All Mixed Up

Cassette Store Day 2013

Today is Cassette Store Day , which is the brainchild of a trio of music business people based in London: Matt Flag, Jen Long and Steve Ross. The three of them also run record tape labels and it was Steve who got the idea from the more established Record Store Day. Like its vinyl counterpart, Cassette Store Day will feature live bands performing in record shops and various venues worldwide today. About fifty cassettes have been released especially for today and these include titles by lesser known acts as well as more familiar names like The Flaming Lips, The Pastels, Waxahatchee and múm. You can check out a complete list of releases here and have a look at where things are happening here

I grew up at a time when there were fewer musical formats and when it was a lot harder to listen to the music you wanted to listen to. You also had to buy most of this music and, as money wasn’t so plentiful as well, you had to be very selective about what you bought. Not only that, but you listened to the stuff you bought, you read the inlay cards (or record covers) and you knew the names of the songs and the order in which they appeared on the album. Many people owned record players and bought vinyl, but we only had cassette players in my house and so I bought tapes. By the end of the 1980s, the volume of cassette sales overtook vinyl sales for the first time and tapes would remain as the top seller until the compact disc came along and wiped out these two analogue formats. Of course, I chose CDs as well, but only after buying hundreds of tapes first

I also bought hundreds of blank tapes and used these at first to tape songs from the radio and later to make copies of CDs I had bought in order to listen to on the go. As you can see from the first picture above, my favourite brand was Maxell and they came in different colours, types and running times. The two photos that follow feature a couple of those Maxell tapes along with other brands outside and inside their plastic cases. The final two images feature a cassette cleaner and the infamous “Home Tape Is Killing Music” legend that I’ve actually taken from one of my LPs

In the first image above, I’ve included twenty of my own homemade cassettes. Some are live sets that I recorded off the radio, others are single artist compilations that I put together myself and a few are ones I got from fellow music fans. All the ones on the right side of the first picture are various artist compilations that were usually based on a theme. The ones called “Singer-Songwriter”, “Punk’s Greatest Hits” and “Music From the Golden Age of Pop” are pretty self-explanatory. “Oddballs & Odd Versions” features one side of the more eccentric sections of my collection from twenty years ago and the other side is made up of unusual cover versions released up to that point. “From the Velvets to Nirvana” chronicles alternative rock and punk from the US and the UK released between 1967 and 1991. “Music From An Unreleased OST” was my attempt to put together a collection of songs that would work well with moving pictures in the style of contemporary directors like Quentin Tarantino

I’ve included images featuring the names of the tracks from six of these tapes. The first two were taped off a show by Ireland’s answer to John Peel. The Dave Fanning Show went out on RTÉ radio from 8.00pm until 10.00pm every Monday to Friday and featured the best of alternative music from Ireland and around the world. Like Peel, Fanning played frequent sessions recorded for the show, new indie releases and the odd classic. Every Tuesday, the last half hour was given over to a concert performance from an established act. These one-hour recordings were split over two weeks and had been originally broadcast by the BBC. I taped a few of these and two of my favourites were from The Waterboys and The Housemartins. The 1996 Glastonbury performance by The Waterboys is one of my favourite live recordings ever and I even got to see the band in concert 25 years after first hearing this live set. The next two inlay cards include the tracklistings for my compilations of my favourite songs by Elvis Costello and The Rolling Stones. The last two were given to me by two fans of the music of Spike Jones and Bob Dylan and hopefully bring some respite from my unique scrawl

A few years ago, I bought a book edited by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore called Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture. As you can see from the first three pictures above, the book is cleverly made to look like a mixtape, though it’s over four times bigger than a cassette. It begins with an excellent introductory essay by Moore and includes some more small essays, cassette art and photos of mixtapes and tracklistings from their inlay cards. On my way to Dublin a year ago, I met a friend of mine who bemoaned the death of mixtapes. So, I made her one from an Agfa blank tape that I’d picked up in a charity shop a while back. I put together some songs I thought she might like and noticed I’d an equal amount by male and female vocalists, so I decided to split the sides accordingly and call it Masculin/Féminin. I haven’t met Aisling in nearly a year, but hopefully I’ll get the tape to you soon!

When I started buying albums in the late ’80s, I bought them all on cassette and amassed hundreds before the compact disc came along. I only bought a few of them new and the rest I picked up on sale and secondhand. The ones I bought new included some of my early favourites like The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits. The lower price of used tapes and ones on special offer meant I could take a chance on acts I didn’t know a lot about or had never heard of. In this way, I discovered bands like The Fall and The Velvet Underground. I’ve taken photos of a selection of these tapes above. The first image shows twenty albums that I recently gave to my nephew along with a Sony Walkman (pictured at the end of the post). The other images show some of the tapes I listened to most back in the day and I’ve taken a few dozen out of their cases to show that the design of the cassettes was as different as the music they contained

The main purpose of events like Record Store Day and Cassette Store Day is to entice music lovers back to record shops and away from illegal downloading. It’s easier to get your hands on any kind of music these days, but this ease of access has also devalued the music and has changed how fans relate to it and, particularly, to albums. I don’t actually own physical copies of some of my favourite albums from the last decade and I don’t even know the names of all the songs on those albums. I still buy used CDs and secondhand vinyl, but I haven’t bought a tape in nearly twenty years. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of Record Store Day and Cassette Store Day is that they produce limited editions that are overpriced anyway and tend to increase in value online due to how rare they are

The sound quality of cassettes will always be inferior to vinyl and CD and the portable advantage of tapes over those two formats has been replaced by the even more versatile nature of mp3s. I still have nearly all my tapes, but I doubt if any of them are worth anything. Nevertheless, I came across a couple of curios by Ireland’s most famous act amongst my collection. Out of Control was the title track of U2’s first release in 1979 and featured Boy/Girl and Stories for Boys on the flip side of the record. The three songs were chosen from a poll on the aforementioned Dave Fanning Show, with Out of Control emerging as the listeners’ favourite. It wasn’t released on cassette until 1985 and only in Ireland and I picked up that version for a few quid a few years later in a secondhand shop in Limerick

The other item is a sort of official bootleg of U2’s 1989 New Years Eve gig at Dublin’s Point Theatre during the band’s Rattle & Hum tour. I recorded the show off the radio and got the inlay card from either the RTÉ Guide or Hot Press magazine. Perhaps one of my favourite Irish blogs, The Fanning Sessions (no relation to Dave), could provide more information. I’ll leave you with a picture of the Walkman I gave to my nephew and if you’ve any memories of the humble cassette, please leave them in the comments below


7 thoughts on “All Mixed Up

    • As you can see from above, I have a couple of the live Tuesday gigs from the BBC. I also came across a tape of indie & alternative stuff from the early ’90s, but that’s mainly stuff that’s easily available

      However, I do have a tape from 1994. It was a bank holiday, probably in May & Fanning did a 60-minute daytime special to celebrate Radio 2/2FM’s 15th anniversary. Naturally, he played all Irish stuff & alternated Fanning sessions with original recordings.

      The sessions included The Hothouse Flowers covering what sounded like an old Elvis number; Phil Lynott & Terry Woods duetting on a wonderful version of The Tennessee Waltz; and more raw versions of Dreams, Red Cortina & Where’s Me Jumper by The Cranberries, Saw Doctors & Sultans. I think I might have an interview with the Sultans somewhere as well. I have a lot of unmarked cassettes as well, but I don’t think I’ve a whole lot more from Fanning

      • Sure thing. I was going to do it anyway. It’s fair funny to hear the ads of the time. It’s missing part of Alternative Ulster by SLF as I flipped the tape over as I knew it wasn’t a session version, so I can put it into two files. It sounded ok when I played it, but I don’t know how it’ll turn out. Will I rip it to 320kbps or is 192 ok?

        I’ve already ripped the Solid Citizens one. I don’t think it was ever released on CD. Some of the songs & bands on it are pretty well know, but the ones by Burning Embers, Aidan Walsh & Cypress, Mine! were played a bit on the radio at the time. It’ll probably be later in the week when I get the other one done, so I’ll email you when I have

Comments are closed.