Before we talk about center channels, it's probably helpful to understand a bit about how recordings are made and why and under what conditions a stereo recording works with a stereo system.
2-channel recordings are made up of three kinds of "sounds": 

Pure stereo information: These are sounds that are ONLY recorded in the left or the right  channel. Sometimes these are called "differential." 
Mono information: These are sounds that are recorded exactly the same in the left and right channels. These are sometimes called “common."
Off-center information: These are sounds that are recorded in both left and right, but at different levels or different phase.

Here's what that looks like. This is the seven drum beat track from the old IASCA disc. 

The top half of this display is the left channel and the bottom half is the right channel.
It's pretty simple to see that the left drum beat (the first one) is only recorded in the left channel and the right drum beat is only recorded in the right channel. The drum beat in the center is recorded in both channels.
If you look carefully, you'll see that in the left channel, the beats gradually decrease in level and in the right channel, the beats gradually increase in level.
The fourth one (the one in the center is the same level in both channels.
In order for the drum beats to sound like they are the same volume, the total energy of the two ...

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