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PMMR's Corner: Where Have They All Gone?

I had a vast collection of Cassette tapes back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Literally hundreds of them stacked up in these little plastic trays that you could buy from Woolworths for £1.99. There was everything from Big Audio Dynamite to Hot Chocolate on pre-recorded tapes and any album I could get my hands on recorded on various BASF tapes. I seem to remember the Chrome C90 being my personal pocket money favourite, £2 for 5 tapes. The collection was crowned by the king of cassette tapes a BASF Metal. You had to press a button on your tape deck to get the best out of that baby! I recorded the Beatles white album on it and promptly knocked the tab out the top, so I couldn’t tape over it. Pure class.

I cannot ever remember throwing a tape away, so where did they go? And come to mention it where did they all go? Shops were full of them and they sold in good numbers. You get the odd box full in a second-hand record shop but in general they are gone. I can only assume the bulk of them ended up in landfill. I know some of mine got destroyed in a drunken party where the tape was everywhere! Strange how these were disposable but if anyone touched my records it was instant death!

Although no one can explain the disappointment when your favourite album was chewed to bits by the useless tape deck in your dad’s car or started sounding like a strange mix as the tape stretched and warped the recording.

All in all, I don’t miss the cassette tape. It’s a stop gap technology that served a purpose in its day, but I fail to see the relevance of it now. It might be a bit edgy to release an album on cassette (as per the next record store day) but I fail to see how it stacks up against today’s technology.

Before you start, I know there are literally thousands of them in second hand stores spanning the length and breadth of the country, but I think it only covers a small percentage of what was made. Again, landfill had some part in this and I must be honest that’s where most of my singles went (!) Well they were dead, CD had arrived! For more on this read my earlier post…

Paul McCartney sold literally tens of thousands of the single ‘Mull of Kintyre’ and he wasn’t the only one, but you rarely see them in shops and the multi million selling albums like ‘Thriller’ are rare. Even allowing for landfill and destruction there must be literally thousands of these somewhere. I can just imagine someone, somewhere opening a warehouse door in a long forgotten industrial estate one day and finding millions of records and ripping the arse out of the second-hand prices instantly!

There must be loads in lofts and garages still. Look them out people why the market is still here!

Mini discs and the best of the rest… 
I know these didn’t sell in massive numbers, but they must still be out there. Probably thousands of unused ones! I had a machine and a car stereo. It was pretty good technology, but people weren’t ready to reinvent themselves shelves must have been still full when this one died. Perhaps there’s a special place in heaven where all these things go? Mini discs sat beside DAT, Laser discs and 8 track cartridges…

My dad had an 8 track in his Mazda 929. Great big plastic cartridges that docked in the dashboard and were controlled by the most complicated buttons I have ever seen. You had no control over it, it played what it felt like and that was that. We got 3 cartridges with the car. A Cat Stevens album that we used to throw at each other, A Simon and Garfunkel Greatest hits album that seemed to constantly play Bridge over Troubled water! And our personal favourite Neil Diamond ‘Hot August Night’ which I strangely like to this day, but I do know every song, every key change and every fan shouting from the audience feels like a family member. We once found a shop in Skegness that sold cartridges my Dad carefully looked around them before announcing to the world that they were ‘vastly overpriced’ and ‘rubbish’ (for editorial purposes I have changed the wording of these statements quite a lot). They were £8. I suppose that was a lot of money in 1978 but I would have paid it just, so we didn’t have to listen to Neil Diamond again. There was no radio in the car either…

I remember the first time I saw a Phillips CDi Player (I think that’s what it was called?) The shop had a special open night for us all to go and stare at this thing whilst it played ‘Brothers in Arms’ the same as a CD and showed a film on it (Roadhouse seems to spring to mind) which sounded better and it played a bizarre shooting game which was impossible due to the gun being controlled (badly) by the computer. But to top everything (and probably send this thing to an early grave) it cost £1000! I genuinely don’t know what they were thinking, it was crap. I imagine the bulk of these went from the factory to landfill.

Laser discs were like albums but shiny and futuristic and crap. They also weighed a ton and the player cost a fortune. The technology was out of date and overpriced before it even hit the shelves. I don’t know anyone who bought one. However, I do know one person who has some discs! One day they will be worth something KMMR!

Betamax was as bizarre as it was unloved. VHS won that battle good and proper, and that was a bit crap. There are companies out there that split up old VHS tapes and somehow recycle it all, mainly the silver off the tape so I understand where they are going. And there are literally millions of these tapes on the planet. They will be ripping them up for years and years.

And finally, the one that I thought would never die. The IPOD (other digital storage devices are also available). These were the end game. This was the future as we know it. No more CDs, vinyl, tapes nothing. Just a white box in your pocket. But they are dying. Most companies have stopped making them. They have been eaten by ‘streaming’ I didn’t see that coming but its rather good. My IPOD is plugged into my car. I never update it. It has about 4000 songs on it. I put them there off my CDs. I will probably never update the thing ever again. I press a button in my car and it plays. Its hanging on but it knows I am one car upgrade away from streaming as I go! Then it will go on my shelf and be quietly consigned to history.

In conclusion I imagine that everyone that has ever invented a sound recording device thought it was the best thing ever. I can picture the bloke who made the wax cartridge thinking it would never be bettered, and many years later the engineers sitting around the first mini-disc player smiling as they stared at the future. I also imagine that if something is genuinely bettered, for example wax cartridges going out the window in favour of vinyl then the inventor would sit back and say ‘well at least it was the best for a bit’ whereas the poor bloke who invented the Phillips CDi must have been suicidal when literally no one bought the thing. I am sure it had good points, but it didn’t catch the imagination of the public. When CDs were released we were literally selling stuff to buy them. I don’t think that will ever happen again. I would assume that some people have made a fortune off some technology whilst others have lost the shirts off their backs. I have a feeling the latter is more than the former!

Now I think about it, apart from Vinyl, I am glad that the other formats have largely gone.

By Peter Middleton
Author of Behind The Fence & Bound In Time
Follow Peter on Twitter to see his brilliant album of the day series!


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