1745: Record Scratch

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Record Scratch
The 78-rpm era was closer to the Civil War than to today.
Title text: The 78-rpm era was closer to the Civil War than to today.


A vinyl disc (also known as a gramophone record) is a type of storage medium that stores audio recordings on the disc by carving the audio data into a continuous spiral groove on the surface of the disc. These are typically played on a phonograph (also known as record players (since 1940s) or, most recently, turntables). The player spins the disc as a stationary stylus rides along the groove. The movement of the stylus along the groove is converted by an electromagnetic or piezoelectric transducer into a corresponding electric current, which an amplifier then converts to sound.

The noise referred to as a "record scratch" can be caused by someone attempting to stop a record's play by dragging the stylus across the radius of the record, or by stopping the disc's rotation with one's hand (opposing the turntable's rotation). As a result, this is often used as a sound effect in movies for comedic effect. This type of sound is also often used in hip-hop music; in particular, rapidly and manually rotating the disc in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.

The comic pokes fun at a movie cliché in which the story opens with the main character in some kind of unbelievable predicament, followed by a record scratch, seemingly freezing time (using the sound of a sudden pausing of a record to symbolize the sudden pausing of time in the movie). As the action in the film is paused, a character narrates something along the lines of, "Yup, that's me. You're probably wondering (how I ended up in this situation)..." The rest of the story then follows, often with the film going back in time to depict the events that leads up to the situation of the opening scene.

In this case, it would be interesting to know why Cueball is at a party where everyone has wine glasses in their hands, but suddenly one of the glasses (Cueball's or his nearest adversary's) is lying on the floor, and it seems like a fight is about to break out. This is what an opening narration might begin to explain (typically in a flashback) after the record scratch. At the time of the comic's posting, parodying the cliché, variations on the phrase had become a popular meme on social media. As the record scratch continues to be used despite the fact that record players (gramophones) have largely become obsolete technology, Randall pokes fun at this by beginning this meme by giving the backstory on what that sound actually is, (as many people from the younger generation may very well not know this), rather than giving context to the situation via a story. This is yet one more of Randall's comics that is trying to make people feel old, and is likely most relevant to those who have actually used vinyl to listen to music, comedy or other recordings.

The title text indicates (in a manner similar to that of 891: Movie Ages) that the "78-rpm era" – referring to the fact that the original industry standard of records making 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) (1925-1950s) – is now closer to the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865) than it is to present day, another way that Randall is making the reader feel old. Note; these 78 rpm records were made of shellac, not of vinyl.


[In a black area, with jagged edges, at the top of the comic is a sound effect written with white text. Below there are two frames with text. This text is narrated by Cueball standing below with four people around him. Cueball is highlighted by being drawn in the regular way whereas the other four people are drawn in light gray. Cueball has just dropped a wineglass, spilling wine on the floor to the left and dropping the glass, spilling more wine, to the right, He has his arms slightly out, and seems to be turned towards three people to the right, while looking to the left at Ponytail. Ponytail is holding a glass of wine in one hand and is the other hand up waving her fist at Cueball. On his other side Hairy is advancing towards him with both hands up in fists ready for a fight. (It could be his wine glass dropped on the floor at Cueball's feet as it is also drawn in gray). Behind Hairy is Megan also with a wine glass held in one hand, and behind her is another Cueball-like guy with a wine glass holding one arm out pointing a finger at Cueball.]
Record Scratch
Cueball (narrating): You're probably wondering what that sound was.
Cueball (narrating): Well, long ago, music was recorded on vinyl discs...

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Misleading title text

Note: this is a ridiculous pedantic rant. Tl;dr: the xkcd alt text for today is misleading, and I read a lot about the history of music storage to back up that claim.


So, this alt text is actually pretty misleading, because he's misusing the "whoa! Event A was closer to Event B than to today" meme by implying that 78s were vinyl, when in fact they were largely shellac -- and also I would argue that he's just got the facts wrong about when the 78-rpmera ended. The 78-rpm era arguably began as early as 1898, and arguably ended as late as the 1950s. In became the standard in 1925. So, ok, we could say, "Yeah, 78-rpm era should be considered to mean some time before 1940. That's reasonable, because the 1940s is really when the age of the 33 1/3 begins. So, OK, Randall, the 78-rpm era was closer to the Civil War than to today. But here's the thing. You implied that the 78-rpm era was a vinyl thing. That's not really true. Vinyl is what ushered in the 33 1/3 days. So while it's maybe a cool piece of trivia to say "we first started using 33 1/3 rpm vinyl records in earnest only slightly closer to today than to the Civil War," it's not really a "wow, compare these well known events! Look how old this record scratch reference is!" Because tapes didn't start to seriously compete with vinyl until the late 1970s, and didn't overtake it until about 1985. So it would be fair to say, "the vinyl era ended closer to the start of the Vietnam War than to today," assuming we treat the Vietnam War as beginning in 1954 or later. 05:04, 12 October 2016 (UTC)

Well, doncha think that it's Randall's comic and we shouldn't mess with it? Jacky720 (talk) 10:11, 12 October 2016 (UTC)
Agreed. Half way between the end of the US civil war and today was 1940. Vinyl LPs didn't overtake 78's until around 1952 according to Wikipedia (and 78's were being sold until 1960). So I guess what Randall means is that the time between the end of the era, and now is less than the time between the end of the civil war and the start of the 78 era. Might add something to this effect (if nobody else beats me to it) since this does require some clarification. Luckykaa (talk) 08:06, 12 October 2016 (UTC)
Dear God almighty, this is way beyond mere pedantry. It's also just plain wrong. Firstly, nowhere does Randall say (or even imply) that 78-rpm records were made from vinyl. The title text is not somehow constrained by that which precedes it, and frequently makes a play on a different -- albeit related -- topic. You made the inference that they were vinyl, not Randall. Also, the Civil War ended in 1865. By your own admission, the 78-rpm era ran from 1898 to the 1950s. Hence the 78-rpm era started just 33 years after the civil war, but ended at best 57 years ago (2016 - 1959 = 57). So the statement that the 78-rpm era was closer to the civil war than it was to the present day, per your own figures. And again, all the nonsense about the vinyl era is completely beside the point, because Randall never said a word about the vinyl era. -- 16:59, 14 October 2016 (UTC)

Why is the explanation even mentioning "gramophones" or "phonographs"? Never mind making them sound important to this comic? (I'm not sure of the spelling, but think "gramophone" is wrong). As someone whose childhood was still during the record era, I've never seen either, but have played many records, and heard said scratch sound many times when I was sloppy or unlucky. It seems likely that 78-rpm records are from the grammophone era, but as the above commentor points out, those weren't vinyl. I would suspect vinyl records are all well past the time of grammophones. The device in question was "commonly" known simply as a record player. The current explanation is making the reference sound a LOT older than it is (and Randall already went there in the title text). - NiceGuy1 05:53, 12 October 2016 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:13, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

He did not write that the 78-rpm area was a vinyl thing. The vinyl thing is about the scratching of modern records... Gramophone is the Wikipedia name for record player. So chill man ;-) --Kynde (talk) 06:40, 12 October 2016 (UTC)
Exactly my point. He did NOT write that 78-rpm was vinyl, that's a separate reference. When I said "Randall already went there", I mean he made a second, even older reference in the title text. And double checking the Wikipedia link, in the incorrect statement "records (also known as grammophone records)", that article starts with a picture of the latter as being 78-rpm, which as discussed is NOT the same as the records from the record era of 60's and 70's and early 80's. I disagree, "gramophone" is not the Wikipedia name, and a record player is a different device. I'm just saying, in the era in question, "grammophone" and "phonograph" were out of date terms, "records", "record player" and "turntable" are the terms which should be used here. And I'm totally chill, LOL! - NiceGuy1 21:33, 12 October 2016 (UTC) So's this! NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:13, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

Somebody said it "stores music on a disc with very small bumps". I had to correct that. I feel old. I was born closer to World War 1 than to the present day. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think Randall chose the exact perfect moment for this comic since vinyls are getting more and more popular, again: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_revival#Sales I doubt they will get as widely spread as in past times, but at least here in my town here in Germany even the bigger electronic retailers have fairly large vinyl supplies again. Enough to consider them back in popular culture? I don't know, because I don't know how the situation applies in the US which would be the relevnat part for the understanding of the comic. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:24, 12 October 2016 (UTC) Yes; it seems quite likely that Generation Y is going to be the only generation for whom the trope needs to be explained. But even that isn't a blanket statement, as I (born in 1992) collect and play records, and I know a man born in 1998 who also does. Having said that, let me expound my belief that: • If your record player is a cheap retro-styled model you bought from a novelty or department store, not a reputable brand from an independent hi-fi dealer or electronics store (or, god forbid, a vintage system); • If you aren't making an effort to buy records whenever you can (seriously, second-hand discs start from only a few dollars depending on seller and artist); • And if you predominantly buy new records that, if they're represses of classic albums, bear hype stickers proclaiming the album's historical or cultural impact, or have some sort of collectibility gimmick (colored, patterned or etched); it's just a trend for you, not an enduring passion.

To me, the 'record scratch' sound in movies is not the sound made by a scratch ON a record, which is normally just a pop, but rather the sound of either the stylus being dragged across the grooves, more of a "ZZREEEIIP" sound, or of spinning the turntable in reverse. I have not changed the explanation as I may be the only person who feels this way. Miamiclay (talk) 08:35, 12 October 2016 (UTC)

Yes, the stylus being dragged across the grooves ON a record, being scratched across a record. Nobody means they think the sound is simply applying the stylus in the first place. That's the whole point of the concept to begin with, it's a sound you hear if the record player is bumped or jarred, much like such a moment is supposed to "jar" you, like "Whoops! Whoa! Back the needle up! I just missed something." - NiceGuy1 21:33, 12 October 2016 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:13, 13 June 2017 (UTC)
We are 100% in agreement. When I posted the above comment, the explanation seemed to describe a record scratch as the sound made by an existing scratch on a record when it is being played normally. Miamiclay (talk) 23:49, 14 October 2016 (UTC)
  • What was the first movie to do the "*Record Scratch* *Freeze Frame* Yup, that's me. You're probably wondering..." -- 08:58, 12 October 2016 (UTC)

Gramophone records are played on a gramophone, not a phonograph. Gramophones use discs, phonographs use cylinders. 10:50, 12 October 2016 (UTC)

record scratch is in the list of baby names on http://xkcd.com/1011/ Cooperstandard (talk) 16:31, 12 October 2016 (UTC) cooper

It directly references this meme which is kinda popular or Twitter around now. ShareDVI (talk) 16:27, 13 October 2016 (UTC)

There were little yellow records made of plastic (not sure if they were vinyl) for children from 1948 - 1962, per the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Records The OD was about the same as a 45 RPM single, the ID the same as a 33 1/3 RPM LP. IIRC, I had "Gandy Dancers' Ball" and "Shrimp Boats is A-comin'". These were performed by a (probably in-house) chorus. I also had some Burl Ives and other records in this format in the 1950s. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Attempting to stop the record or slow it down doesn't create a "record scratch" sound. Only dragging the needle across the grooves (whether or not the record is spinning) will create the iconic sound. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

There's just one problem with today's cartoon. And this is that the sound effect the explanation refers to is not a record scratch. It is referred to in the audio world as a Tape Stop. 18:47, 19 October 2016 (UTC)