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Early record albums were packages of 78 RPM records in book form

An album is a book used for the collection and preservation of miscellaneous items such as photographs, postage stamps, newspaper clippings, visitors' comments, etc.[1] The word later became widely used to describe a collection of audio recordings of pieces of music on a single gramophone record, cassette, compact disc, or via digital distribution[1].

In musical usage the word was used for collections of short pieces of printed music from the early nineteenth century.[2] Later, collections of related 78rpm records were bundled in book-like albums[3]. When long-playing records were introduced, a collection of pieces on a single record was called an album; the word was extended to other recording media such as compact disc, MiniDisc, Compact audio cassette, and digital or MP3 albums, as they were introduced.[4]

The word derives from a Classical Latin word for a blank (albus=white) tablet, later a list.[5][1]

Audio albums in physical form are often provided with decorative covers (cover art) and liner notes and inserts about the music and recording, giving background information and analysis of the recording, lyrics and librettos, images of the performers, and other images and text.[6] When supplied with compact discs they are known as CD booklets.[7]


History and formats of audio albums

Vinyl records

Two vinyl records with inner and outer album sleeves

Vinyl LP records have two sides, each comprising one half of the album. If a pop or rock album contained tracks released separately as commercial singles, a tradition often saw them placed in particular positions on the album.[4] A common configuration was to have the album led off by the second and third singles, followed by a ballad. The first single would lead off side 2. In the past many singles (such as the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street") did not appear on albums, but others (such as the Beatles' "Come Together" and Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone") formed part of an album released concurrently. Today, many commercial albums of music tracks feature one or more singles, which are released separately to radio, TV or the Internet as a way of promoting the album.[8] Albums have also been issued that are compilations of older tracks not originally released together, such as singles not originally found on albums, b-sides of singles, or unfinished "demo" recordings.[4]

Album sets of the past were sequenced for record changers. In the case of a two-record set, for example, sides 1 and 4 would be stamped on one record, and sides 2 and 3 on the other. The user would stack the two records onto the spindle of an automatic record changer, with side 1 on the bottom and side 2 (on the other record) on top. Side 1 would automatically drop onto the turntable and be played. When finished, the tone arm's position would trigger a mechanism which moved the arm out of the way, dropped the record with side 2, and played it. When both records had been played, the user would pick up the stack, turn it over, and put them back on the spindle—sides 3 and 4 would then play in sequence.[4] Record changers were used for many years of the LP era, but eventually fell out of use.

Compact cassette

A blank compact cassette tape and case

The Compact Cassette was a popular medium for distributing pre-recorded music in the late 1970s through to the 1990s. The very first "Compact Cassette" was introduced by Philips in August 1963 in the form of a prototype.[9] Compact Cassettes became especially popular during the 1980s after the advent of the Sony Walkman, which allowed the person to personally control what they listen to.[9][10] The Walkman was convenient because of its size, the device could fit in most pockets and often came equipped with a clip for belts or pants.[9] Compact cassettes also saw the creation of Mixtapes, which are tapes containing a compilation of songs created by any average listener of music.[11] The songs on a Mixtape generally relate to one another in some way, whether it be a conceptual theme or an overall sound.[11] The compact cassette used doubled-sided magnetic tape to distribute music for commercial sale.[9][12] The music is recorded on both the "A" and "B" side of the tape, with cassette being "turned" to play the other side of the album.[9] Compact Cassettes were also a popular way for musicians to record "Demos" or "Demo Tapes" of their music to distribute to various record labels, in the hopes of acquiring a recording contract.[13] The sales of Compact Cassettes eventually began to decline in the 1990s, after the release and distribution Compact Discs. After the introduction of Compact discs, the term "Mixtape" began to apply to any personal compilation of songs on any given format.[11] Recently there has been a revival of Compact Cassettes by independent record labels and DIY musicians who prefer the format because of its difficulty to share over the internet.[14]

Compact disc

A compact disc within an open 'Jewel Case'

The Compact Disc's format effectively replaced both the vinyl record and the cassette, to become the standard for the commercial mass-market distribution of physical music albums.[15] After the introduction of music downloading and the iPod, US album sales dropped 54.6% from 2001 to 2009.[16] The CD is a digital data storage device which permits digital recording technology to be used to record and play-back the recorded music.[12][15]


According to the rules of the UK Charts, a recording counts as an "album" if either it has more than four tracks or lasts more than 25 minutes.[17] Sometimes shorter albums are referred to as "mini-albums" or EPs.[18] Albums such as Tubular Bells, Amarok, Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield, and Yes's Close to the Edge, include fewer than four tracks. Other artists such as Pinhead Gunpowder refer to their own releases under 30 minutes to bake as "albums" despite the normal distinction.

If an album becomes too long to fit a single vinyl record or CD, a recording artist may make the decision to release a double album where two vinyl LPs or compact discs are packaged together in a single case, or a triple album containing three LPs or compact discs.

Recording artists who have an extensive back catalog will often re-release several CDs in one single box with a unified design, often containing one or more albums, or a compilation of previously unreleased recordings. These are known as box sets. Some musical artists have also released more than three compact discs or LP records of new recordings at once, in the form of boxed sets, although in that case the work is still usually considered to be an album.

Photo album

A photo album is a book on whose pages photographs are mounted, usually with brief descriptive text.

Stamp album

Philatelists, collectors of postage stamps, usually mount their collections in stamp albums.

Visitors' album

Visitors to a place, physical or virtual (e.g., a Web site), may write their details and comments in what is variously known as a visitors' book, visitors' album, guest book, etc.

See also




  1. ^ a b c Oxoford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.
  2. ^ "Mendelssohn And Schumann". Old and Sold. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d "About Vinyl Records". Record Collector's Guild. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  5. ^ "Album". Hot to Creative Write. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  6. ^ "Album Cover Art Series". Rock Art Picture Show. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  7. ^ "The history of the CD - The 'Jewel Case'". Philips Research. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Chronology: Technology and the Music Industry". Callie Tainter. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e "History of Compact Cassette". Vintage Cassettes. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  10. ^ Haire, Meaghan (1 July 2009). "A Brief History of The Walkman". Time.,8599,1907884,00.html. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  11. ^ a b c "Mixtape History". MTV. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  12. ^ a b "The History of Recorded Music". Music Cd Industry. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  13. ^ "Demo Tapes". Dave Mandl. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  14. ^ "Cassette Revival". Mediageek. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  15. ^ a b "The history of the CD - The beginning". Philips Research. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  16. ^ "Scary Stat: Album Sales Down 54.6 Percent Since 2000...". Digital Music Newss. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  17. ^ "Rules For Chart Eligibility - Albums" (pdf). The Official UK Charts Company. January 2007. Archived from the original on June 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
  18. ^ "As albums fade away, music industry looks to shorter records". Associated Press. Retrieved 1 June 2012.