Top Ten Tape Things (Cassette Store Day 2015 list)

Posted by Billyjam, October 17, 2015 02:56pm | Post a Comment

cas·sette k??set/ noun:  a sealed plastic unit containing a length of audiotape, videotape,
film, etc. wound on a pair of spools, for insertion into a recorder or playback device.

Saturday, October 17th: Today iofficially being Cassette Store Day 2015, during which you'll find lots of cassette tape goodies (new, old, reissues) available at Amoeba Music and other participating music retail stores, I could not help but reminisce over that beloved analog format that was once many people's primary source of music listening and sharing. So, off the top of my head, I randomly compiled the following top ten tape things list, encompassing both good and bad things. Meantime be sure to stop into Amoeba Music today, where it is also Super Saturday Sale day, and peep some of the cassettes available including (at Amoeba SF) Jaylib's Champion Sound and Peanut Butter Wolf & Dam-Funk's 45 Minutes Of Funk. Cassette Store Day aside, on any given day the cassette section of Amoeba is well worth a visit as noted in this previous Amoeblog I did after a most rewarding visit to the Amoeba Berkeley store's cassette section.

1: Bargains @ Amoeba:  As with digging in the Amoeba Music vinyl crates, where you will often find some classic albums of any genre for a dollar, so too are there many bargains to be found by taking regular visits to the cassette section. Examples include the three above (two were still shrink-wrapped) that I found for only a dollar each at Amoeba Berkeley on visits over past few years.

2: Mangled/messed up/forever unplayable cassettes: This heart-wrenching occurrence will be familiar to any music fan who grew up in the cassette tape era. In fact, back in the day one recurring constant along the side of roads and highways, along with empty beer cans and other dusty crap, was the image of discarded mangled cassette tapes with their unfurled streams of the tape freed from their spools and fluttering in the wind, the music on them never to be played or heard again. Typically this was some frustrated driver, whose favorite cassette got caught and eaten by the car tape deck, who in anger tossed it out the window (#litterbug). The only thing worse than your cassette being mangled and ruined forever was it getting stuck in your car tape deck, unable to eject or revert to FM/AM radio mode, and playing the same music over and over and over (this happened to me and it was a mediocre tape to begin with, but after 25 repeated listens was unbearable). On a positive tip, to remedy the inevitable possibility of a tape getting "eaten" there used to repair kits sold to fix said damaged tape. They could be repaired but it was a most time consuming, tedious procedure that included cutting and splicing the tiny scale tape back together.

3: Cassingles: the music-industry-invented word itself was music to my ears. The cassette single or cassingle (sometimes known as the Cassette 12") was the tape version of the 7" or typically 12" vinyl release of the same title and were typically packaged in a soft cardboard package as distinct from the hard plastic cases of cassette album releases. Sometimes you would get an alternate version or bonus track on the cassingle version of a release that was unavailable anywhere else. The obvious drawback of this format was that it was often so short in time that it was not always suitable for car rides longer than a run to the local store and back. Oftentimes labels would run the same program on sides A and B.

4: Snippets: Snippets like the two above by Kali's Finest and Frankie Cutlass were promo-only (not sold) tapes that were sent out to distributors or retail or handed out to fans at shows and events by their respective record labels as a means of street or in-store promotion. The objective was to give fans a taste (snippet) of several songs off an artist's album that had just been released or was about to drop. Typically these cassettes contained one full song (usually the current single) and about 5 or 6 songs edited down to 20 or 30 second samples.

5: Black & White Cover Cassettes: As any collector will tell you, some of the most interesting and adventurous releases you will ever find are on cassette and totally budget looking releases that the makers opted out on a color cover, favoring a simple (often hard to see) black and white cover with very basic graphic designs. Rarely did these have barcodes - further ensuring their underground rare status, especially in retrospect. Examples include the three above from CT artist Marquis, Vallejo artist Rob G, and Oakland rapper Sushi! whose two-song/ten-minute cassette was billed as "When the American west coast meets the European mad flava of SUSHi it's gonna be a Motha!"

6: Cassettes appropriated as nostalgia fashion item: The above wood and stainless steel cassette tape coffee table that I first spotted at NAMM a couple of years ago, made by Tayble and designed by 214 Graffiti, is an example of clever appropriation of the cassette tape design. Others include notepads, T-shirts, jewelry, and iPhone protective cover cases done in tape design. Cool stuff!

7: Contemporary cassette releases: As written about a while back in the Amoeblog, there are currently many small music labels ranging from psych rock to rap, including Bay Area-based underground hip-hop label Mega Kut who put out the two tapes above, that issue cassette-only releases and are usually very limited. In the case of Mega Kut, they only made 100 copies each of the two releases above for Murksauce and Lightbulb vs. The Crate Goblins. But they also did what most cassette (and vinyl) only release labels do, and include a download card with an online link to where to get the music digitally downloaded.

8: Cassette DIY ethic & the once popular "pause tape": Perhaps what made the cassette tape so appealing to so many music fans was its relative ease in making your own recordings onto blank TDK or Maxell cassettes - especially when compared to reel-to-reel tapes before the cassette. Hence the once widely popular practice of making "pause tapes" whereby the average music fan in the '80s would tune into their weekly top 40 countdown or local hip-hop radio show with their fingers on their tape deck's Play, Record, and Pause buttons ready to record the music-only parts. I remember many times on the radio as a DJ when listeners would call up and request a specific song because that they wanted to tape it, and how they'd like a heads up announcement before it was played and no talking over the requested record.

9: Cassette bootleg era: Once upon a time, long before free music file sharing online and CDR fast duplicating, the only threat to the music industry was bootlegged cassettes. Back in those days of the '80s and early '90s, one would go to flea markets like the Ashby Flea Market in the BART parking lot where vendors hawked bootleg cassette copies of popular albums. Often these were amateurish (poorly Xeroxed images and/or misspelled titles and artist names) and poor sounding dubs. But they were cheap and popular especially when they were illegally released in advance of an album's street date. In the early '90s, many hip-hop artists would, in their lyrics, strongly condemn these bootleggers and those who supported them. This and the practice of taping music at home inspired the "Home Taping Is Killing Music" campaign by the music industry, which in turn led to Jello Biafra's label Alternative Tentacles' anti-corporate "Home Taping Is Killing Record Industry Profits" campaign that inspired the label to put an entire album on one side of a tape and leave the other B side blank for consumers to record onto.

10: Sampler cassette compilations: Even more than CDs, there were a lot of promotional sampler cassettes made up and given out to fans and industry folks or included in magazines as free promos (but not sold anywhere). Typically an individual label would put together a collection of their upcoming season's releases with a pre-release track (full songs/not snippets) or two from each artist. This was especially important for record labels to expose new, unheard of (and unproven market wise) artists to the public. Sometimes, as in The World Of Rap collection above that I compiled for the 1992 New Music Seminar in NYC and that also acted as an ad for Disc Makers, several different labels including Tommy Boy, Select, and Hollywood Basic would combine forces to all contribute to the one cassette compilation.

Relevant Tags

Home Taping Is Killing Music (1), Home Killing Is Taping Music (1), Bootleg Tapes (1), Tapes (6), Cassettes (12)