In case you missed it, the 30th anniversary of the first compact disc sale was on October 1st. The CD in question, sold in Japan in 1982, was Billy Joel’s “52nd Street.” It’s amazing that it’s already been thirty years since that event. It’s easy to take for granted how revolutionary the CD was to the music industry, and for the advances in data storage and computing that followed.
Given the proliferation of digital media and technology in today’s world, it can be easy to forget how momentous this occasion was since CDs ushered in the era of digital audio, and later mass digital data storage for everyone. Sure, Philips’ laserdisc had actually been invented years earlier, but the size of the compact disc, its durability, and its quality would see it become the standard for music playback. In some ways it still is, even though digital music via download is poised to overtake it very soon.
I remember when compact discs first came out. I started seeing them in stores in the early 1990s. They were expensive, but definitely had the ‘wow’ factor. Think of how Apple generates buzz for its products today; Sony was doing that in the 80s and 90s with their products, and the CD was one of them. Not only did they store high quality music, but they were also great data storage mediums, and they were able to store the equivalent data of 450 floppy disks. Back then remember, a megabyte was a huge amount of data, and a CD could hold 700 of them! Amazing.
The first music CD I bought, or should I say, first two music CDs I bought, were the film soundtracks to “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” I have a love for movie soundtracks, and this was the start of a huge collection. I still remember being excited to hear the crisp, clean audio of James Horner’s wonderful score for Star Trek II coming out of my newly acquired CD stereo system. It only got better in later years when I added the Star Wars soundtracks to my collection. John Williams’ iconic scores for that series still work even today!
With the filmmaking and media production I am involved in, CDs were initially a fantastic backup medium. I later graduated to DVDs, and then large external hard drives, but the CD was a great first start in this regard. And I still have my early work stored on them. They made media storage possible.
With the introduction of the iPod a decade ago, and with the expansion of digital downloads and mobile devices in recent years, physical media such as the compact disc are slowly becoming obsolete. I haven’t burnt a CD, or even a DVD for that matter, in a few years now as my work has moved to the internet and is stored locally on hard drives. I also haven’t played a music CD in years as my iPhone has been more than capable of playing back my music collection.
The next generation will no doubt look back at the compact disc with amusement and call it “old tech,” but I will always remember it fondly as the medium that introduced me to quality music, just as the generation before mine fell in love with vinyl. And I know there are a lot of people like me out there who will remember the CD fondly.
Do You Remember The First Compact Disc You Bought?