The introduction of the compact disc brought the music industry out of a terrible post-disco recession but also created a new wave of prosperity that lasted for the rest of the century. But in its earliest days, no one want to know about the CD. Billboard has this oral history of the format that changed everything–for a while, anyway.
On Oct. 1, 1982, in Japan, when Billy Joel‘s 52nd Street became the first-ever CD to go on sale, two electronics giants had been pushing for years to switch from the beloved vinyl LP to the shiny new digital-optical disc. Sony in Japan and Philips in Eindhoven, Netherlands, had invented the compact-disc hardware, and they were aggressively lobbying the world’s biggest labels to provide the software – music – to go with it.
Up to that point, the labels wouldn’t cooperate – not even CBS Records, Sony’s longtime partner for years before the electronics company bought it outright in 1987. “If there would have been rotten eggs available, they would have thrown them at me,” recalls Jan Timmer, then head of Philips Worldwide, of an Athens, Greece, music-industry conference where he attempted to introduce the new format to a roomful of defensive record executives. One was Jerry Moss, head of A&M Records, who pounded his fist on a table. Back then, skeptical label salespeople called the CD “Jerry Shulman‘s Frisbee,” a reference to CBS’ market-research director, the label’s top CD evangelist.