On October 1, 1982, Billy Joel's "52nd Street" was released commercially on CD
CDs wouldn't overtake cassettes in popularity until the late 1980s
CDs remain popular but are losing ground to MP3s and streaming music
Whether the audio quality of CDs is greater than vinyl remains a hotly debated topic
On October 1, 1982, the first commercial compact disc, Billy Joel’s “52nd Street,” was released in Japan. In the 30 years since, hundreds of billions of CDs have been sold, Joel has stopped recording pop music and the music industry has moved on to the next hot medium.
When the first CD player was released that same day, it was described as a “new digital record player, using laser beams” by United Press International. Spun out of the far less successful Philips’ laser disc technology (remember those?), the CD was a result of Philips and Sony combining forces.
The compact disc was actually invented several years earlier. The first test CD was Richard Strauss’s “Eine Alpensinfonie,” and the first CD actually pressed at a factory was ABBA’s “The Visitors,” but that disc wasn’t released commercially until later.
Mass adoption didn’t happen immediately – CDs wouldn’t overtake cassette tapes until the late 1980s. The first album to sell 1 million copies in the CD format and outsell its vinyl version was Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms,” released in 1985.
As with most new technologies, one reason for the slow spread of CDs was their steep price tags. The Sony CDP-101 player sold for the equivalent of $730 when it first hit Japanese shelves in 1982. Accounting for inflation, that’s about $1,750 today. The audio CDs themselves were $15, which is $35 in 2012 dollars.
Because getting a new player and replacing an entire music collection was costly, audio manufacturers were savvy enough to market the first CD players to classical music fans, who were more likely to care about sound quality and have extra disposable income.