Memories of a Tape Head: Hooray For Obsolete Media!

A heaping helping of ancient '80s analog awesomeness!
A heaping helping of ancient '80s analog awesomeness! | Source

Former Tape Heads Unite!

You almost have to pity the poor cassette tape. Though it was once the dominant format for recorded music during the glorious Eighties, the audio cassette has become a barely-remembered punch line, loved only by retro-minded collectors of obsolete audio ephemera, or snarky hipster douche bags who record and release their own music on tapes because it's the properly "ironic" thing to do

It may have taken a while, but cassettes were slowly edged out of the marketplace during the 1990s by shiny silver Compact Discs - a format which is now teetering on the brink of similar extinction thanks to the Internet, but that's a whole 'nother story. My point is, for a large portion of my formative music-buying years in the '80s, cassettes were where it was at. They were affordable, portable and required less storage space than those bulky vinyl LPs, which made them the logical format choice for my pre-teen self. The first rock album I ever owned (at the tender age of 11) was on cassette - AC/DC's Let There Be Rock, which I received as a Christmas gift in 1981. Over the course of the next decade, I would buy hundreds of tapes by dozens of bands before I finally succumbed to the Compact Disc revolution around 1992. I really didn't have much choice at that point, because every time I went to a record store, the cassette section kept getting smaller and smaller as the CDs continued to take over more floor space. I could see the writing on the wall!

(Homer Simpson voice) Looks like some goooood listenin'!
(Homer Simpson voice) Looks like some goooood listenin'! | Source

Time To Upgrade!!

This change in format added a new, even more obsessive level to my music collecting mania: in addition to buying any and all of my new releases on CD, I began scrounging through record store "used" bins in order to replace as many of my old cassettes as I could with CD copies. As it turned out, the early 1990s were an excellent time to take on such a project, because my personal musical tastes (hard rock/heavy metal/thrash) were considered "passe" by the general public at that time. When people dumped their "un-hip" hard rock and metal CD collections onto the second-hand market and moved on to college rock, gangsta rap or whatever other early '90s nonsense the music-biz Powers That Be were spoon feeding them, I was more than glad to give their cast-offs a good home. Every time I "upgraded" an old tape to CD, my cassette would go in a box, where it would eventually be offered up at one of my family's semi-regular yard sales. I did a pretty brisk business with them for several years; I guess I wasn't the only one who was reluctant to let go of cassettes. At one such sale, a massive biker looking dude went absolutely ape-sh*t when he saw my pile of tapes, which I'd priced to move at 25 cents apiece. He bought about 40 of them, and as he handed me his money he said, "This is all great stuff! Why are you gettin' rid of these?" I was tempted to say "Well, they've got these new fangled things called CDs now, have you heard of'em?" but since he was a rather intimidating lookin' fella, I merely explained that my "upgrading" system had made them obsolete.

To the desk drawer of history with ye!
To the desk drawer of history with ye! | Source
Check out THIS awesome system! This baby's got it all...AM/FM, Cassette, AND CD!! Jealous? You should be.
Check out THIS awesome system! This baby's got it all...AM/FM, Cassette, AND CD!! Jealous? You should be. | Source

The Re-Discovery

At the peak of my cassette collecting mania, I owned somewhere between 400 and 500 tapes. After years of bargain CD-bin diving, I was down to less than 100 by the early 2000s, but used-CD stores to replace the ones that remained were becoming fewer and farther between. By this point, most of the tapes I had left were long out-of-print items whose CD versions were commanding obscene prices on the Internet, or stuff I simply didn't care much for in the first place. My "upgrading" project slowly ground to a halt and the remaining tapes were stashed away in my closet, because I didn't have the heart to simply throw them away. There they sat... till about two months ago, when my nosey 7-year old son rediscovered the box while poking around in my closet...which he's not supposed to do, but I let it slide this time. "What are these, Dad?" he asked. When I told him they were "some of Daddy's old tapes," he said, "Cool! Can we watch one?" I explained to him that these were not video tapes, but the kind that played music, "like Daddy's CDs." Naturally, he then asked, "Can we listen to one?" but that wasn't possible because I no longer had a tape player in the house - which is ironic, but true. As strange as it may sound in light of my ongoing CD-collecting obsession, I very rarely, if ever, listen to music around my house anymore - I do it mostly while driving in my truck or sitting at my desk at work. We never replaced our last stereo system when it crapped out in the early 2000s, and I hadn't owned a Walkman in nearly 20 years. The last vehicle I'd driven with a cassette deck in it had given up the ghost just about the time my son was born!!

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"The Peters Brothers Interview Stryper" - check out the stylin' slide projectors and Steve's ultra cool sweater vest!!
"The Peters Brothers Interview Stryper" - check out the stylin' slide projectors and Steve's ultra cool sweater vest!! | Source

I do, however, still have a cassette player at work - nothing fancy, just a cheap little AM/FM/tape/CD boom box that I'd brought in ages ago so I could have something to listen to my CDs with at my desk. I hadn't put a tape in it in at least ten years, but the next day I brought a bag full of my remainders to work with me and had a little Retro Cassette Music Festival, which was tons of fun. For the next several days I reveled in the analog awesomeness of such long-forgotten delights as Faith No More's The Real Thing (which I really should upgrade to a CD copy, cuz that album still sounds great today), AC/DC's Blow Up Your Video (ditto!), Dokken's Dream Warriors maxi-single and Helloween's Judas EP.

I noticed that an unusually large percentage of my "remainder" tapes were refugees from the late 80s/early 90s Christian rock/metal scene - including the seminal CCM rock compilation California Metal, X-Sinner's Get It and Peace Treaty and Stryper's Yellow & Black Attack (the original 6-track EP version, which has never been released on CD!). I always had terrible luck at upgrading those; Christian rock albums tended to go out of print fairly quickly, therefore prices for CD copies on the second-hand market were usually too rich for my blood. (Side note: those two X-Sinner albums are still the top Holy Grails on my CD want list after all these years... so if anyone out there has got extra copies, I will gladly give you a kidney for them!)

The real prize of my Christian rock batch is an unintentionally hilarious ministry tape called The Peters Brothers Interview Stryper: Whose Side Are They On? - a spoken word release in which two self-styled "anti-rock" preachers (who look like they could be related to Ned Flanders) investigate whether Stryper are really workin' for the Lord or if they're undercover agents for Satan. Their "interview" consists of two minutes of chatting with one member of the actual band, and the rest of the program's run time is spent listening to the Brothers praying and trying to sell the listener their anti-rock book and tape sets. I'm fairly sure that this recording never saw the light of day on CD, which is a real shame, because it's absolute comedy gold.

I now keep a stash of two dozen or so tapes in my desk drawer and still dip into it when I'm in the mood for some truly old school listening. It's probably just nostalgia talking, but I swear, vintage stuff like Aerosmith's Draw the Line, Black Sabbath's Sabotage, or Van Halen's Fair Warning just sounds... right when it's being played through a squeaky old lo-fi cassette player. Unfortunately, as I worked through the remainder pile, I discovered that a few of these oldies simply weren't playable anymore, so they had to hit the wastebasket (choke!!). Still, there are more than enough left to keep me entertained for a while... or at least, until I finally finish upgrading them all to CD, which at the rate I'm going will probably be around the year 2027.

Tapes may be dead... but I say long live the tapes!!

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Comments 20 comments

Georgie Lowery profile image

Georgie Lowery 23 months ago from Slaton, Texas USA

Oh man, I miss owning music. Real, physical music. I had stacks of vinyl and hundreds of cassettes (including some of the ones you've pictured here). Great hub, Mr Cat and thanks for the nostalgia. I hope they do make a comeback!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 23 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Georgie... as long as there are obsessed collectors/nerds like me, tapes/vinyl/CDs will NEVER go out of style. We simply will NOT allow it! Haha. Thanks for stopping by, as always!


AlphaMale 23 months ago

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 23 months ago from The Garden State Author

And thank you for the visit!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

Great hub here. I still have about 100 cassettes I guess. Have gotten rid of a few over the years at garage sales etc. I have one cd/cassette player and a player that you can convert cassettes to mp3 and save on your computer. Also still have about 100 records, half of these old 78s. They are all good reminders of days gone by and I could never get rid of them all. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 23 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Jodah - thanx for the kind words. I think I need to look into one of those cassette-to-MP3 players, so I can convert my last few stragglers to a more convenient format.


Jerzimom profile image

Jerzimom 23 months ago from Ladysmith, WI

I used to have lots of cassettes. I recently sold most of them on eBay but I made a list of them to find some of them on CD's. I keep some of my favorites though! If you get a converter you can convert them to a CD. That would be nice.


Vintervarg 23 months ago

There is a comeback of tapes, but mostly for independent music. Some underground labels still produce them.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 23 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Vintervarg - yeah, I know there are some ultra-underground black metal labels that still release cassettes... and only cassettes. I guess only analog is true metal, haha.


tsw512 23 months ago

Nice article! I still have about 1,000 tapes stashed down in the basement. I just can't part with them.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 23 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi there, tsw....1,000? Wow, you've got me beat! Haha. Thanks for stopping by, glad you liked the piece.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 22 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I never had an extensive collection of commercial tapes - I went straight from LPs to CDs. But I have a ton of tapes I recorded live or off-air in the 70s and 80s. I've already transferred the ones I want to keep to mp3 on my computer. But so far, I haven't been able to bring myself to throw all those useless cassettes away! After all, they still work. And I do have one of those AM/FM, Cassette, CD combination boom boxes to listen to them on. When it comes to throwing things like my precious cassettes into the garbage, I may need therapeutic help.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 22 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi RonElFran - Obviously I can relate, haha! Enjoy those tapes!


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 22 months ago from Home Sweet Home

i remembered the days when we had to rent these tapes to watch cartoon and dramas, it was expensive back then, $20 per tape to buy and $8 per tape to rent for a week.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 20 months ago from The Garden State Author

Updated


DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 20 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

I enjoyed reading about this obsolete media.

Just think, someday your son might write a hub like this about Ipods. "Can you believe people used to listen to those things?"

My first tape deck was a 4 track, but soon after buying that we had to switch to 8 track, and after building up a great collection of ELO, BTO, and other primo bands I had to switch to those dumb cassettes. They were smaller, which was nice, but did not have a lot of other advantages.

The advantages of CDs? Hmm, let me think!


janshares profile image

janshares 20 months ago from Washington, DC

I say 'long live the tapes,' too. I can't seem to get rid of mine. I have stacks, but not 500. They represent an era of real music. Thanks for this great nostalgic read, FatFreddysCat. Voted up, funny, and interesting.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 20 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi DrMark and janshares - it's cool to see that there are still others who remember tapes fondly.


JoanCA profile image

JoanCA 20 months ago

When we were preparing to move house a few months ago I found a cassette and I was stunned. I have no memory of when I bought it and I have no idea how it managed to make multiple moves without me finding it before. My kids were fascinated to find out how I listened to music as a child and I do happen to have a stereo that plays both cassettes and CDs. But I'm into streaming now. I don't even listen to my CDs anymore.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 20 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi JoanCA - it's amazing what can turn up during a move. What tape was it??

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    FatFreddysCat profile image

    Keith Abt (FatFreddysCat)508 Followers
    165 Articles

    I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and CD collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.



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