spinnin' blue pin
A gramophone record (also phonograph record, or simply record) is an analogue sound recording medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed modulated spiral groove starting near the periphery and ending near the center of the disc. Gramophone records were the primary technology used for personal music reproduction for most of the 20th century. They replaced the phonograph cylinder in the 1900s, and although they were supplanted in popularity in the late 1980s by digital media, they continue to be manufactured and sold.
The terms LP record (LP, 33, or 33-1/3 rpm record), 16 rpm record (16), 45 rpm record (45), and 78 rpm record (78) each refer to specific types of gramophone records. Except for the LP, these type designations refer to their rotational speeds in revolutions per minute (RPM). LPs, 45s, and 16s are usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and hence may be referred to as vinyl records or simply vinyls.
***********A sound recording and reproduction device utilizing what were essentially disc records was described by Charles Cros of France in 1877 but never built. In 1878, Thomas Edison independently built the first working phonograph, a tinfoil cylinder machine, intending to use it as a voice recording medium, typically for office dictation. The phonograph cylinder dominated the recorded sound market beginning in the 1880s. Lateral-cut disc records were invented by Emile Berliner in 1888 and were used exclusively in toys until 1894, when Berliner began marketing disc records under the Berliner Gramophone label. The Edison "Blue Amberol" cylinder was introduced in 1912, with a longer playing time of around 4 minutes (at 160 rpm) and a more resilient playing surface than its wax predecessor, but the format was doomed due to the difficulty of reproducing recordings. By November 1918 the patents for the manufacture of lateral-cut disc records expired, opening the field for countless companies to produce them, causing disc records to overtake cylinders in popularity. They would dominate the market until the 1980s. Production of Amberol cylinders ceased in the late 1920s.***************Early disc records were originally made of various materials including hard rubber. From 1897 onwards, earlier materials were largely replaced by a rather brittle formula of 25% "shellac" (a material obtained from the excretion of a southeast Asian beetle), a filler of a cotton compound similar to manila paper, powdered slate, and a small amount of a wax lubricant. The mass production of shellac records began in 1898 in Hanover, Germany. Shellac records were the most common until the 1950s. Unbreakable records, usually of celluloid (an early form of plastic) on a pasteboard base, were made from 1904 onwards, but they suffered from an exceptionally high level of surface noise.
In the 1890s the early recording formats of discs were usually seven inches (nominally 17.5 cm) in diameter. By 1910 the 10-inch (25.4cm) record was by far the most popular standard, holding about three minutes of music or entertainment on a side. From 1903 onwards, 12-inch records (30.5cm) were also commercially sold, mostly of classical music or operatic selections, with four to five minutes of music per side.*****************Such records were usually sold separately, in plain paper or cardboard sleeves that may have been printed to show producer of the retailer's name and, starting in the 1930's, in collections held in paper sleeves in a cardboard or leather book, similar to a photograph album, and called record albums. Empty record albums were also sold that customers could use to store their records in.
While a 78 rpm record is brittle and relatively easily broken, both the microgroove LP 33? rpm record and the 45 rpm single records are made from vinyl plastic which is flexible and unbreakable in normal use. However, the vinyl records are easier to scratch or gouge. 78s come in a variety of sizes, the most common being 10 inch (25 cm), and 12 inch (30 cm)in diameter, (sometimes 6 - 8 inches in the U.K.), and these were originally sold in either paper or card covers, generally with a circular cutout allowing the record label to be seen. The Long-Playing records (LPs) usually come in a paper sleeve within a colour printed card jacket which also provides a track listing. 45 rpm singles and EPs (Extended Play) are of 7 inch (17.5 cm) diameter, the earlier copies being sold in paper covers.
In 1930, RCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record, marketed as "Program Transcription" discs. These revolutionary discs were designed for playback at 33? rpm and pressed on a 30 cm diameter flexible plastic disc. In Roland Gelatt's book The Fabulous Phonograph, the author notes that RCA Victor's early introduction of a long-play disc was a commercial failure for several reasons including the lack of affordable, reliable consumer playback equipment and consumer wariness during the Great Depression.***********However, vinyl's lower surface noise level than shellac was not forgotten, nor was its durability. In the late 30's, radio commercials and pre-recorded radio programs being sent to disc jockies started being stamped in vinyl, so they would not break in the mail. In the mid-40's, special DJ copies of records started being made of vinyl also, for the same reason. These were all 78 RPM. During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited, some 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac (wax), particularly the six-minute 12" (30 cm) 78 rpm records produced by V-Disc for distribution to US troops in World War II. In the 40's, radio transcriptions, which were usually on 16 inch records, but sometimes 12 inch, were always made of vinyl, on 78 RPM.
Beginning in 1939, Columbia Records continued development of this technology. Dr. Peter Goldmark and his staff undertook exhaustive efforts to address problems of recording and playing back narrow grooves and developing an inexpensive, reliable consumer playback system. In 1948, the 12" (30 cm) Long Play (LP) 33? rpm microgroove record album was introduced by the Columbia Record at a dramatic New York press conference. In 1949, RCA Victor released the first 45 RPM single, 7" in diameter, with a large center hole to accommodate an automatic play mechanism on the changer, so a stack of singles would drop down one record at a time automatically after each play.
During the reign of the Communist Party in the former USSR, records were commonly homemade using discarded medical x-rays. These records, nicknamed "Bones", were usually inscribed with illegal copies of popular music banned by the government. They also became a popular means of distribution among Soviet punk bands; in addition to the high cost and low availability of vinyl, punk music was politically suppressed, and publishing outlets were limited.************Earliest rotation speeds varied widely, but between 1900-1925 most records were recorded between 74-82 rpm. In 1925, 78.26 rpm was chosen as the standard because of the introduction of the electrically powered synchronous turntable motor. This motor ran at 3600 rpm with a 46:1 gear ratio which produced 78.26 rpm. In parts of the world that used 50 Hz current, the standard was 77.92 RPM, which was the speed at which a strobe disc with 77 lines would "stand still" in 50 Hz light. Thus these records became known as 78s (or "seventy-eights"). This term did not come into use until after World War II when a need developed to distinguish the 78 from other newer disc record formats, an example of a retronym. Earlier they were just called records, or when there was a need to distinguish them from cylinders, disc records. Standard records was also used, although the same term had also been used earlier for two-minute cylinders.
After World War II, two new competing formats came on to the market and gradually replaced the standard "78": the 33? rpm (often just referred to as the 33 rpm), and the 45 rpm. The 33? rpm LP (for "long play") format was developed by Columbia Records and marketed in 1948. RCA Victor developed the 45 rpm format and marketed it in 1949, in response to Columbia. Both types of new disc used narrower grooves, intended to be played with a smaller stylus - typically 0.001" (25 µm) wide, compared to 0.003" (76 µm) for a 78 - so the new records were sometimes called Microgroove. In the mid-1950s all record companies agreed to a common recording standard called RIAA equalization. Prior to the establishment of the standard each company used its own preferred standard, requiring discriminating listeners to use preamplifiers with multiple selectable equalization curves.
A number of recordings were pressed at 16? RPM, but these were mostly used for radio transcription discs or narrated publications for the blind and visually impaired, and were never widely commercially available.
The older 78 format continued to be mass produced alongside the newer formats into the 1950s, and in a few countries, such as India, into the 1960s. As late as the 1970s, some children's records were released at the 78 rpm speed.
The commercial rivalry between RCA Victor and Columbia Records led to RCA Victor's introduction of what it had intended to be a competing vinyl format, the 7" (175 mm) /45 rpm disc. For a two-year period from 1948 to 1950, record companies and consumers faced uncertainty over which of these formats would ultimately prevail in what was known as the "War of the Speeds".
From the mid-1950s through the 1960s, in the US the common home "record player" or "stereo" would typically have had these features: a three- or four-speed player with changer (78, 45, 33?, and sometimes 16? rpm); a combination cartridge with both 78 and microgroove styluses; and some kind of adapter for playing the 45s with their larger center hole. The large center hole on 45s allows for easier handling by jukebox mechanisms. RCA 45s can also be adapted to the smaller spindle of an LP player with a plastic snap-in insert known as a 'spider'; such inserts were prevalent starting in the 1960s.
Deliberately playing or recording records at the wrong speed was a common amusement. For example, playing the song "I'm on Fire" from Bruce Springsteen's 33? LP at a 45 speed gives the singer a falsetto singing voice that sounds very much like Dolly Parton. Subsequently, playing a 45 rpm recording of Dolly Parton at 33? gives her a voice a husky, almost masculine tone.
Canadian musician Nash the Slash took advantage of this speed/tonal effect with his 1981 12" disc Decomposing, which featured four instrumental tracks that were engineered to play at any speed (with the playing times listed for 33?, 45 and 78 rpm playback). Faster playback made the tracks sound like punk rock or power pop, while slower speeds gave the songs a thick, heavy metal effect.