Rumours of Death - The Cassette is Not Dead

Oh how the mighty have fallen. In days of yore, when the universe was less than half its present size, the cassette was the format of choice for discerning music fans. Well, the second format of choice for discerning music fans. The rise of the Walkman meant that tapes were the best thing to happen to music since the invention of the triangle. Easily copied, difficult to scratch and no more tiresome messing about with needles. Yes – the audio cassette was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. There were even those chrome tapes which cost a fortune but no one quite knew why. Well, the day of the cassette tape has come and gone. Like its big brother the video tape, the audio cassette has been consigned to a forgotten bin at the back of the least popular shop in the most depressing part of the least attractive side of the high street in the drabbest town in most embarrassing part of the country.

Or have they?

Amazon UK – the barometer of what is and isn’t in the world of retail – boasts a catalogue of 107,489 cassettes in its music section alone. Yes, even without audio books (which these days represents about 102% of the usefulness of the cassette tape), there are over a hundred thousand tapes for sale at the king of the internet high street. That must bode well for the tape industry.

The best way to test the success of the modern audio tape is of course to compare the charts. Amazon ranks its products by popularity so we should be easily able to gauge whether tapes have kept pace with their rounder, shineier, even easier to copy brethren in CD-land.

The current CD album chart looks something like this –

  1. Yours Truly, Angry Mob by the Kaiser Chiefs

  2. Back To Black by Amy Winehouse

  3. Beautiful World by Take That

  4. Life in Cartoon Motion by Mika

  5. Eyes Open by Snow Patrol

  6. Sam's Town by The Killers

  7. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire

  8. Loose by Nelly Furtado

  9. Treasure by Hayley Westenra

  10. Undiscovered by James Morrison

Splendid fellows, all of them, I’m sure you’ll agree. I especially like that one about the person who was in love with the other person but something happened to one or other of them. That really changed my life in more ways than I can tell you. But what of the cassette tape top ten? Does it differ much from that?

Maybe not as much as you might think.

At number 10 we have "Revive the Stones" by Bishops Noel Jones and TD Jakes. A rousing collection of gospel recordings which can be bought, second hand, for a mere £80.46. Ok, so Amazon don’t actually have their tenth most popular cassette in stock. A mere oversight I’m sure. Jones and Jakes will forgive them. It’s their job after all.

At number 9 we have international best seller "Wasserhahn Und Wasserhenne", the cover of which shows a hen paddling in a rubber ring. There isn’t anything else in the way of description to make us part with nearly six pounds so we must go to their German store, translated by a genuine human being at Google’s translation unit.

‘One cannot only read poems - one can up-say her, sings and above all to hear! The spells for a Zwiderwurzen, the dear song with two Strophen, the zoo poems, the toad song, the sleep song for a ghost child, the kitchen concert, the taking off song, the desire note song, the poems of the grass-green kite, the freezing mouse, the Nile horse kindergarten, the moon, which comes with quiet steps.’

At number 8 we have the enigmatic "Classical Kids Classroom Collection" by the well known beat combo Various Artists. With no cover and no information beyond a 1996 release date, they can keep their £193.15 (second hand).

At number 7 it’s "Twig Bei Den Himmelspiraten" by Volker Niederfahrenhorst. It isn’t Niederfahrenhorst’s best album by a long way but it is still an essential part of the modern meterosexual’s album collection. Wikipedia says ‘he flying rock gets despite the many chains, to which constantly new is added, ever more lift, there the fraudulent all-highest university graduate Vilnix Pompolnius the Sturmphrax steals, which weights the city’ but they wouldn’t know classic rock if it bit them on the GNU.

At number 6 it is "Peter Und Der Wolf", the tale of a wolf who was forever bothering the rest of its pack by claiming that a small German boy was coming to get them. Eventually, they stopped believing the wolf and a real small German boy did come and did get them. Luckily, wolves are more than a match for a small German boy and Peter is ripped to shreds and eaten. Perfect for those long school holiday car rides in the country.

At number 5 it is "The Ice Opinion" by rapper Ice T. This curious object d’art costs £45 and apparently is a boxed set with ‘3 pages’. In this cassette cornucopia, Mr T (not that one) gives ‘his views on the ghetto, riots, success, free speech, education, art, and other important facets of life’ in pieces called "Who Gives a Fuck", "Pimp's Guide to Sex, Rap, And God", "The Art of Shit Talkin'" and "Ya Shoulda Killed Me Last Year". I wonder if he gives any kind of explanation as to why his name isn’t the more grammatically correct ‘Iced T’?

At number 4 is the groundbreaking "Radio Shows: Dragnet on Radio" – a second top ten hit for Various Artists. They must be raking in the cash like Mike Oldfield in his prime. Dragnet, for those who haven’t figured it out, was on the radio.

At number 3 we are quite literally excited to see "The Best of Old Time Radio" by Lucille Ball. This four tape extravaganza promises six hours of rare radio entertainment and a sixty page booklet. For those wondering, yes it does include the legendary ‘My Favorite Husband’ episode ‘George Is Messy’.

At number 2, so near and yet so far, it is "Cassette" by Public Image Limited, elsewhere known as "Album" and "Compact Disc". Better known these days as "The One With ‘Rise’ On It". But I’m not going to say anything satirical about it because Lydon rules.

And, as if you couldn’t wait, the number one best selling musical cassette tape at Amazon dot co dot UK is…

"EMI Presents the Magic of Ruby Murray" by the magical Ruby Murray. I don’t know about you but I bought two copies just in case they sold out. Twenty six magical tracks from the woman known simply as "The Curry".

So I hope this little missive has put paid to the rumours that the audio cassette tape is on its last legs. There is life in the old format yet and while a few of the younger pop stars may shun its magnetic charms, the real heavyweights of the genre still embrace it like a favourite cushion or political opinion.