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Long-Playing Record (LP)

Long-Playing Record (LP)

Since the invention of sound-recording technology by Thomas Edison (1847–1931) in the 1800s, people have looked for new and better ways to bring recorded sound to mass audiences. Before cassettes, compact discs (also called CDs; see entry under 1980s—Music in volume 5), and MPEG-1 Audio Layer-3 (MP3) files, the long-playing record (LP) was for more than forty years the main way people heard recorded music.

During the first half of the twentieth century, the 78-rpm record—spinning on a turntable 78 times, or revolutions, per minute—was the major way people heard recorded music. But the 78-rpm record had a number of drawbacks: It could only hold a few minutes worth of music on each side, it was heavy, and it broke easily. Peter Goldmark (1906–1977), working for Columbia Records, developed the LP in 1948. He overcame the 78's limitations in two ways. First, he lowered the speed of the recording to 331⁄3 revolutions per minute. Second, he squeezed more and smaller grooves onto each side of the record so that more sound could fit on each side of the disc. Those grooves would reach almost one half mile if stretched out in a straight line. The LP also required a diamond needle to play the records, which resulted in improved sound. The LP was immediately hailed by classical music lovers because the longer pieces of classical music could now be heard in a mostly uninterrupted format.

By the 1950s, the LP was the dominant form for recorded music, and it changed the face of popular music in many ways. The LP also improved the sound quality of recordings, lasted longer than 78s, were less prone to breaking, and were cheaper to produce. Although 45-rpm singles (developed at the same time as the LP) were preferred for single songs, the LP allowed musicians to experiment with longer works, including related songs on a single disc. By the 1960s, rock and roll (see entry under 1950s—Music in volume 3) musicians in particular were using the extended format to produce concept albums, the most famous of which was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by the Beatles (see entry under 1960s—Music in volume 4). In the late 1960s, FM disc jockeys (see entry under 1950s— Music in volume 3) preferred to play songs from LPs rather than from 45-rpm singles. Although the arrival of the CD in 1982 seemed to spell the end of the LP, and while most people now prefer CDs, many people still listen to their old LPs. Some new recordings continue to be released in LP format, a testament to the enduring appeal of this technology.

—Timothy Berg

For More Information

Gillen, Marilyn A. "From the Cylinder to the CD." Billboard (November 1, 1994).

Goldmark, Peter. Maverick Inventor: My Turbulent Years at CBS. New York: Dutton, 1973.

Millard, Andre. America on Record: A History of Recorded Sound. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Read, Oliver, and Walter Welch. From Tin Foil to Stereo: The Evolution of the Phonograph. Indianapolis: Howard Sams, 1977.

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