…were introduced in the early Thirties – and looked a lot like PHOTOGRAPH albums.
Which is to say that they were large books with stiff covers – but instead of containing pages of holiday snaps, they had RECORD SLEEVES.
The thing is, record companies always used innovation on CLASSICAL music first – despite popular music outselling it many times over.
There were two reasons for this – one: prestige and two: the fact that most popular records had consistent (high) volume levels, whereas classical music was filled with highs (where the whole orchestra would give it all they had) and lows (like the lead violin playing a reflective solo).
Thus, hiss and crackle would DEVASTATE a symphony.
And with 12″ discs playing a maximum of five minutes a side, you had to keep getting up to change the record.
Which, since concerti, symphonies and the like tend to run for thirty to sixty minutes – and Grand Operas, for HOURS – meant something needed to be done. Enter record auto-changers and ALBUMS.
They way they worked was thus: the album might contain, say, six (12″) discs. And if they had been put back correctly, when you carefully slid them out, they would be in ORDER.
The first disc would be numbered 1 on one side and 12 on the other. The next would be 2 and 11 and so on – ending with 6 and 7.
You would then slide them down the spindle to the device that dropped them down, one at a time, onto the turntable (much like a Sixties Dansette) so that side 1 would play first, then sides 2 – 6. Then you would hit the “play” switch and retire to your armchair.
Plop, plop, plop, etc. The music would run for, say, half-an-hour – then stop.
At which point you would get up, go over to your player and grasp ALL of the discs, slide them back up, off the spindle – flip the whole set over as one – and slide them back down again.
Then you would change the needle (a BRONZE one, that would play half-a-dozen sides – unlike the steel ones that were only good for ONE) and hit the “play” switch once again – and retire to hear the rest of the piece.
This routine was made redundant in 1948, with the introduction of the 12″ VINYL disc. Its “microgrooves” allowed for up to half-an-hour’s playing time per SIDE – at worst, you only needed to get up every twenty minutes.
And of course, the hiss and crackle were GREATLY reduced.
But despite the fact that you now mostly only had one disc per work, the term “album” stuck and is still with us today – even though these days, they are only 12 CENTIMETRES and last for EIGHTY minutes a side (CDs).
An example of the ORIGINAL album can be seen on my latest YouTube channel. The piece is the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s (pronounced CHICK-OFF-SKI’s) First Piano Concerto, played by the great Artur Rubinstein, in 1947.
This piece was unique in that the complete, sixty-five minute work was released in album form, as described above – but since it cost a FORTUNE and the World was recovering from a WAR, they also released just sides 1 and 2 (the first movement) on a single disc – where it crossed over into the popular market and sold by the SHED-full.
You can find it by clicking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0nShAkctH8