Happy 40th birthday to the CD!

Compact Discs were first available to the public 40 years ago. Let’s say the birthday of the CD is October 1st, when Billy Joel’s album was the first commercial CD released (ABBA are sometimes said to have that honour, but theirs was produced before Billy Joel’s and released after). Due to the rise of online downloads and streaming, audio CDs were quite recently declared to be dead. Yet, as with vinyl and cassettes, they are becoming popular again and a lot of artists still release albums on CD. I’m not sure there is much of a market for CD singles, however, unless for the collectors. I doubt that many people bought CD players in 1982, when the first albums were released in this new format, but the technology would soon become more affordable and portable, dominating until the 2000s, when the internet changed our listening and buying habits.

I still listen to my CDs. I even buy new ones occasionally. I like to have a physical copy of the music and I also appreciate the effort put into track lists, which have been curated with care. Usually they include glossy booklets with lyrics, photos and more. CD packaging is a convenient size, not too big or small. Plastic cases are liable to crack, while the cardboard ones get scuffed, but the discs themselves are sturdier, if you manage not to scratch the underside.

When I switched from cassettes, it was weird to listen to an album without flipping it over or having to tighten the reel of loose tape, and it was simple to skip tracks instead of the imprecise art of fast-forwarding. I still think CDs are marvellous. Maybe it’s just because I’m accustomed to them, as I’m always a late adopter of new technology (I didn’t get a smartphone until 2016 and that was only because my old phone stopped working). However, I think it’s the same reason I prefer printed books. I find e-books very convenient for several reasons, but I’m very fond of printed books and if I had to choose one format, it would be the physical, for the look, feel and experience.

Not all CDs are equally desirable. Walk into any charity shop and you’ll see them being practically given away, most noticeably early 2000s pop, or the freebies from newspapers and magazines. I remember reading at least a decade ago that CDs cost 20p to manufacture. You can buy scruffy second-hand ones for little more than that now. However, remasters of classic albums, deluxe versions from contemporary artists, or rare albums which have never been reissued, can be expensive and surprisingly popular for a format that some people consider to be dead. I wouldn’t care to estimate how long the CD will be around for, but I hope that music fans will continue to enjoy the format for a few decades yet.

Do you listen to CDs? Or do you consider them obsolete? Maybe you prefer vinyl instead, or maybe you only stream online? Let me know!

10 thoughts on “Happy 40th birthday to the CD!”

  1. I can remember CDs coming out and seeing the players of Tomorrow’s World! I think I got my first CD when I was about 15/16. Mainly due to the fact that we were hit hard by the miners strike in 1984. I still buy CDs occasionally too

    1. I’m sure they seemed amazing for the time – you can tell which CDs are the early ones as they include instructions which tell us what these new-fangled CDs are and how to clean them! Do you remember which was your first one?

  2. I love my CD collection; it is varied and random and I can’t imagine being without it. I do still have a few Vinyls and to be honest this would be my preferred choice now, but they have got so expensive. I regret not having the albums, but after several moves and then not having a record player I sold them. I do stream music but like you I do prefer a physical item. I cannot believe it is 40 years since the first CD!

    1. That’s great to hear, Yvonne 🙂 I guess without my CD collection I’d have 2 shelves of my bookcase free! I haven’t got any vinyl as I haven’t got a record player, you’re right the records are very expensive, hopefully that reflects the quality of the manufacture.

  3. This is a brilliant post! 😀 Thank you for sharing, I had no idea they were so old. 😮 I’ve listended to vinyl, cassettes and CDs in my time (the vinyl being when I was very young and alongside the cassettes my family had). I only finally listened to CDs when I got my first CD player in the late 90s and I remember thinking how cool it was to be able to switch tracks especially as I had a little remote for my CD player. I still listen to my CDs (and honestly the cassettes and even binyl sometimes though lately I’ve been on the lookout for a new record player so it’s now ben a while) and don’t consider them obsolete – not in my mind they’re not anyway. In fact I’m sometimes a bit sad I can’t buy a CD single anymore as there were always extra B side tracks or a kareoke track or an interview you could listen to making it worth the price and sometimessome artwork and possibly even lyrics printed on the little sheet that you just don’t get with digital downloads. Btw, you’re not alone in being late with a smart phone, my first smart phone was also in 2016, lol!

    1. Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoyed the post 😀 I only had cassettes, up to about 2001, so when I got a hi-fi which could play CDs they did seem modern although they had been around for ages. They were more expensive than tapes of course. Oh yes the good thing about CD singles was the extra track or two and there’d be a couple of different versions of the single. The funny thing about digital downloads is that I occasionally buy them…. and put them on to CDs! I think regarding technology I’m just OK to keep using it until it stops working.

  4. This is so fun! I am very nostalgic about CDs but I also still listen to them almost daily. Thank goodness my car has a CD player–I don’t think I’d buy a car without one!

    1. Thanks! It’s interesting we can be nostalgic about CDs now, I wonder where the border is for when modern things provoke nostalgia. I’m glad you still listen to them 🙂 I imagine it’s difficult to find a new car which has a CD player?

  5. When I moved house, I got rid of my vinyl record collection, but kept my CDs. However, I mostly stream via Spotify to listen to music these days.

    1. I think streaming is probably the majority now, I’m sure it is more convenient and has a lot of other advantages but I tend to stick with the same technology I grew up with.

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