; jazz albums were longer still; and classical albums were the longest of all.

Stay tuned for Part 2 as I delve into vinyl during the 60s.

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  • josepharryburns

    Where can I access part 2?

  • josepharryburns

    Where can I access part 2? Or when will it be posted?


    Has the writer actually made a second part? I really need to know ASAP as this is for my dissertation at music college, so if anyone has the link to it or anything, please reply!!


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