I own Rick Astley’s Whenever You Need Somebody on tape.
I bought it when it was released. I found that old tape just recently. (I have it on vinyl as well – nutcase!)
Buying tapes – it dates you.
I mowed lawns to earn money to buy tapes. Then I’d listen to the new tape that next weekend while mowing the lawns, working to buy another tape. I mowed my parents’ lawn and for a while my aunty and uncle lived across the road so I had a gig mowing their lawn too. (That meant I could buy two tapes).
Tapes were expensive – this is 25 years ago, even longer, and a new cassette tape was $20. Ridiculous. But the stuff from the 1960s and 70s was often $10 or $5. Some of my favourite tapes were very cheap. Horrible quality of course – but it was about being turned on to the music. You listened through the hiss, the warps, the pops, the lazy transfers from vinyl that picked up ticks and jumps. You focussed in on mind-blowing sounds from long before you were born. So much of it seemed so fresh and alive.
One of my favourite tapes was a “20 Super Hits”-type thing of The Yardbirds. I was a Clapton fan and a Jeff Beck fan so I wanted to see where they had come from. I was 13. The tape was $2. I kept it for years. It played well – it lasted. Eventually I purchased the Beckology box-set (first on tape, later on CD) and that pretty much replaced my Yardbirds tape.
But I started buying tapes when I was about nine years old. And for my tenth birthday I received music-vouchers. And then every birthday after that, right through my teens – always a treat, always the correct gift!
So the first tapes I started buying were from 1987 – or thereabouts. Certainly the year 1987 was when I started buying tapes with a reckless enthusiasm. I think I peaked in 1990/1991 though – I kept a dairy both years listing every single tape I bought. As I said this was a weekly thing. But the one tape a week became two or three when I started buying older, cheaper music. And so I bought one hundred tapes one year. Close to two hundred the next. I had over 500 original cassette tapes – and loads of blank ones that I used to copy my folks’ record collection and other tapes that friends had.
My dad told me it had to stop. The CD was the new thing. And it made no sense to buy tapes. But I loved cassette tapes. I loved the portability. I loved listening to them on my walkman. A red Sony walkman that was purchased in 1987 on the family holiday to the Gold Coast and Sydney (I was pretty fly for a white guy, got some basketball boots and stonewash jeans on that same trip. Trip is right!) – and then, once I’d learned to drive, tapes were a hit in the car.
I even took a tape to school in my pencil-case, using it as my ruler to underline headings. When someone commented on it once, asked to borrow it for the night, I decided that I could swap it out each day, take a different tape to school in my pencil-case. It would be a talking-point, pens and coins and Twink squeezed in around the tape. One day it was The Sex Pistols, then it was Nirvana. It was Guns’n’Roses or – to mix it up – it was Django Reinhardt. I wasn’t hurting anybody, right?
My uncle believed in the portability of tapes too. At my older brother’s 21st I was in charge of the music. My first DJing gig – running behind the outside bar to change CDs on my parents’ stereo; there’s a video of some of the drinking games that night, Get In The Ring is playing on repeat, my brother’s friends chanting along.
Anyway, my uncle turned up and said, straight-faced, “I’ve got a tape you might like to play later on”. And just as he said “later on” he reached for his top-pocket and lifted up the tape to show me. Just the top inch or so of the cassette case. He had arrived at his nephew’s 21st with a tape to play. This was no mixtape, thoughtfully compiled to soundtrack my brother’s life. This was not a cutting-edge new release. This was in fact Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.
I love, to this day, that my uncle announced it as if it was something I might never have heard of. I love that he left the house with a Pink Floyd tape in his shirt pocket. We imagined, after that night, that he went everywhere with it. Don’t leave home without your Floyd!
Now Rick Astley was not my first tape. But it was bought, the year it was released, early on in my tape-buying career. It was bought alongside John Cougar Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee and Midnight Oil’s Diesel And Dust; U2’s Joshua Tree, Mick Jagger’s Primitive Cool and Guns’n’Roses’ Appetite For Destruction.
There were many others – but now the only tape I have from that era is Rick Astley. I found it at Easter, back in Hawke’s Bay. I found the diaries with lists of tapes I collected. I slowly, but surely, gave away all my tapes when I moved to Wellington and started university. I kept a few for the car – then I got a Discman and sometime after that, finally, a car with a CD player. That was the end. I sold a few for the pittance they would have offered at second-hand stores but mostly I gave them away – to whoever would take them. I had box-sets on tape. I had all sorts of music. I had towers of tape-holders, stacked rather awkwardly atop one another.
The first tapes I spent my own money on were in fact The Joshua Tree and Diesel And Dust. I’m happy with that; albums I’d still listen to today, now and then. I’m done with Joshua Tree, pretty much – I prefer Unforgettable Fire these days. But I am not embarrassed by those tapes. Even though I don’t have them anymore. I bought them later on CD. Still have both albums on vinyl and on my iPod.
Of course you should never be embarrassed about the music you like.
Unless it’s Adele.
I gave the last of my tapes to my sister-in-law a couple of years ago. Mostly heavy metal tapes remained. And she was into them and had a tape-player. Good to clear out the clutter.
But one tape remained. Rick Astley.
I put it on last night. Rick Roll’d myself. Made it through the whole album. I’m a sick-sick man. I know this. And you do too. But now I know where it comes from. Turns out I was a sick-sick 10 year old too.
So what tape memories do you have? Were you (are you?) a tape-buyer? And what was your first tape?