It’s hard to imagine now but in the summer of 1980 what passed for disruptive technology came in a compact plastic box with a cardboard inner sleeve.
Ah yes, the cassette – I remember it well.
In my first year as a staff writer for the music paper Sounds, I was deluged by the little devils, as bands up and down the country sent me demo tapes after I did the first major published interviews with Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.
But rewind a couple of months (yes, that’s what we did with cassettes) before I invented the New Romantics (well kinda sorta), a notorious provocateur by the name of Malcolm McLaren launched his new band Bow Wow Wow with the first ever cassingle – C30, C60, C90 Go! – an ode to the joys of home taping. Which at the time was strictly illegal – in fact the industry warning at the time was ‘home taping is killing music’.
For anyone reading this who is too young to remember, a C30 gave you half an hour of recording time, C60 an hour and C90 a whopping hour and a half.
It was a huge technological breakthrough and heralded the era of mixtapes – personal compilations of music recorded from vinyl albums or off the radio.
And Bow Wow Wow’s cassingle was blank on one side, encouraging fans to ‘kill music’ with their home taping.
Silly music industry – surely they realised that banning something would make everyone want to do more of it?
Which of course they did – even more so when the Sony Walkman was launched a year later.
It was the perfect format for bedroom geniuses in possession of a cheap Japanese-made synthesiser and ushered in a huge burst of musical creativity.
That’s why it saddened me the other week when I read in the Guardian that the word cassette is becoming as obsolete as the physical object itself.
Along with golly and gosh, cassette – that once shiny, modern and youthful buzzword – is going the way of the dodo. And I have to tell you there’s nothing like this kind of paradigm shift in language to make you feel old.
So thank goodness for Justin Bieber, who issued a ‘retro’ cassette version of his album Purpose last year and ushered in a mini revival of the format.
Now even the Wall Street Journal is announcing the comeback of the cassette.
So perhaps it’s too soon to retire the word. The French invented the word cassette – the ‘little box’ – surely it’s up to them to get rid of it.
I still have a few boxes of cassette tapes stashed away somewhere – but with nothing to play them on.
I keep them for old times’ sake – a reminder of an exciting era as a music journalist with the world at my feet.
A C90 recording of a Pet Shop Boys interview from 1985; another with late film star Divine; a few personal compilations that formed the soundtrack to my emotional life.
I also kept some of my favourite prerecorded albums – Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution; A Walk Across the Rooftops by the Blue Nile; New Gold Dream by Simple Minds and Sulk by the Associates – small but perfectly formed wonders.
As Bow Wow wow sang:
C30 C60 C90 go
Off the radio I get a constant flow
Hit it, pause it, record and play
Turn it, rewind and rub it away
Don’t rub away my past, Mr Dictionary. Please can I press pause?