The Vinyl Record ruled the home music experience during what could be argued as the four best decades in pop music’s history. Introduced in 1948, the Vinyl Record or LP was designed for the long song play of classical music, but it didn’t take long for pop music producers to realize the potential of the vinyl disc that could play 20 minutes of music on each side. Prior to the LP, the 78s were the popular choice for on demand music in the home. The 78s were made from shellac, were very fragile, and only played 5 minutes of music on each side.
By 1952 the LP, and its “single song” counterpart the 45, accounted for half of all units sold in the U.S. By 1958, ten years after its introduction, the LP ruled the music market with a whopping 97.9% of sales. The LP was far more convenient for consumers than the 78, which came in “albums” of multiple discs; it was also far cheaper for producers to make because of their ability to place many tracts on one disc. The convenience and sound quality of the LP reigned supreme until the advent of the compact disc; even though the cassette tape was introduced before the compact disc it never quite rivaled the LP. The cassette tape was viewed as the king of music for automobiles, but it never took the place of the LP in the home. It could even be argued that without the ease and convenience of the Vinyl Record the pop-music culture would not have had such a large influence on the social and cultural structure of our nation.
During the height of LP usage, the 1950s through the mid-1980s, American life changed drastically. During the 1950s the automation of everyday life took shape with electric appliances like the washing machine. Automobiles became the main source of transportation for every American, and the television became a main fixture in every American household. In the 1960s Americans watched the Space Race and then, with baited breath, watched an American walk on the moon. In the 1970s America faced a social reconstruction in the Civil Rights Movement that hadn’t been seen since the Civil War, and Americans reconnected with their neighbors after the division created by the Vietnam War. In the 1980s American’s rejoiced in new technological advances like the personal computer and the mobile phone. Everything changed during the reign of the Vinyl Record. From Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix, Elvis to Willie Nelson, and the Beatles to Michael Jackson, the LP provided the soundtrack to four of the most historic decades in American history. Now old and new generations alike have found a deep longing for the memories of that sound track.
It is not a new phenomenon that younger generations find an appreciation in the things and ideals of generations past. The resurgence of the LP as a collector’s item and form of entertainment could be attributed to the natural course of human nostalgia, or it could be more. The music of the LP is woven into the very fabric of American life. The distinctive crack and pop of an LP, whether it is the Beatles or Patsy Kline, represents a time of homemade pot roast and apple pie. The LP is a link to a time of block parties, a time before the television dictated family schedules, and a time when children played outside until the street lights came on. Perhaps the resurgence of the LP is not just the natural course of pop culture antiquities but a connection to a time of independent awareness, rebellious hope, and the romance of the American dream.