Records are NOT called vinyls

Note also kids that the day is called ‘Record Store Day’ – not vinyl store day.

The plural of vinyl – is vinyl – not vinyls.

But just so you know there is no such word as “vinyls.” The plural of vinyl happens to be vinyl and I’ve never heard someone with a vinyl collection use the term “vinyls.”

As a buyer and collector of records in the 1970s and 80s, I went to ‘record’ stores, to buy ‘records’. The shops sold records and tapes, and later, CDs. Somewhere along the time, the term ‘vinyl’ crept in. Yet before I hit you with some history – consider if you will the opinion of a younger person who collects music. If you dig music on the cassette – you collect cassettes. If you enjoy listening to music on CD – you you collect CDs. And if you enjoy listening to music on vinyl, you collect vinyls, right? You can see how the confusion has crept in.

So, is “vinyl” qualified as a mass noun, sometimes called an uncountable noun. These nouns — such as cheese, beer and wine also fit. Mass nouns, whereby the plural form of a mass noun can be used to refer to more than one type or instance of the named category. So you can say cheeses, beers and wines. The hipsters may consider that ‘vinyls’ seem to fit nicely into that group. Yet I think that ‘vinyl’ is a plural neutral.  — a plural that’s identical to its singular form, such as deer, fish, scissors etc.  Many astute punters may consider that the grammar of the term has nothing to do with it – and I concure that the term extends to its historical origins.  So get a coffee and continue reading.

A phonograph ‘record’ (also known as a gramophone record) is an analog sound storage medium in the form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. The groove usually starts near the periphery and ends near the center of the disc. At first, the discs were commonly made from shellac; starting in the 1950s polyvinyl chloride became common. In recent decades, records have sometimes been called vinyl records.

The phonograph disc record was the primary medium used for music reproduction throughout the 20th century. It had co-existed with the phonograph cylinder from the late 1880s and had effectively superseded it by around 1912.  Phonograph records are generally described by their diameter in inches (12-inch, 10-inch, 7-inch), the rotational speed in revolutions per minute (rpm) at which they are played (​8 1⁄3, ​16 2⁄3, ​33 1⁄3, 45, 78),[6] and their time capacity, determined by their diameter and speed (LP [long playing], 12-inch disc, ​33 1⁄3 rpm; SP [single], 10-inch disc, 78 rpm, or 7-inch disc, 45 rpm; EP [extended play], 12-inch disc or 7-inch disc, ​33 1⁄3 or 45 rpm); their reproductive quality, or level of fidelity (high-fidelity, orthophonic, full-range, etc.); and the number of audio channels (mono, stereo, quad, etc.).

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Amazing invention – it could both record and reproduce sound. Edison first tried recording sound on a wax-impregnated paper tape, yet no dice, and then moved to tinfoil. A decade later, Edison developed a greatly improved phonograph that used a hollow wax cylinder instead of a foil sheet. This proved to be both a better-sounding and far more useful and durable device. The wax phonograph cylinder created the recorded sound market at the end of the 1880s and dominated it through the early years of the 20th century.

Lateral-cut disc records were developed in the United States by Emile Berliner, who named his system the “gramophone”, distinguishing it from Edison’s wax cylinder “phonograph” and American Graphophone’s wax cylinder “graphophone” (still with me  reader?) Berliner’s earliest discs, first marketed in 1889 were played with a small hand-propelled machine. A few years later, Berliner’s manufacturing associate Eldridge R. Johnson improved production, and sales.

Not to be outdone, Edison came back with the Amberol cylinder in 1909, with a maximum playing time of ​4 1⁄2 minutes (at 160 rpm), which in turn were superseded by Blue Amberol Records, which had a playing surface made of celluloid, a plastic, which was far less fragile. Despite these improvements, during the 1910s discs won out over cylinders – yet Edison continued to produce new Blue Amberol cylinders for an ever-dwindling customer base until late in 1929. Yet discs proved to be the dominant form.

Yet electrically amplified record players were initially expensive and slow to be adopted. In 1925, the Victor company introduced both the Orthophonic Victrola, an acoustical record player that was designed to play electrically recorded discs, and the electrically amplified Electrola. The acoustical Orthophonics were priced from US$95 to $300, depending on cabinetry. However the cheapest Electrola cost $650, in an era when the price of a new Ford Model T was less than $300 and clerical jobs paid around $20 a week.

Gradually, electrical reproduction entered the home. The spring motor was replaced by an electric motor. The old sound box with its needle-linked diaphragm was replaced by an electromagnetic pickup that converted the needle vibrations into an electrical signal. The tone arm now served to conduct a pair of wires, not sound waves, into the cabinet. The exponential horn was replaced by an amplifier and a loudspeaker.

The earliest disc records (1889–1894) were made of variety of materials including hard rubber. Around 1895, a shellac-based material was introduced and became standard. Formulas for the mixture varied by manufacturer over time, but it was typically about one-third shellac and two-thirds mineral filler (finely pulverized slate or limestone), with cotton fibers to add tensile strength, carbon black for color. The production of shellac records continued throughout the 78 rpm era which lasted until the 1950s in industrialized nations, but well into the 1960s in others.

Flexible, “unbreakable” alternatives to shellac were introduced by several manufacturers during the 78 rpm era beginning in 1904. This included a coated celluloid or a similar substance onto a cardboard core disc as well as a thin flexible plastic record such as the German Phonycord. In the US, Hit of the Week records were introduced in early 1930. They were made of a patented translucent plastic called Durium coated on a heavy brown paper base. A new issue debuted weekly, sold at newsstands like a magazine. Despite these innovations, shellac continued to be used for the overwhelming majority of commercial 78 rpm records throughout the format’s lifetime.

In 1931, RCA Victor introduced vinyl plastic-based Victrolac as a material for unusual-format and special-purpose records. In 1932, RCA began using Victrolac in a home recording system. By the end of the 1930s vinyl’s light weight, strength, and low surface noise had made it the preferred material for prerecorded radio programming and other critical applications. For ordinary 78 rpm records, however, the much higher cost of the synthetic plastic, as well as its vulnerability to the heavy pickups and mass-produced steel needles used in home record players, made its general substitution for shellac impractical at that time. During the Second World War, the United States Armed Forces produced thousands of 12-inch vinyl 78 rpm V-Discs for use by the troops overseas. After the war, the use of vinyl became more practical as new record players with lightweight crystal pickups and precision-ground styli made of sapphire or an exotic osmium alloy proliferated.

78 rpm records were normally sold individually in brown paper or cardboard sleeves that were plain, or sometimes printed to show the producer or the retailer’s name. Generally the sleeves had a circular cut-out exposing the record label to view. Records could be laid on a shelf horizontally or stood on an edge, but because of their fragility, breakage was common.  German record company Odeon pioneered the album in 1909 when it released the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky on 4 double-sided discs in a specially designed package. However, the previous year Deutsche Grammophon had produced an album for its complete recording of the opera Carmen. The practice of issuing albums was not adopted by other record companies for many years. One exception, HMV, produced an album with a pictorial cover for its 1917 recording of The Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan). By about 1910, bound collections of empty sleeves with a paperboard or leather cover, similar to a photograph album, were sold as record albums that customers could use to store their records (the term “record album” was printed on some covers). These albums came in both 10-inch and 12-inch sizes. The covers of these bound books were wider and taller than the records inside, allowing the record album to be placed on a shelf upright, like a book, suspending the fragile records above the shelf and protecting them.  In the 1930s, record companies began issuing collections of 78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music in specially assembled albums, typically with artwork on the front cover and liner notes on the back or inside cover. Most albums included three or four records, with two sides each, making six or eight tunes per album. When the 12-inch vinyl LP era began in 1948, each disc could hold a similar number of tunes as a typical album of 78s, so they were still referred to as an “album”, as they are today. So now you know.

So remember these two points – 78’s were mostly made of shellac- AND they became known as ‘records’ to distinguish them from cylinder recordings. After World War II, two new competing formats entered the market, gradually replacing the standard 78 rpm:

Note: Records (NOT vinyls) & tapes

As recording technology evolved, more specific terms for various types of phonograph records were used in order to describe some aspect of the record: either its correct rotational speed (“​16 2⁄3 rpm” (revolutions per minute), “​33 1⁄3 rpm”, “45 rpm”, “78 rpm”) or the material used (particularly “vinyl” to refer to records made of polyvinyl chloride, or the earlier “shellac records” generally the main ingredient in 78s).

Vinyl records do not break easily, but the soft material is easily scratched. Vinyl readily acquires a static charge, attracting dust that is difficult to remove completely. Dust and scratches cause audio clicks and pops. In extreme cases, they can cause the needle to skip over a series of grooves, or worse yet, cause the needle to skip backwards, creating a “locked groove” that repeats over and over. This is the origin of the phrase “like a broken record” or “like a scratched record”, which is often used to describe a person or thing that continually repeats itself.

Bottom line bub – records are records. Call em vinyl records if you must  – but not vinyls.

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