June 21, 1948: Columbia Records introduced its new 12” long-playing (LP) record at a New York press conference. It rotated at 33⅓ revolutions per minute (rpm) and became the standard for gramophone records. It also became the dominant music format for a large chunk of the second half of the 20th century, eventually succumbing to cassettes and compact discs.
The Voice of Frank Sinatra is commonly referred to as the first LP and could be called the first genuine concept album. It was originally released in 1946 as a collection (or “album”) of four 78 rpm singles. It was actually released in a 10” format which was introduced at the same time as the 12” format. Also, the Sinatra album was only one of 100 different titles released simultaneously; it was simply the album given the first catalog number (CL 6001).
The Voice of Frank Sinatra 78 RPM cover (left) and 33⅓ cover (right)
Columbia’s president Ted Wallerstein was instrumental in the birth of the LP. He envisioned an entire movement of a symphony to be on one side of an album. Hence, the resulting LP format was particularly suited to classical music. This meant that the first official catalog number for the 12” format was actually for Felix Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64. It was a performance played by Nathan Milstein with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York and conducted by Bruno Walter.
By 1949, Capitol Records also began releasing LPs, followed by RCA Victor in 1950. 1949 also marked the first appearance of LPs in Europe thanks to the UK’s Decca Records. Beyond classical music, the first genre to really gain success was cast recordings of Broadway musical, such as 1949’s South Pacific.