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


The first commercial compact disc was released on Oct. 1, 1982 in Japan, heralding a quantum shift in the way fans would consume music for the next two decades – and setting off a fresh torrent of profits for the record industry.

That compact disc was Billy Joel‘s 52nd Street, which had already become a multiplatinum hit after its original release in 1978. As Time pointed out, 52nd Street wasn’t technically the first CD; the technology was originally tested on a pressing of Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie, and the first batch of discs to be manufactured was a run of ABBA’s The Visitors, but it didn’t arrive in stores until later.

Of course, today the CD seems rather quaint – a relic of a bygone era when we had to actually purchase physical goods in order to hear music. But at the time, it was space-age stuff, offering what seemed like a pristine alternative to the fuzzy hiss of cassette tapes and the numerous pitfalls of vinyl. And it carried a space-age price tag, too. In fact, the prohibitive costs of CD players – not to mention the discs themselves – kept most consumers from adapting the 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 at all, opting instead to stream from YouTube or subscription services like Spotify.

Still, even if it’s lost a substantial amount of commercial clout, the compact disc has nevertheless arrived at yet another birthday. Will you celebrate by giving 52nd Street a spin?

See Billy Joel Among the Top 100 Albums of the ’70s

Next: Top 10 Billy Joel Songs

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