06 August 2012

80s Facts - Cassettes And CDs...

 A mid-1980s TDK audio cassette. Keep a pencil handy.

Those were the days! In the early 1980s, audio cassettes, launched in the 1960s, finally outsold vinyl records and were clearly the preferred technology. This was, in part, due to the rising popularity of the Sony Walkman, launched in England as the Sony Stowaway in 1980. Apparently, pop group Bow Wow Wow were the stars of the first commercially released cassette single in the world ever, which was also released in 1980. Appropriately, the subject matter of the song was cassettes - C30, C60, C90 Go!

Doesn't seem that exciting now? It didn't at the time either, so don't worry.

Of course, cassettes were great fun - recording the Top 40 off Radio 1 on your dad's hi-fi or your radio cassette, hearing the music warble, go muffled and then cut out as the machine ate your tape, re-spooling tapes with the aid of a pen or pencil - we now look back at it all with gooey-eyed nostalgia. 

The 1980s were undoubtedly the heyday of the audio cassette, but the shoulder padded era also launched the compact disc - 1983 saw its debut in England. 

Now That's What I Call Music 4 in 1984 was the first Now to appear on CD and contained a selection of songs featured on the vinyl and cassette versions.

Like most new technology, the discs and equipment to play them on were initially expensive and so the rise of the CD was slow. But by the late 1980s they were outselling vinyl, although audio cassettes, now helped enormously by the cassette singles suddenly flooding the record shops in the last couple of years of the decade (they were launched as a serious alternative to vinyl singles in America in 1987), were still the top seller until the early 1990s.

Curiously, many retro-loving youths of today, brought up with sophisticated iPods, CDs, etc, have a soft spot for the dear old cassette.

Nice, innit? Just keep that pencil handy...


Dave Mullen said...

Many a time a precious cassette of music culled over many weeks of 'lifting' from the Radio or the John Peel sessions was eaten and lost to the player, C90S being the worst offender...:(

I still have all my cassette's oddly enough, right at the bottom of the wardrobe in cases, I do mean to get rid but never get round to it. Subconcious block maybe?
The real strength of Cassettes was their ease of use, you could tape selected songs off the radio at will, record virtually anything for easy playback, I still likely have a lot of cassette's filled with stuff from the radio and unique tracks from shows like John Peel's or even documentaries from Radio 2. Irreplacable.

CDs from my memory only came into the mainstream by the end of the 80s as you say, it did take a while for them to fully take off though and I know for a fact I was still buying cassette albums as a norm well into the early 90s... Having said all of that though CD is definitly the superior format overall, the significant drawback though is that it is nowhere near as easy, or therefore as popular, to tape direct off the radio anymore...

Drew said...

I used to love taping off the radio! What a cheap way to get music! My Tube Cube, that marvel of 1980s engineering, worked very hard indeed for me! The only trouble was DJs coming in and wittering on before the song had finished! This cheesed me off on more than one occasion! :)