Compact disc

How Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” Became the First Compact Disc Released

The first commercial compact disc was released on October 1, 1982 in Japan, heralding a quantum shift in the way fans would consume music for the next two decades – and triggering a new torrent of profits for the recording industry.

This compact disc was that of Billy Joel 52nd street, which had already become a multi-platinum hit after its original release in 1978. Like Time underline, 52nd street was not technically the first CD; the technology was originally tested on a Richard Strauss press Eine Alpensinfonie, and the first batch of discs to be manufactured was a series of ABBA Visitors, but it didn’t arrive in stores until later.

Of course, today the CD looks rather quaint – a relic of a bygone era when we had to buy physical goods to hear music. But back then, it was space age stuff, offering what seemed like a pristine alternative to the blurry hiss of cassettes and the many pitfalls of vinyl. And it also wore a space age price tag. In fact, the prohibitive costs of CD players – not to mention the discs themselves – kept most consumers from adapting to new technology for several years.

Fast forward a few decades, and 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, choosing instead to stream from. YouTube or subscription services like Spotify.

Yet even though it has lost a substantial amount of commercial weight, the compact disc has nonetheless come to another anniversary. Will you celebrate by giving 52nd street a lap?