Ongoing History of New Music

The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 1011: A History of Lo-Fi

For the first 60 years of the recorded music industry, things sounded awful. The quality of recordings people had to put up with was terrible. The old 78 RPM records played on gramophones were no match when it came to hearing music played live. We didn’t have the technology to capture audio so that when we listened back, it sounded real.

That began to change in the late 1940s with the introduction of vinyl records: the 233 1/2 RPM vinyl album and the 7-inch 45 RPM single. Things got even better with the switch to magnetic recording tape and all its technical advantages in the early 1950s.

We got new microphones, better tape machines, and a better understanding of acoustics and electronics when it came to designing recording studios. Then came better turntables, amplifiers, and speakers. Recorded audio finally began to sound like the real thing.

In the middle 50s, people started to hear about something pitched as “high-fidelity.” It was a marketing term invented by the new home audio industry to describe equipment capable of reproducing music properly. Once stereo recordings came along in the LATE 50s, music fans went wild and started buying hi-fi gear for their homes, Then their cars. Then for going mobile.

And so began an endless pursuit for perfect sound, music that was loud, clean, clear, and accurate, Recordings studios were in a constant state of retrofitting and refurbishment because artists and producers demanded the best for their music.

That was the 1970s. In the 1980s, there was a reaction, a backlash, an artistic regression, after the introduction of the compact disc. For some, music had become too perfect, too shiny, too unreal, They felt it contained none of the natural imperfections that made it human. Beauty, they thought, was in the mistakes. That’s what made music authentic, Audio quality mattered less than being able to listen to music that obviously came straight from the heart.

These music fans even had a name for their approach. If the best-sounding audio was “high-fidelity,” then what they wanted was the opposite: “low-fidelity.” And that esthetic continues today. This is the history of lo-fi music,

Songs heard on this show:

  • The Exies, Lo-Fi
  • Velvet Undergound, All Tomorrow’s Parties
  • Elvis Costello, Welcome to the Working Week
  • R. Stevie More, I’ve Begun to Fall in Love
  • Daniel Johnston, Walking the Cow
  • Beat Happenbing, Our Secret
  • REM, Radio Free Europe (Hib-Tone version)
  • Tall Dwarfs, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
  • Jesus and Mary Chain, On the Wall
  • Beck, Loser
  • Pavement, Summer Babe

Here’s a playlist from Eric Wilhite.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38051 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.