Remembering the generation of tapes

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 12:56 15/06/2012

I have, over the last four and a half years, revealed some very awkward truths about myself - as is the way with blogging. I've also embarrassed myself regularly. I, erm, performed a Britney Spears song while dressed as Santa Claus. I re-posted the video of me playing barely-tuned pots and pans. I listened to Jack White's solo album. I've admitted to growing up in Hawke's Bay. And just last week I forced an Autozamm video on you. That was particularly cruel.

But this should trump all of that.

I own Rick Astley's Whenever You Need Somebody on tape. Rick Astley Tape

I feel this is only fair to 'fess up to as the other day over at the Blog On The Tracks Facebook page I asked people what their first cassette tape was. (And I never admitted what my first tape purchase was). There was a huge response from readers - so I thought we could open that topic up here. Tape-buying dates you. And mentioning the first tape you purchased dates you somewhat too - unless you were buying old stuff on tape. I bought a lot of older music on cassette tape in the early 1990s - Santana and The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead and Eric Clapton and Max Roach and The Modern Jazz Quartet. All sorts.

I mowed lawns to earn money to buy tapes. Then I'd listen to the new tape that next weekend while mowing the lawns, working to buy another tape. I mowed my parents' lawn and for a while my aunty and uncle lived across the road so I had a gig mowing their lawn too. (That meant I could buy two tapes).

Tapes were expensive - this is 20 years ago, 25 years ago even, and a new cassette tape was $20. Ridiculous. But the stuff from the 1960s and 70s was often $10 or $5. Some of my favourite tapes were very cheap. Horrible quality of course - but it was about being turned on to the music. You listened through the hiss, the warps, the pops, the lazy transfers from vinyl that picked up ticks and jumps. You focussed in on mind-blowing sounds from long before you were born. So much of it seemed so fresh and alive.

One of my favourite tapes was a "20 Super Hits"-type thing of The Yardbirds. I was a Clapton fan and a Jeff Beck fan so I wanted to see where they had come from. I was 13. The tape was $2. I kept it for years. It played well - it lasted. Eventually I purchased the Beckology box-set (first on tape, later on CD) and that pretty much replaced my Yardbirds tape.

But I started buying tapes when I was about nine-years-old. And for my 10th birthday I received music-vouchers. And then every birthday after that, right through my teens - always a treat, always the correct gift!

So the first tapes I started buying were from 1987 - or thereabouts. Certainly the year 1987 was when I started buying tapes with a reckless enthusiasm. I think I peaked in 1990/1991 though - I kept a dairy both years listing every single tape I bought. As I said this was a weekly thing. But the one tape a week became two or three when I started buying older, cheaper music. And so I bought one hundred tapes one year. Close to two hundred the next. I had over 500 original cassette tapes - and loads of blank ones that I used to copy my folks' record collection and other tapes that friends had.

My dad told me it had to stop. The CD was the new thing. And it made no sense to buy tapes. But I loved cassette tapes. I loved the portability. I loved listening to them on my walkman. A red Sony walkman that was purchased in 1987 on the family holiday to the Gold Coast and Sydney (I was pretty fly for a white guy, got some basketball boots and stonewash jeans on that same trip. Trip is right!) - and then, once I'd learned to drive, tapes were a hit in the car.
Tapes
I even took a tape to school in my pencil-case, using it as my ruler to underline headings. When someone commented on it once, asked to borrow it for the night, I decided that I could swap it out each day, take a different tape to school in my pencil-case. It would be a talking-point, pens and coins and Twink squeezed in around the tape. One day it was The Sex Pistols, then it was Nirvana. It was Guns'n'Roses or - to mix it up - it was Django Reinhardt. I wasn't hurting anybody, right?

My uncle believed in the portability of tapes too. At my older brother's 21st I was in charge of the music. My first DJing gig - running behind the outside bar to change CDs on my parents' stereo; there's a video of some of the drinking games that night, Get In The Ring is playing on repeat, my brother's friends chanting along.

Anyway, my uncle turned up and said, straight-faced, "I've got a tape you might like to play later on". And just as he said "later on" he reached for his top-pocket and lifted up the tape to show me. Just the top inch or so of the cassette case. He had arrived at his nephew's 21st with a tape to play. This was no mixtape, thoughtfully compiled to soundtrack my brother's life. This was not a cutting-edge new release. This was in fact Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon.

I love, to this day, that my uncle announced it as if it was something I might never have heard of. I love that he left the house with a Pink Floyd tape in his shirt pocket. We imagined, after that night, that he went everywhere with it. Don't leave home without your Floyd!

Now Rick Astley was not my first tape. But it was bought, the year it was released, early on in my tape-buying career. It was bought alongside John Cougar Mellencamp's The Lonesome Jubilee and Midnight Oil's Diesel And Dust; U2's Joshua Tree, Mick Jagger's Primitive Cool and Guns'n'Roses' Appetite For Destruction.

There were many others - but now the only tape I have from that era is Rick Astley. I found it at Easter, back in Hawke's Bay. I found the diaries with lists of tapes I collected. I slowly, but surely, gave away all my tapes when I moved to Wellington and started university. I kept a few for the car - then I got a Discman and sometime after that, finally, a car with a CD player. That was the end. I sold a few for the pittance they would have offered at second-hand stores but mostly I gave them away - to whoever would take them. I had box-sets on tape. I had all sorts of music. I had towers of tape-holders, stacked rather awkwardly atop one another.

The first tapes I spent my own money on were in fact The Joshua Tree and Diesel And Dust. I'm happy with that; albums I'd still listen to today, now and then. I'm done with Joshua Tree, pretty much - I prefer Unforgettable Fire these days. But I am not embarrassed by those tapes. Even though I don't have them anymore. I bought them later on CD. Still have both albums on vinyl and on my iPod.

Of course you should never be embarrassed about the music you like.

Unless it's Adele.

Or Rick Astley.

I gave the last of my tapes to my sister-in-law a couple of years ago. Mostly heavy metal tapes remained. And she was into them and had a tape-player. Good to clear out the clutter.

But one tape remained. Rick Astley.Casette Tape

I put it on last night. Rick Roll'd myself. Made it through the whole album. I'm a sick-sick man. I know this. And you do too. But now I know where it comes from. Turns out I was a sick-sick 10-year-old too.

So what tape memories do you have? Were you (are you?) a tape-buyer? And what was your first tape?

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51 comments
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Sarah   #1   01:10 pm Jun 15 2012

Totally was a tape buyer in the 80s. First one was Coconut Rough - they sang 'Sierra Leone' - must have been about '83 or '84.

Nik Kershaw, Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, and all the mixed tapes of current hits that came out. It was always a thrill too buying a double cassette - the Beatles hits one in around '87 was a double. Brilliant.

And oh, that squeaky sound the tape deck made....

I seem to remember tapes being about $10 back then. I threw most out in around the mid '90s. Shame that. Last remaining one is best of Queen, still with a little stain on one side from someone drinking a little too much cask red wine at a student party we had in the '80s....

J   #2   01:13 pm Jun 15 2012

LOL just spent the last hour travelling around ChCh trying to find blank tapes. I failed! Damn. They're making a come back I reckon, just checkout what walkman are going for on trademe! Like 40 bucks!

Hazzard County Cricket Club   #3   01:16 pm Jun 15 2012

my first cassette was a compilation called 'The Hit Zone' released in 1985. tracklisting;

Sister Sledge - Frankie Eurythmics - There Must Be An Angel Bryan Ferry - Don't Stop The Dance Simply Red - Money's Too Tight Pointer Sisters - Dare Me Madonna - Dress You Up Mai Tai - History Aretha Franklin - Freeway Of Love Models - Out Of Mind Out Of Sight

Tina Turner - We Don't Need Another Hero Bryan Adams - Summer Of '69 Huey Lewis & The News - Power Of Love Pat Benatar - Invincible Jan Hammer - Miami Vice Theme A-Ha - Take On Me Satellite Spies - Destiny In Motion Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town Air Supply - The Power Of Love

I still have it, and I still prefer side 2.

natalie   #4   01:22 pm Jun 15 2012

you kept a dairy in 1990/91? Who knew? Does anyone remember the green tape player with the yellow and red knobs (gina had one at the cafe on Shortland street). Well, I got that and I think a tape called Power Hits for my birthday when I was about 9.

Regan   #5   01:29 pm Jun 15 2012

I mentioned on your Facebook thread the other day that my first tapes were The Waterboys, Depeche Mode & Jimmy Barnes. Apart from 50 or so I had stolen out of my car whilst living in Auckland around 94, I've kept all my tapes (a couple of hundred) and even moved them internationally, yet I don't really have any idea why? I just can't part with them, same as the cd's & the vinyl. The sole remaining cassette player we own lives in the garage, and when I'm working out in there I'll stick a tape in of some compilation I made at the time (never the albums, considering I repurchased almost all the significant ones on digital sometime ago) and it instantly takes me back 20+ years. Especially the long return car drives I'd make once a month back home to Wellington from Auckland. To this day I think a remnant of those times is the fact my favorite place to listen to music remains the car, and my love of long road trips (which in Oz can be pretty long) equates to endless listening opportunity.

DtheBeat   #6   01:42 pm Jun 15 2012

Still buying tapes at Real Groovy for $2-3.00 for my car. Have scored some gems, a great Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee called Hootin', Midnight Oil's 10,9.....1 which I hadn't heard in its entirety since I was 11 (40 now), and probably my fav so far War's Greatest Hits, oh and just last night Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic, my favourite in their canon.

samm   #7   01:47 pm Jun 15 2012

Still have all the tapes, some of them currently enjoying a renaissance due to buying a brand-new stereo last that had a tape deck (yes you can still get them). Some of them are old radio broadcasts, which can be a bit surreal when you forget it is a recording but then get reminded by hearing an ad for a shop that closed 10 years ago.

One thing I had forgotten was how the cassettes could be moulded in clear, tinted or different coloured plastic, which sounds a bit lame now but was pretty cool then. I had also forgotten about that "blee-dee-dee-beep" noise they often put at the start and end of a side noise. Permanently embedded in my aural recollection of certain songs is that fuzz you got when a section of tape had been munched.

The mechanical nature offered a flexibility missing from more modern media. You could fix, repair, cut and splice the things yourself if they broke (and were prepared to put up with the sound it made when it went through the heads). Some friends of mine got left alone with another's tape collection once. They made the most of the opportunity by unscrewing and opening as many cassette cases as they could, and swapping the spools around, so the only way to tell what the tape was was to play the thing.

Niri Tacen   #8   02:12 pm Jun 15 2012

Simon, did you... did you just RickRoll us?

Ratbag   #9   02:24 pm Jun 15 2012

Wha? There's a Rick Astley recording that hasn't been found and destroyed?

Still, I'd never advocate the destruction of someone else's property. Though the slightest perceptible hint of the Rickster's voice might make me call noise control. By the way, the first tape I ever owned was Talking Heads, "Fear of Music".

Paula   #10   02:27 pm Jun 15 2012

Aww, what a cute story Simon. I was too young to BUY cassette tapes myself but I did get some for presents: Oasis - Definitely maybe (my bad) The Presidents of the USA, all the good shi'. Don't know where any of them got to :(


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