Discover Rare 1980s CDs by Lou Reed, Devo & Talking Heads That Combined Music with Computer Graphics

When it first hit the mar­ket in 1982, the com­pact disc famous­ly promised “per­fect sound that lasts for­ev­er.” But inno­va­tion has a way of march­ing con­tin­u­al­ly on, and nat­u­ral­ly the inno­va­tors soon start­ed won­der­ing: what if per­fect sound isn’t enough? What if con­sumers want some­thing to go with it, some­thing to look at? And so, when com­pact disc co-devel­op­ers Sony and Philips updat­ed its stan­dards, they includ­ed doc­u­men­ta­tion on the use of the for­mat’s chan­nels not occu­pied by audio data. So was born the CD+G, which boast­ed “not only the CD’s full, dig­i­tal sound, but also video infor­ma­tion — graph­ics — view­able on any tele­vi­sion set or video mon­i­tor.”

That text comes from a pack­age scan post­ed by the online CD+G Muse­um, whose Youtube chan­nel fea­tures rips of near­ly every record released on the for­mat, begin­ning with the first, the Fire­sign The­atre’s Eat or Be Eat­en.

When it came out, lis­ten­ers who hap­pened to own a CD+G‑compatible play­er (or a CD+G‑compatible video game con­sole, my own choice at the time hav­ing been the Tur­bo­grafx-16) could see that beloved “head com­e­dy” troupe’s dense­ly lay­ered stu­dio pro­duc­tion and even more dense­ly lay­ered humor accom­pa­nied by images ren­dered in psy­che­del­ic col­or — or as psy­che­del­ic as images can get with only six­teen col­ors avail­able on the palette, not to men­tion a res­o­lu­tion of 288 pix­els by 192 pix­els, not much larg­er than a icon on the home screen of a mod­ern smart­phone. Those lim­i­ta­tions may make CD+G graph­ics look unim­pres­sive today, but just imag­ine what a cut­ting-edge nov­el­ty they must have seemed in the late 1980s when they first appeared.

Dis­play­ing lyrics for karaoke singers was the most obvi­ous use of CD+G tech­nol­o­gy, but its short lifes­pan also saw a fair few exper­i­ments on such oth­er major-label releas­es, all view­able at the CD+G Muse­um, as Lou Reed’s New York, which com­bines lyrics with dig­i­tized pho­tog­ra­phy of the epony­mous city; Talk­ing Heads’ Naked, which pro­vides musi­cal infor­ma­tion such as the chord changes and instru­ments play­ing on each phrase; Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion, which trans­lates the libret­to along­side works of art; and Devo’s sin­gle “Dis­co Dancer,” which tells the ori­gin sto­ry of those “five Spud­boys from Ohio.” With these and almost every oth­er CD+G release avail­able at the CD+G muse­um, you’ll have no short­age of not just back­ground music but back­ground visu­als for your next late-80s-ear­ly-90s-themed par­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 1970s Ani­ma­tions of Songs by Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce & The Kinks, Aired on The Son­ny & Cher Show

The Sto­ry of How Beethoven Helped Make It So That CDs Could Play 74 Min­utes of Music

Dis­cov­er the Lost Ear­ly Com­put­er Art of Telidon, Canada’s TV Pro­to-Inter­net from the 1970s

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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