Came across this great site which made my heart and ears ache for my bygone days as a cassette enthusiast. It's an alphabetical photo montage of... keeee-rist... seemingly every make and model of blank cassette manufactured from then 'til now, and given that they're all the exact same shape and size, the sheer diversity of design is pretty head spinning. Gazing down the list, my eyes fell on a few that even reminded me of old tapes from my personal collection that either bit the dust eons ago, never made it out from under the seat of my '81 VW Rabbit, got left at parties, were simply tossed to make way for other obsessions, or perhaps still lurk in some dark corner of my apartment, waiting to be uncovered and reprimanded for wasting precious storage space.
For example, this little jobby here was a bit of an industry standard of the late 80s. But it's also the exact make and model of the corny mixtape I made the year before I finished high school and was subsequently carted around from punk rock shows in Trenton, to parties of older friends who'd trotted off to art school in the city, to secret skateboard spots in Pennsylvania, and then back again several thousand times over. I know this tape still resides in a bag of crap in my closet and is sun-bleached and warbled from years and years of abuse. The tracklisting is way too embarrassing to include here, but I will admit that it includes a plainly retarded segueway from the Jesus & Mary Chain into 7 Seconds. (Links to Real Audio.)
This one here had a Buzzcocks (Real Audio) mix that someone made for me. Or maybe it was just a dub from a vinyl copy of "Singles Going Steady", which probably gave the above mixtape some fierce competition for play in the boombox at some point or another. Sadly, side two of this tape featured a dub of Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album, (stop laughing) which is a great example of the classic mis-step of tape making, especially when precious boombox battery power is at risk: Don't put something you're only in the mood to hear once a year on the flipside of something you consider part of your daily personal hygiene. To this day, I can not listen to the Buzzcocks without fashioning my hair into a tidy bun and pretending to be a librarian 45 minutes later.
Purchased at Topp's Appliances in East Brunswick, NJ for the explicit purpose of making a mixtape for the pasty-faced punky maiden I was madly in love with during senior year of high school. This tape was twice as expensive as the garden variety Maxell/TDK models in regular circulation at the time, but I figured it was important to spend a little cash on the lady. She was obsessed with Depeche Mode, (Real Audio) whom I pretended to like for a little while in the hopes of earning her sympathy. Instead, after graciously accepting the mixtape from me just prior to Christmas break, she never again spoke to or made eye contact with me, having been obviously disturbed by something on the tape. (Note to current teenagers attempting to win hearts of pasty-faced punky maidens by making them mixtapes: Reconsider the inclusion of any lengthy Hubert Selby spoken word pieces as "dramatic" conclusion to side one. Though fashionable at one time, this is now widely regarded as a fiercely stupid idea.)
I'd recognize this tape anywhere -- my copy contained an interview with my friend Alex, recorded sometime around 1989 and later transcribed as a dopey "comedy" piece for the first issue of our lousy fanzine. The interview was conducted in my car as we drove from his house in Princeton, NJ to another guy's house who lived in nearby Kendall Park. We talked about Quakerbridge Mall, a guy we knew who used to hit animals with his car on purpose, and the subtleties and nuances of the band Black Vomit, whom had recently been declared by then WPRB (and future WFMU) DJ Ken Katkin to be "the worst band in America."
Marc Bolan (Real Audio) mix given to me by a former employer, who was the biggest Marc Bolan/T.Rex freak on the planet. At the time, I think I found the Marc Bolan solo stuff too whimsical and foofy for my tastes, but the aid of this tape definitely brought me around the corner of appreciation beyond the usual Slider/Electric Warrior fandom. (Both totally great records in their own right, of course.)
Yes, I was a cheapskate. These badboys were sold by the legendary discount chain store Two Guys and were packaged in a plastic bag containing three tapes without cases or labels of any kind. It took a while for me to figure out that cheaper cassettes with poo-colored tape sounded worse than the more expensive ones with the sexy black tape. Then again, I employed the Alvin Lucier "I Am Sitting in a Room" (Real Audio) method of transferring vinyl to tape until I was at least 13 years old. (By placing the running tape recorder in front of the speaker of the family stereo. At the time, I very briefly imagined a life in which I made millions of dollars by selling cassette copies of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" album made in this fashion. Sadly, this dream was never realized.)
I wish I still had this one, as it's easily my most cherished cassette of all time. When I was about 10 years old, my older sister worked for an organization that conducted speech therapy programs for little kids. The therapy sessions were all recorded on handheld tape recorders and (presumably) played back weeks later as a means of gauging the progress of the participant. Anyway, one of the kids my sister worked with was named David and for some reason or another, I was completely obsessed with the recordings of his therapy sessions (which my sister allowed me to listen to whenever I wanted to). It was a tape exactly like the one pictured here that contained my sister and David's conversations about his school, his house, his family, pets, friends, homework, TV shows he liked, and anything else. I maintained the idea that he was pretty close to my age, so it was a bit like having not so much an imaginary friend, but an invisible friend -- One whose voice was perpetually being swallowed by ambient room noise and complimented by the sound of the occasional passing car or barking dog.
One last brand of tape which is (strangely) not included on the website but which contained the source material for much of my 2003 fundraising premium CD is this lovely Certron cassette. At around the same time I became obsessed with taping songs off the radio, I came into posession of some of these things which I think even then I regarded as the ultimate in stone-age technology. I believe they were generally intended for dictaphones, board meetings, or answering machines but I used 'em to compile endless aircheck tapes of my favorite DJs from the local college radio stations, as well as to make mixes from local band demos, and whatever else was making the rounds on that most undesirable of magnetic mediums at the time. To close this post out, here are a few MP3s from that CD, songs from which were originally housed on Certron beauties just like the one pictured here.
+ Triggervision - "Reaction" (Vicious noise punk a la Action Swingers or Äss, but sloppier and on cheaper drugs.)
+ Crispy Lizards - "The Only One" (Late 80s Trenton band whose singer copped the best fake British snarl I've ever heard.)
+ Jeff Fox - "Dead End Kids" (Runaways cover as performed by Mr. Fox and band, who somehow manage to twist an utterly tuneless solo into one of my alltime favorite guitar moments in history.)
Désirent ardemment de phase le milieu magnétique!