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CASSETTES


Christian
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I have no nostalgia whatsoever for cassette tapes. Hated 'em. Sure, they were portable, and yes, I could record stuff off the radio or from my albums. That was a plus. But the tapes hissed, and worse, always seemed to go in-and-out. I had several tape players over the years and always had that problem.

"Just clean the heads," people would tell me. And I did. Over and over again, with those at-the-time ubiquitous head-cleaning kits.

They never seemed to help.

So I don't miss cassettes. But others long for their return. Sales of cassettes are "up about 50% this year," according to the linked article. What's the appeal? The article states:

Most music lovers don't miss the hiss, the background noise caused when the tape passes over the playback head. "Listening to a cassette for quality is like driving a Smart Car in the Indy 500," says Bob Lefsetz, author of a music newsletter and blog, who says the cassette is a poor music medium.

The hiss is part of the magic for cassette lovers. "Tape hiss has the same amount of charm as a little crackle when listening to a record has," says Mr. Thordarson. "It makes it seem more real."

Then there's the smell. "I want them fresh, sealed in the package," says AndréSirois, 31, who hunts for unopened tapes to add to his collection. "I know one day I'll rip them open and smell that sweet plasticy smell, and I'm going to enjoy how I used to enjoy music, as an old dude."

You got that? People miss the smell of cassettes. I don't think I ever noticed the smell of newly unwrapped cassettes, but if I did, I didn't much care about it.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe there are lots of folks at A&F who love cassettes. This thread is for you! -- and for the "haters" out there, like me.

Let's fight about this! Then again, it's not really very important, is it? Kind of interesting, though -- the revival of the cassette. I wish it had Rested In Peace, but no, it's back from the dead, to the delight of some.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've always loved the smell of paperback books, but I'm not sure I've ever noticed the smell of cassettes.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Okay, the first thing I thought when I saw this was, "Someone spelled Cassavetes name wrong." I have his films on the brain - sorry.

The next thing I thought (after I realized my poor level of comprehension) was, "Man, I miss the process of making mixed tapes and I miss receiving them." Making a mixed tape took effort and commitment. It wasn't a click and drag experience. It took time and you got to really meditate on your choices, especially because most of the time you sat and listened to the song while it was recording.

Plus, handle cassettes could be done without worrying about the fragility, unless you were sliding them into an unknown tape deck!

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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How else would one listen to Crayzd Bunnyz?

or Point Blank! Right on man!

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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The next thing I thought (after I realized my poor level of comprehension) was, "Man, I miss the process of making mixed tapes and I miss receiving them." Making a mixed tape took effort and commitment. It wasn't a click and drag experience. It took time and you got to really meditate on your choices, especially because most of the time you sat and listened to the song while it was recording.

Yes! Making mixtapes was an experience that cannot be duplicated digitally and truly was a labor of love. They could be banged out on a twin-deck boom box, or - if one had access - on a "real" stereo using the levels knobs to fade in/out in the right places and pull all sorts of little tricks.

I still have a copy of a mixtape I made in 1991, sourced from other cassettes, vinyl,and CD..and VHS-recorded snippets from the Wayans' In Living Color ("Clutch the pearls! What a sneaky thing to do!"). I occupied a friends living room (and his superior stereo componentry) for 3 straight nights...

Also - I still have two milk crates of cassettes, commercial and home-recorded, dating back to the early eighties, of things I just can't bring myself to throw out.

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Yes! Making mixtapes was an experience that cannot be duplicated digitally and truly was a labor of love. They could be banged out on a twin-deck boom box, or - if one had access - on a "real" stereo using the levels knobs to fade in/out in the right places and pull all sorts of little tricks.

I grew up when cassettes were in full boom, and miss them dearly. Not nearly enough to actually buy any, but whatever. I was making mixtapes when I was in my early teens, though it was mostly stuff from Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales (my first musical purchase!) and Bell Biv DeVoe. I got a lot of tapes through Columbia House, including America's History hit compilation (I had ordered Led Zeppelin's fourth album and got this by accident, though I kept it anyway), Stone Temple Pilots' Core (I remember listening to this walking around one of Pittsburgh's museums on a middle school field trip) and Bobby Brown's "Own Our Own" single (from the Ghostbusters II soundtrack!).

I started making mix tapes in earnest when a friend gave me a copy of the Smashing Pumpkins' Drown bootleg mixed in with some other odds and ends. I think the Cure were on there too? Making mix tapes became one of my favorite pastimes, and I realize now that I just dumped them on anyone who would give me the time of day. I miss the smell of ripping the plastic off of a new tape, because it reminds me of my musical curiosity really taking off. I still make seasonal mixes occasionally, and try to replicate the drift you often found at the end of cassette side A, and the propulsion at the beginning of cassette side B.

But cassettes in general, as an actual way to listen to music...I don't know if I miss them too much. Still, artists I enjoy, like Southeast Engine, are actually selling them. Stop tempting me, guys.

Oh, and PS...does anyone remember the mix CD exchanges we had around here? I still love the one Kyle gave me. We should get that rolling again.

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Then there's the smell. "I want them fresh, sealed in the package," says AndréSirois, 31, who hunts for unopened tapes to add to his collection. "I know one day I'll rip them open and smell that sweet plasticy smell, and I'm going to enjoy how I used to enjoy music, as an old dude."

You got that? People miss the smell of cassettes. I don't think I ever noticed the smell of newly unwrapped cassettes, but if I did, I didn't much care about it.

I recall a couple of distinct smells to new cassettes. When they introduced clear cassettes, circa 1983-1984, it introduced a new scent to my experience, a sort of highly-synthetic fruity smell. The first clear cassette I remember seeing was the Foreigner album that was really big around then. Some of the Polygram cassettes were a little darker off-white in color and had a musty smell to them, but it was a strangely not-unpleasant musty smell, as I now remember it emanating from certain Def Leppard and Scorpions tapes of my youth.

I've still got probably 20 or 30 tapes that I can't quite bring myself to get rid of, even though we have only one working tape player in our family, and it's in Ali's '04 Odyssey. A couple of them have particular memories attached that give them independent significance, like a copy of Morrissey's Viva Hate that, fittingly, a girl betrayed me over in the summer of 1988. Plus, I've got a dozen or so Dylan cassettes, and the Columbia design uniformity (on cassette spine: artist in big red letters, album name in small black letters) does for me what vintage Penguin books designs do for others.

Edited by Russ

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Interesting. I have no nostalgic feelings for cassettes at all. They were a royal pain to work with, were bulky, sounded bad, and didn't last.

All of that is true. Which is why I really have no nostalgia about them despite the tone of my last post. The ones I have, I'll keep until I one day have the means to convert to digital.

But their impact on music beyond the realm of nostalgia cannot be denied. If in the 80's you were an underground/DIY musician with no real connections or means of otherwise recording and distributing your music... you probably trafficked in cassettes. Punk, experimental, hip-hop. If I remember correctly Option magazine had a section devoted entirely to cassette-only releases.

Then there is C-86, yeah?

So hats off to the cassette tape.

There was a lot to love about Hustle & Flow, but the best part of the movie is when DJay slides that cassette across the table to Skinny Black.

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Panella:

I still make seasonal mixes occasionally, and try to replicate the drift you often found at the end of cassette side A, and the propulsion at the beginning of cassette side B.

That is just perfect.

I am not nostalgic for tapes or the box from my Sunday shoes where I stored them. But I always loved the way an album could be crafted with a Side 1 and Side 2. I still hear the sides when listening to Lifes Rich Pageant, Nevermind, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska and many others. Scenic Routes. Homeboys. I could go on for days even if I skip the embarrassing ones.

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I was cleaning out the basement the other day and came across a box of old cassettes, mostly mix tapes that I'd either made for driving in the car or mix tapes that various friends — that I haven't seen in ten years, of course — made for me during one of our many mix tape swaps. There were also several old Christian alternative releases in there, e.g., My Little Dog China, The Prayer Chain, Under Midnight.

There was also the battered black cassette that my friend Leah — who was that kind of ultra-cool alternative girl that moody, angst-ridden teenage boys, such as myself at the time, are eternally doomed to have crushes on — gave me for my 16th birthday that was my first real introduction to The Cure. Tragically, she died in a car accident shortly before her birthday in our senior year. I'd forgotten about the cassette, but upon seeing it, I realized just how important it's been to me over the years.

Suffice to say, it was all an instant nostalgia rush.

Like many on here, I don't miss cassettes, but I do miss the physicality that cassettes lent to music. For me, this was captured most succinctly in the mix tape process, of being hunkered down in front of the stereo and pressing the "Record" and "Pause" buttons, fading in and out, etc. Of having to take into consideration of the limitations of the cassette's sides when putting together your playlist so that you could fit in all of the songs you wanted to, and in the right order. (For the record, I always bought those high-quality 90 minute Maxell tapes... nothing but the best!) And of course, of writing down the song titles. (Though to be honest, I made most of my tape covers on the computer. They were some of my first forays into graphic design... and they really sucked.) That's an experience that, in all of its frustrating and painstaking glory, just can't be duplicated in this day and age of iTunes playlists.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Vinyl could get scratched, but only a cassette tape could truly "die" while playing. That was a unique experience.

Husker Du's "Candy Apple Grey" cassette was my daily companion for the last few months of my senior year, 1986. When that tape got chewed up in a boom box that summer-- right in the middle of "Hardly Getting Over It"-- it was like losing a friend... with that magnetic carnage all over my floor.

Like many on here, I don't miss cassettes, but I do miss the physicality that cassettes lent to music. For me, this was captured most succinctly in the mix tape process, of being hunkered down in front of the stereo and pressing the "Record" and "Pause" buttons, fading in and out, etc. Of having to take into consideration of the limitations of the cassette's sides when putting together your playlist so that you could fit in all of the songs you wanted to, and in the right order. (For the record, I always bought those high-quality 90 minute Maxell tapes... nothing but the best!) And of course, of writing down the song titles. (Though to be honest, I made most of my tape covers on the computer. They were some of my first forays into graphic design... and they really sucked.) That's an experience that, in all of its frustrating and painstaking glory, just can't be duplicated in this day and age of iTunes playlists.

Absolutely. And nothing said "i love you" back then, like a painstakingly-crafted mix tape from someone special, complete with cartoon faces and teeny tiny notes next to song titles. That whole process was indeed a very a physical, time-consuming experience... (of course one would have to listen to every minute of the tunes while building and recording a mixtape) To hold one in your possession always represented an unspoken appreciation for what amounted to several hours of very personal work.

A few of those Maxell 90 tapes from the mid 80's were critical to my development-- the REM "Reckoning"/Violent Femmes "Holy Ground" and Lou Reed "Transformer"/Dylan "Desire" tapes altered the course of my musical world.

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Another lost pleasure of mixtape making: digging for songs to find theme-based titles. I remember making a mix called "This and That," which opened with Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" and then faded into "Black & Blue" from Edie Brickel's second album. Just now it took me a second to search iTunes for "and" song titles ("Moon and Moon" by Bat for Lashes, "Zak and Sara" by Ben Folds, "Night and Day" by Billie Holiday, etc.), but in 1991, when I made that mix, it meant pulling out every tape, CD, and LP I owned. Hours and hours of work.

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One thing I enjoyed about cassettes is how it forced me to memorize song titles, as I would reference the tape package and also look at the names of tunes as I flipped the tape around. (I guess this could also go for vinyl, though most of the vinyl I've listened to came from my parents' collection of Beatles/Kingston Trio/True Value Hardware Christmas stuff.)

For whatever reason, it seems harder to remember song titles now. At least for me, I mean.

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For whatever reason, it seems harder to remember song titles now.
Absolutely. Song titles and --for the most part-- song order, are completely irrelevant these days. Both were very important in the era of vinyl and cassettes.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I remember being very proud of myself when I made a Star Wars tape that compiled my favorite tracks from the soundtracks to the original trilogy. (This was back when the CD soundtracks for Empire and Jedi were only one disc each.)

I had to make the music fit on two 45-minute sides of a cassette, and I had to give each side a good opener and a good closer, and I had to alternate between the three movies so that I didn't get stuck in any one film for too long, etc. I don't have the track list handy, but I think I did a pretty good job.

I remember being very happy with my Traveling Wilburys mix tape, too; you might wonder how I could have made a two-sided "mix tape" when there were only two Wilburys albums to begin with, but I was including tracks from all the various Jeff Lynne-produced solo albums that the Wilburys put out around that time (George Harrison's Cloud Nine, Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open, Roy Orbison's Mystery Girl, Jeff Lynne's Armchair Theatre, plus isolated tracks from the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack and the Nobody's Child benefit album; I wasn't really following Bob Dylan at the time, but I'm not sure that Lynne produced any of his solo stuff to begin with).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I remember being very happy with my Traveling Wilburys mix tape, too; you might wonder how I could have made a two-sided "mix tape" when there were only two Wilburys albums to begin with, but I was including tracks from all the various Jeff Lynne-produced solo albums that the Wilburys put out around that time (George Harrison's Cloud Nine, Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open, Roy Orbison's Mystery Girl, Jeff Lynne's Armchair Theatre, plus isolated tracks from the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack and the Nobody's Child benefit album; I wasn't really following Bob Dylan at the time, but I'm not sure that Lynne produced any of his solo stuff to begin with).

Wow, that Wilburys mix sounds awesome! I'd actually buy a collection like that.

I too, fondly remember making mix tapes. It really was an investment of time and a labor of love. I spent many an afternoon or evening in front of my dad's stereo, revising track lists, fading out a couple songs early in order to make them fit on one side of the cassette, etc. Probably the best mix tape I made was a collection of Euro-centric tracks from bands like Erasure, The Sugarcubes, Ian McCulloch, etc. I made it for my girlfriend at the time and she was amazed. It all sounds very conventional now, with every kind of music being so readily available online. But at the time, it took a lot of effort to collect all the source material and compile it in one place.

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The cassette was a miracle in the 80s! Affordable! Infinitely reproducible! It made cultural production accessible for countless indies and unsigned artists. Labels like Shrimper, Simple Machines, K, and so many others.

The new cassette revival hinges on physicality--it's a fetishization of the art object borne of a reaction to digital music. It's happening for a different reason than cassettes did the first time around. It's less about nostalgia (the kids i see making tapes are discovering them for the first time) and more about the creative value of having constraints. Plus you can do produce runs inexpensively, and make them beautiful and harder to pirate than a CDR. Dozens of cassette-only labels all over the country!

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  • 1 month later...

A little something I wrote for Christ and Pop Culture: "Music Made Physical: In Defense of the Humble Cassette".

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
Opus, Twitter, Facebook

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  • 2 weeks later...
I remember being very proud of myself when I made a Star Wars tape that compiled my favorite tracks from the soundtracks to the original trilogy. (This was back when the CD soundtracks for Empire and Jedi were only one disc each.)

I had to make the music fit on two 45-minute sides of a cassette, and I had to give each side a good opener and a good closer, and I had to alternate between the three movies so that I didn't get stuck in any one film for too long, etc. I don't have the track list handy, but I think I did a pretty good job.

Well lo and behold, I was doing some spring cleaning tonight and I came across the case -- but not the actual cassette. In any event, here's the track listing (and note, these are the tracks as found on the original CDs, *not* the special-edition CDs that were released in 1997):

  • SIDE ONE:

  • Star Wars (Main Theme) -- Empire Strikes Back
  • Mouse Robot and Blasting Off -- Star Wars
  • Rebel Briefing -- Return of the Jedi
  • The Return Home -- Star Wars
  • The Battle in the Snow -- Empire Strikes Back
  • The Imperial March -- Empire Strikes Back
  • The Return of the Jedi -- Return of the Jedi
  • Han Solo and the Princess -- Empire Strikes Back
  • Princess Leia's Theme -- Star Wars
  • Parade of the Ewoks -- Return of the Jedi
  • The Desert and the Robot Auction -- Star Wars
  • Cantina Band -- Star Wars

    SIDE TWO:

  • The Asteroid Field -- Empire Strikes Back
  • Yoda's Theme -- Empire Strikes Back
  • The Last Battle -- Star Wars
  • Luke and Leia -- Return of the Jedi
  • Into the Trap -- Return of the Jedi
  • The Forest Battle -- Return of the Jedi
  • The Duel -- Empire Strikes Back
  • The Emperor -- Return of the Jedi
  • Finale -- Empire Strikes Back

A few brief notes:

-- I began and ended the tape with tunes from the *middle* movie because I wanted to keep that sense of always being in the middle of the storyline. Plus, with regard to the opening track, I liked the tune that follows the Empire version of the opening fanfare better than the tunes that followed it in the other two movies; and with regard to the closing track, I liked the romantic and imperial themes much more than the more Ewok-y stuff.

-- I gravitated towards the various "themes", such as the Leia theme, the Yoda theme, the Ewok theme, the Darth Vader theme, the Romance theme, the Sibling theme... It seemed like a handy way to cover all the bases.

-- I apparently included only one track from the first film on Side Two, and it's a *long* track (which, if memory serves, combines two very different scenes from the film; the 1997 soundtracks don't do that, they keep all the music in strictly chronological order). It's also the track that underscores the first Death Star battle... and I followed it with tracks that underscore the *second* Death Star battle.

-- I did try to mix the three soundtracks up a bit, but I did end up putting three tracks from Return of the Jedi in a row on Side Two... and right after the super-long track from Star Wars.

-- I believe I arranged everything so that each side of the cassette used up almost the complete 45 minutes allotted to it.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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