Saturday, 20 September 2008

All Taped Up

You know what memories are like – a bit temperamental. But I’m pretty sure it was late in 1971 when I first owned a portable cassette recorder, that wonder of 1970s technology and I was immensely proud of it. It was of indeterminate Japanese origin, had a naff plastic microphone, a small tinny speaker and an automatic record level that took at least 5 seconds to sort itself out so that the beginnings of recordings were always distorted.

Owning one of these machines was like a science fiction dream come true for after a short period of recording myself, the dog and various family members, I finally twigged that I could record music off the radio, initially by using the mic, (‘your tea’s ready’, ‘SHHH!’) but later by using a direct record lead and it would save me a fortune in not having to buy stuff. This was a real revelation.

The event was so momentous that I can almost remember; track for track my first taped songs even now. They were:

Wishing Well –Free
Heart of Gold – Neil Young
You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Meet Me on the Corner – Lindisfarne
Tomorrow night – Atomic Rooster
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

As we all know, there was a bit of a problem with this enterprise and it was over-loquacious DJs. Not only can I recall all those songs, I can recall the truncated chat that embedded itself into the beginning and end of every one of them. You suspect that this was done on purpose to discourage home taping but it didn’t stop me.

The next problem was that you always got bored with one song and it was always located in the middle of the tape so erasing it either left a gaping hole in proceedings or provided a home for a new song that didn’t quite fit in the space. Either way, I always ended up with a bunch of songs that were distorted at the beginning and truncated at the end with a load of trivial DJ chat over the best bits. Nevertheless, it was still better than buying them.

But wasn’t all that a tiny bit illegal? Well, up to a point. Because the inevitable drawback with tapes is that they deteriorate alarmingly with age so none of these gems exist today and those that do just deposit a deluge of iron oxide onto the playback head whenever I try and play them, so they have had the last laugh after all. If I really want them back, I’ve got to buy them.

Sadly, cassettes have all but vanished now and with the advent of recordable DVDs, Videotape is also fast disappearing. The Tape Age (like the Bronze Age before it) has passed into history but for our generation it was a real lifeline to holding on to those musical memories.


Jayne said...

This really brought back memories - I used practically lay underneath the television to record songs onto my cassette recorder, and nearly all of them have the same inevitable 'tea's ready - SHHHHHH I'm TAPING!' shout across the music. And I agree - I always thought when taping from the radio that disc jockey's spoke across the beginning and end of the song to discourage home taping.

The main thing I loved about tapes was making up my own compilations to listen to via my walkman when on holiday. I'd make the 'happy' tape, the 'sad' tape, the 'feeling groovy' tape - all would have silly names, and I'd worry for ages what songs from my records and tapes should be next on the playlist.

And then there was the ex-boyf who used to present cassettes like a sacrificial offering - still, I got to hear a very odd variety of music - and some I still like, which is more than I can say for the ex-boyf!

musicobsessive said...

Ahh, the compilation tape for a 'friend'. What most of these friends didn't realise was that creating these tapes produced hours of the most mind numbing tedium to record them and would only be done if the recipient was worth the effort. I'd feel privileged if I were you.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Both your post and Jayne's brought back memories for me! I miss all those compilation tapes. Good times!

musicobsessive said...

Good time indeed!
But like all good times, they come to an end and die a natural death. A bit like my old tapes, actually...

d.edlen said...

There's a site:

that's kind of fun.

My wife has umpteen Black Crowes bootlegs on cassette that I'm going to preserve with my iRecord.

I used to listen to cassettes in my car that I didn't listen to anywhere else for fear the grime from the car player would transfer, but some of that music I never got in any other media! Those bring back serious memories, like I Mother Earth's album "Dig" (that I did actually get on CD), which I had a promo tape of since they were an L.A. band, and I remember eating churros from Jack in the Box while listening to it. Such an odd memory.


musicobsessive said...

D - actually, you're right when you say:
'I used to listen to cassettes in my car that I didn't listen to anywhere else'
In many respects I treated taped music as a sort of buffer zone where i would try out new stuff and if I liked it I would generally buy the LP/Cd and if I didn't it'd get trashed. So this rather kills the usual music industry claim that taping means less sales. In my case it actually generated sales.

Come to think of it, I too have a few Siouxsie and Cure bootleg tapes which I must get digitised. Thanks for the reminder!

Jeff said...

I was a 90s kid so I grew up in the days of the CD, but my family didn't get a CD player until I was around nine or so (1995.) I remember I used to record songs I liked from the radio, and boy was that a hassle. I recall sitting with my fingers slightly pressed against the record button waiting to hit it immediately once a song I liked came on. I even remember sitting actually waiting for specific songs to come on, and of course they never did. Boy have the times changed in just a few years...

musicobsessive said...

Hi Jeff, thanks for dropping by.
I remember the old finger on the record key trick as well. The trouble is, with today's crap radio, I'd be waiting with my finger on the button for DAYS before something decent turned up.

*Adopts old voice (Oh no...but I am old)* 'It were never like that in my day...'