Patrick West

Tale of the tape: how cassettes made a comeback

It's time to dig out your Walkman

  • From Spectator Life
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Move over vinyl: the cassette tape is back. According to the British Phonographic Industry, sales of this retro piece of technology last year came close to a two-decade peak. Having been the top-selling format for albums in the UK from 1985 to 1992 and then seemingly disappearing (selling only 4,000 units in 2012), last year saw more than 195,000 cassette tapes shifted. HMV, which recently announced that it will reopen its flagship store on Oxford Street after a four-year closure, plans to bring out cassettes for ‘specific new releases’ and has credited its return to profit with a growing interest in ‘collectable’ music from an analogue era.

As a child of the 1980s and teenager of the 1990s, I – and my generation – have fond memories of the cassette tape, and many of us will welcome it back. Sure, ours was a generation of format overlap. My first musical acquisition was Now That’s What I Call Music 3 on vinyl in 1984 and my first CD an outing by Metallica in 1990. But ours was a generation that had an intimate relationship with the cassette, that redoubtable, portable object that worked in symbiosis with another iconic object of those times, the Walkman. 

Unlike the fallible, unwieldy LP, or the sterile, skipping and stalling CD (which Tomorrow’s World had so treacherously promised was almost indestructible), or the charmless, formless streaming service that was to come, the robust cassette tape was simultaneously a social, personal and intimate affair.

Unlike the fallible, unwieldy LP, or the sterile, skipping and stalling CD, or the charmless, formless streaming service that was to come, the robust cassette tape was simultaneously a social, personal and intimate affair

They were, and are, social in that they were the avenue through which we shared and evangelised our music tastes back in school. Not only were they the smallest medium of exchange, their offerings were permanently on hand during lunch breaks and free periods.

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