It was an end of an era this week, as Sony announced they would no longer be producing their famous Walkman portable cassette player. However, have Sony moved to quick in bringing the curtain down on the career of the old stalwart? There are five good reasons why I won’t be following suit and trashing my Walkman, or my cassette tapes, just yet……
Back in March, The Guardian speculated that the humble tape could be making a slow comeback, with plenty of respected indie bands and labels releasing cassette-only albums. They also pointed out that in the US there are “hundreds of underground labels that specialise in the format and package it with a degree of artistry never witnessed in the old Woolworths bargain bin.” And, just like Boris Johnson will tell you, you don’t mess with the underground………….
OK, so perhaps The Guardian’s “comeback” comment should be taken with a shovel of salt – the cassette tape has been in serious decline for the last 20 years. In 1989, 83 million cassettes were sold and in 2000, 53 million. In 2005, that still-impressive figure had dropped to half a million and by 2008 that had dropped to less than 100,000. According to the British Phonographic Institute, just 8,443 cassette tapes were sold in 2009. The once all-powerful cassette now resides at the fringe of the over-coiffured, over-blown, self-absorbed music industry.
Suggest to an audiophile that your modern day iPod is better than a top-of-the-range cassette Walkman and you had better have a handkerchief ready to wipe the saliva from your face when they finish spluttering with laughter. An article in Factmag goes so far to suggest that if you “Give the Walkman a reasonably well-recorded or commercially pre-recorded cassette and it will kick the iPod’s ass.” I like things that can kick the iPod’s ass. Lots.
Before digital music caused the world’s ears to demand MORE! MORE! MORE! FASTER! FASTER! FASTER! there was a lovely little thing called the album. Available on vinyl or cassette, you would listen to an album with reverence and give it the time it deserved. There was no “Shuffle” button on your cassette deck, so instead of picking the best two tracks off an otherwise poorly constructed album and adding them to a “Playlist” of 65,000 other generic, sound-alike smash hits, you would actually slow down, take your time and listen to the whole thing. And it’s the same principal for the glorious, long-lost mix-tape. It takes time to make ‘em, why not take time to listen?
If you’re thinking “Oh shut up you old hippy, them days is long gone! Get with the modern world!” then fair enough. But I should point out that there is some capitalist opportunities here, too! While it’s a rare event to see a cassette player being sold new from your typical high street electronics retailers – most stopped selling hi-fi systems with tape players years ago – you will still be able to pick them up second hand. The next time you hit the car boot sales, look out for the Nakamichi CR-7 or the AIWA XKS-9000, both of which are regarded as up there with the best and can regularly be found on eBay for prices of around a £1000.