LONDON (Reuters) – In the basement of the British Library, curator Andy Linehan inspects the latest addition to a massive archive of wax cylinders, cassettes, LPs and CDs – a vinyl record that made musical history.
Released in the United States in 1948, Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor, performed by violinist Nathan Milstein with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, was the very first vinyl LP, or long playing record.
The 12 inch 33 1/3 rpm format allowed longer pieces to be recorded, changing the way listeners enjoyed their music.
“The fact that the long playing record came into existence was a huge step for music sound recording and for the listener,” Linehan, curator of popular music in the British Library sound archive, said.
“Previously you could only get 3 minutes or so onto one side of a record and now because you had a narrower groove and a slower speed, you could get up to 20 minutes, which meant you could get a whole classical piece on one side of a record … you could get a whole package of songs together on one record.”
Thursday marks 70 years since Columbia Records introduced the LP, and British music retailer HMV and label Sony Classical recreated 500 copies of the concerto to give away to fans, with one replica donated to the British Library’s archive.
The record adds to the library’s 250,000 collection of LPs, usually commercial releases in Britain, and artifacts going back to the beginning of sound recording, such as wax cylinders, patented by Thomas Edison in 1877, the first way fans could buy music to listen to at home.
Thursday’s anniversary comes at a time when vinyl has been enjoying a revival. In Britain, while it still only accounting for 7 percent of album sales, it draws fans of all ages.
According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), vinyl LP sales rose to 4.1 million last year from 205,292 in 2007.
“Vinyl is popular because people see it more artifact rather than utility,” Gennaro Castaldo, BPI communications director, said. “They love the whole ritual around buying it and then playing it at home and also the sound quality is much warmer, richer and people appreciate that.”
Rock remains the best selling vinyl genre and last year, the biggest seller on the format in Britain was Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” album. Older titles such as Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” were also in the top 10.
“Our record stores are stocking more vinyl than we’ve ever stocked in terms of the last 10 years,” Simon Winter, PR and events manager at HMV, said.
At the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street, in central London, music aficionados buying vinyl records said they appreciated its sound quality.
“I grew up with mum and dad listening to a lot of Meat Loaf and a lot of heavy metal and rock and roll … and a lot of that was done on vinyl,” Steve Pound said. “That recording is just very, very unique.”
Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Additional reporting by George Sargent and Edward Baran; Editing by Alison Williams