Remember Audio Cassette Tapes?

Remember when people listened to music on cassette tapes?

I do.

The first cassette tape I ever bought was the album Appetite For Destruction by Guns ‘N’ Roses. I had never heard their music. But my friend said the band was cool and I did whatever my friends told me. After a few weeks of saving my allowance, the plastic Hess truck finally had the eight dollars I needed to buy the album in that innocent time when recorded profanity had to be bought in person.

I barely had the tape out of the cellophane when I realized that my family’s sole cassette player belonged to my father, and that this cassette player was in his car. Driving myself was not an option, as I had poor motor skills and was in the fifth grade. Listening to tunes like “Nightrain” (Wake up late/Honey put on your clothes/And take your credit card/To the liquor store), “My Michelle” (Your Daddy works in porno/Now that Mommy’s not around/She used to love her heroin/But now she’s underground), and “It’s So Easy” (Cars are crashin’ every night/I drink and drive/Everything in sight) with my father in the car next to me was a little uncomfortable at first, but soon he was whistling along just like he did to Roy Orbison.

One of the things I remember most about cassettes was making mix tapes. A mix tape was a recording of assorted songs on a blank tape, usually of different artists, and frequently made for a member of the opposite sex, or, if you were me, made just for yourself. The main character in the film High Fidelity lists a number of rules for making mix tapes. I, however, had only one rule: Arrange the songs so that I would not have to flip over the tape in the middle of a song.

With only this one rule to obey, the mood of my mix tapes was a little erratic. For example, one of my mixes started out with “Dead Souls” by Nine Inch Nails, then “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, then Metallica’s “Blackened,” and then “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper. Another one of my mix tapes opened with “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, then the main theme from “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then jumped to “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse, and finally “V’Shomru” by Cantor Joseph Kanefsky. That mix was for my grandmother.

The other thing that stands out in my memory about cassettes was how they would get caught in the spokes of the tape player. I’d be pacing back and forth across the campus green, listening to The White Album over and over again instead of doing my Spanish homework, when all of a sudden Paul McCartney’s vocals on “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” would be replaced by a loud crunching sound, and then there would be no sound but my own profanity.

Oh the humanity! I felt as if it were my arm that had been caught in the spokes, although because of the size difference only the end of my sleeve would get wound up. Try as I might to unwind the tangled tape and restore my beloved music, it almost never worked again, and even when it did the tape never sounded right. On some of the tracks it sounded like Paul was just screaming.

I no longer use cassette tapes, and even my compact discs are being featured on Antiques Roadshow. I now carry thousands of songs on my telephone. It takes seconds to arrange them in a mix, and I don’t have to flip over the phone unless I feel like drawing attention to myself. The only thing missing is the sound of cassette tape getting mauled by tape player spokes.

But I’m sure they’ve got an app for that.

Thanks to Jessica Buttram and Maria for the topic.

Mark Kaplowitz

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  1. How hilarious! My first cassette tape was Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughn. I admire your Dad for his open mindedness in the car. However, my bet is that he couldn’t understand a word they were singing. That defect can slide even the most pornographic past parents.

    As far as your mixes … are you sure you didn’t suffer from multiple personality disorder?

  2. It’s funny how in order to make a mix tape a lot of times you’d have to set aside specific times to get a certain song. Like if you KNEW that one song would be on a countdown at a time, like say 8:00, you HAD to be by the radio, fingers on that record button AT 8:00.

    I think what I appreciate the most about portable music now is the size 0 having gone through multiple walkmans, portable CD players AND MP3 plyers – I enjoy being able to have all of my songs on my phone with me at anytime. I don’t have to carry excess items or extra bulk. This is one situation where technology comes out as a win!

    • That’s an excellent point, Amber. And I remember just listening to the radio in hopes that a song I liked would come on. Then I would stray to another radio station and come back in the middle of the song I was hoping to listen to. And then I would have to start the process of listening all over again.

  3. My first cassette was Pink Floyd: The Wall. I played that a lot. Mix tapes are a wonderful thing to remember. I made many of them and I’ve had many made for me. It was a great way to express a mood, create an atmosphere or tell someone how you felt about them. Then we graduated to the mix CD. Same difference only there wasn’t the crunch of the tape being eaten by the player (always fun). Now in the digital age you can share your “mix tapes” with the world by uploading your playlists to iTunes. Wow how music and the way we listen to it progressed!

  4. Hahaha, thanks for the props. I remember the first cassette tape I ever bought (not the ones handed down to me by older brother and sister) was Green Day’s Dookie. My dad had a fit.

    I also remember owning a bright pink cassette tape – it may or may not have been Debbie Gibson’s.

    More than once (okay, twice), I made my pinky finger bleed trying to spin that death trap of a spoke. Thanks for the memories.

  5. I’m enjoying your blog. I am a huge believer in nostalgia as a mood lifter. 🙂

    My first cassette was The Go Go’s, Beauty and the Beat. I also had a Pat Benatar cassette – the one with Promises in the Dark. Luckily I had my own boom box and didn’t have to listen to them in the car with my parents. You are a brave soul.

    I still enjoy making mixtapes/playlists/whatever. Now that I’m broke I make them for everyone’s Christmas and birthday presents…I do have to agree it’s a lot easier to make them nowadays!

  6. Love your blog; its a nice way to start an easy, lazy Sunday morning.

    My first tape was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous (well, technically my sister bought it, but it spent more time in my room than it did in hers). I think Greenday’s Dookie and Bon Jovi quickly followed. And a lot of those Grammy nominees and Now That’s What I Call Music! tapes.

    When making my mixed tapes, I also had to keep my finger on the “Stop” button throughout the song, because sometimes the radio host started talking before the end of the song. All my songs then ended with the “So that’s…” or “Next we have….”

  7. I’m way behind on these entries, but you should feel extra special that I don’t delete the email alert for each one until I’ve read it. Of course, I’m also an email hoarder, so it could just be that.
    Anyway, let me just add my first purchased cassette — Europe’s The Final Countdown. How impassioned I was by the plight of our Native Americans after hearing “Cherokee.” I think I even used it in a school project.

    • Maybe my mind’s playing tricks on me, but that project using “Cherokee” sounds familiar. And I do feel extra special. It’s nice when older entries get read. Thanks.

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