Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I know the peak time for quadraphonic albums is around 1975. However, the first quad LP I bought was “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite,” the soundtrack of Elvis Presley's 1973 Honolulu concert.

Since this came out before quad's heyday, might it be the very first quad album?

I'll bet it is the top-selling quad release.

Also, did anyone ever make quad singles?
—Jeremy Norbert, Milwaukee

DEAR JEREMY: There are many firsts associated with “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite,” such as:

This January 14, 1973 event is the first entertainment show of any type broadcast worldwide via satellite. Though not all countries caught it at the same time, over 1.5 billion — then about a third of the world's population — watched a 1973 first-run telecast. Since then, millions more viewed the DVDs and TV replays.

When the two-disc soundtrack album (RCA VPSX-6089) topped the nation's LP charts (May 5, 1973), it became the first quadraphonic album reaching No. 1.

With nearly six million units sold (platinum to the sixth degree) it remains history's top-selling quad LP, by a distance wider than from Honolulu to the mainland.

Noteworthy too is there was no set ticket price. Concert-goers simply made a donation, with 100% of the amount of ticket and souvenir sales going to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund. Elvis proudly announced the total raised as $75,000.

It is one of very few albums in general distribution made exclusively in the quad — RCA named it QuadraDisc — format, at least until 1976. By then, the industry began phasing out the quad experiment. This and other former quad product then came out in ordinary stereo.

Inexplicably, all 1973 versions of “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite” made specifically for the RCA Record Club (RCA R2-213736) are standard two-channel stereo, not QuadraDisc.

In May 1974, RCA issued a special 7-inch EP (DTF0-2006) just for juke box operators. This oddity was not made in quad because they created it strictly for stereo juke boxes.

Meanwhile, back on the LP front, Columbia announced in November 1973 some early yet impressive numbers for quad album sales: “Abaraxas” (Santana) 90,000; “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon & Garfunkel) 62,500; “Greatest Hits” (Sly and the Family Stone) 62,300; “Pearl” (Janis Joplin) 55,400; “Summer of '42” (Peter Nero) 40,200; and “Loggins & Messina” (Kenny Loggins & Jim Messina) 30,800.

Fueled by such encouraging sales, Columbia quickly began production of quad singles, the first of which was Art Garfunkel's Top 10 hit at the time, “All I Know” (Columbia 45926).

Made exclusively for radio stations, its custom sleeve explains itself:

  Dear Broadcaster:
  Because of the enormous demand for Quadraphonic sound, Columbia is proud to release its first SQ Quadraphonic single, featuring the renowned artist, Art Garfunkel.
  If you transmit in FM-stereo, you may now broadcast Columbia SQ Quadraphonic discs, both singles and albums, or your own stereo tape cartridges recorded from these discs, with no modifications to your present equipment.

SQ, or Stereo Quadraphonic, is the matrix encoding technology developed by CBS in 1970. In December that year, “The Flame,” a self-titled collection of songs written by Flame co-founders Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, came out labeled as “Compatible Quadraphonic Sound.”

Produced by Carl Wilson, of the Beach Boys, and on their personal label (Brother BR-2500), “The Flame” is widely-regarded as the first quad LP.

SQ did have its audio shortcomings, so along came Japan's Sansui and their QS (Quadraphonic Stereo), an improved and competing technology.

In July 1972, at a London expo, RCA unveiled its encoded system (JVC's CD-4), and promised about 15 QuadraDiscs by the end of the year.

Other quad formats were also introduced, among them: Q4 (quadraphonic for four-track reel-to-reel tapes); Q8 (8-Track tapes); EV (Electro Voice Stereo-4); and DY (Dynaquad). Most quadraphiles regard Q4 as the best of all quad formats.

Much like the famous Betamax vs. VHS video tape battle that lay ahead, these various formats were incompatible, creating a nightmare for consumers. No matter which decoder they owned, many fine quad LPs existed that their system could not properly play.

This boondoggle is the main reason cited for the death of quadraphonic recordings, although the basic four-channel system, with a center speaker added, returned successfully in the '80s as home theater, otherwise known as surround sound.

IZ ZAT SO? Quad devotees in the '70s wanted either long-playing albums or pre-recorded tapes, not singles. Accordingly, Columbia, and later other labels, produced quad singles for two purposes: first for FM radio, then for quadraphonic juke boxes.

In 1974, right after Columbia's first batch of quad singles for radio, Seeburg wanted in on the new craze. They modified their 80-disc STD-160 and came up with the SQS-160. Unfortunately, with CBS's SQ encoding, the result was a simulated version of quad. No true quad jukes were made.

Chances are the patrons in noisy bars and restaurants never knew the difference.

(Thanks to Dan Shay and John Bliss for their contributions.)

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