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  • Writer's pictureFatima Learn

Remembering Music Cassette Tapes

I came across a tape cassette the other day and found myself smiling by the flood of memories that came to me. Those that have used cassettes will remember the “mixed tape”. In the 80's, creating different playlists on tapes was the ultimate way to express your taste in music to your friends. The mixed tape had many purposes such as discretely giving your unrequited love to a crush by personally picking songs and then gifting them the cassette. In the 80's, cassettes became even more popular when portable listening players like the Sony Walkmen appeared on the market. This offered the freedom to walk around while listening to music which had obviously not been possible with vinyl records. The beauty of the Walkmen’s design was that it was not much larger than the cassette.

Years Later

Who remembers sitting by the radio waiting for the perfect song to press record? If you are younger then 35, then you will not. I had an emotional reaction as I looked at the songs of my old cassettes and remembered that time in my life. Then I began to wonder if people will feel the same way when discovering an old Spotify playlist 25 years from now. Somehow I doubt that, as the pace of change in technology is far higher nowadays, Spotify may be long gone and there will not be anything tangible to discover like a cassette tape in the back of a closet. I was saddened by that thought momentarily- but I went back to admiring my find. Then I ironically checked my Spotify list to see if I had the songs downloaded.

The Beauty Of Music Cassettes

Cassettes did not get scratched like a vinyl record. In fact, the cassette tape was designed for dictaphone recordings- not music (the quality of them were absolute trash). I am going to date myself even further when I tell you the wonderful joy I experienced from listening to my music on cassette tapes while driving. Some of the problems with this was having to pull my car over when I would hear the tape start unravelling and wanted to save it before it was destroyed. It is perhaps out of frustration that led to frequent sightings of fully unravelled cassette tapes lying in the street. Walking past them you could sense the anger that had led to the littering.

The tape itself was actually very flimsy and sometimes those little whirling spools would momentarily stop enough to cause the tape to unravel inside the machine. You could rescue it with a pencil and patience. Then there was the times when the spooling was less than uniform meaning the music would wobble or speed up or slow down. This had the comic effect of making fast songs sound as if Alvin and the Chipmunks were performing. Then there was the packaging- truly an amazing feat by package designers. As a future package designer myself at that time, I was critical about the design. The covers involved elaborate folded glossy paper. Sometimes, if you didn’t fold it properly, it would never fit in again and some of which were about a mile long when unfolded. Tiny print on graphic backgrounds were nearly impossible to read. All of this nostalgia prompted me to make a graphic T-shirt for my shop because I think there must be someone out there who feels the same way. Chances are someone will ask you about the shirt and you'll start telling them the story about the mix tape given to you from the "one" that got away.

Featured Image - Coloured pencil and acrylic paint sketch of a Sony Walkman. Fatima Learn

Second Image - Digitally manipulated cassette image. Fatima Learn


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