Okay, let’s be clear here: I’m not suggesting for a minute that you should replace your phone completely with a cassette walkman. I mean, it doesn’t make calls or allow you to send texts, and it certainly doesn’t facilitate you meeting up with online babes for cheap thrills (or committed meaningful relationships—but seriously, who’s using Tinder for that?). What I am suggesting, however, is that you should grab yourself a walkman for listening to music on while you sit on the train, trawling the web for babes on your phone.
Here are ten simple reasons why you should get on eBay right now and snatch yourself a portable cassette player:
1. THEY SOUND BETTER
Alright, you vinyl aficionados and hi-fi enthusiasts: take a deep breath, relax, and read on. Vinyl has been, and remains to be, the best sounding medium to listen to music on. It has greater dynamic range, more pleasing top end, it’s punchy and it possesses a certain magic quality that makes it sound like the music is being played live in your living room. If you’ve never heard a live album on vinyl, do yourself a favour and pick one up. Seriously, it’s heaven.
Cassettes have long been regarded as vinyl’s cheap cousin—the one that the family disowned when she started whoring herself out to feed her crack addiction. What many people don’t realise, however, is that whore of a cousin cleaned up her act and got a job as a legal secretary. Sure, she may not be practicing medicine like her hi-fidelity, family-favourite cousin, but she brings home the bacon nevertheless.
When cassettes first arrived on the scene, they were rubbish. They were noisy, muffled and the players themselves usually had massive wow and flutter. I received my first walkman as a Christmas present in the mid-80s and it was the pits. It was made by Hitachi (who also make earth-moving equipment and power tools), was the size of an encyclopedia, had woeful battery life and sounded as though you were listening to a boombox in an adjacent room.
By the late-80s through to the late-90s, however, companies like Sony, Aiwa and Panasonic were churning out high-tech walkmans that sounded phenomenal and were packed with cutting-edge technology. I remember a Japanese exchange student at my high school had a Sony walkman that was only slightly bigger that a cassette, had electronic buttons, an LCD remote on the headphone cable, and sounded fucking incredible. Needless to say, his street-cred at school was sky high and I was green with envy.
About a year ago, I picked the very same model (Sony WM-EX670) on eBay for £20 and I was blown away by the sound. It has a setting called ‘revitalization’ which, when engaged, does an amazing job of restoring the mids and highs that often suffer a little on cassettes. I’ve done a direct comparison between the walkman and an iPhone with Air’s Moon Safari, and the walkman blew the iPhone out of the water. I’m talking night and day. You can jump on eBay right now and find a top-of-the-range walkman that’s packed with incredible technology, and make it yours for practically pocket change.
2. IT WILL DO WONDERS FOR YOUR STREET CRED
Let’s face it: iPhones are not cool anymore. I know they do heaps of cool shit, but your parents have one for Christ’s sake. All of this digital rubbish became lame as fuck as soon as our parents and grandparents started getting Facebook and Twitter accounts. Break free of your Mum’s Spotify playlist popping up on your newsfeed and get cassette fever.
Not only will a walkman do wonders for your street cred, but it’s a great way to meet babes and hot men by providing you an immediate talking point. Step onto the bus tomorrow sporting a walkman on your belt and I promise you’ll be up to your armpits in hot dates. And in addition to getting you more action, you’ll also be a part of an emerging cassette-revival music scene. There are a plethora of great cassette labels popping up all over the globe, and no shortage of great indie bands putting out new music on cassette. Don’t believe me? Head over to Bandcamp and start sifting through the hundreds of cassettes available for sale. Disney and Marvel even released the soundtrack for Guardians Of The Galaxy on cassette!
3. THEY ARE CHEAP AS CHIPS
If you find yourself existing on a diet of instant noodles and Stagg Chili, then cassette culture will fit your budget. The new digital hi-fi Sony walkman retails for over £1k, but you can pick up the top-of-the-range cassette counterparts for next to nix. Not only that, but cassettes containing some of the best music ever made can be purchased at thrift stores for the kind of cash that you wouldn’t bother bending over to pick up if it fell out of your jeans.
If you want to get your collection kickstarted, jump on eBay and search terms like ‘cassette’, ‘job lot’ and ‘bulk’. People will routinely sell a top-notch collection of 50+ cassettes for minimal scratch, so start searching.
4. CASSETTES ARE FUN
Cassettes and the compact players that followed introduced a level of portability to music that was simply unheard of prior to their existence. Furthermore, cassettes heralded a new era of music culture. With the advent of compact cassettes, music became more personal and a culture of sharing music developed that had never existed before, nor since. Now, I know that we can all share playlists on Spotify or make someone an iTunes playlist, but if you’ve never sat up late at night, waiting for the right songs to come on the radio so that you can complete that mixtape for your sweetheart, then you’ll never understand the effort and personal touch that went into them.
In the dark days before the internet, it wasn’t always easy (or cheap) to come by that song that had been in your head for weeks. You spent hours listening to the radio with a blank cassette primed and ready and your index finger hovering over the record button. Needless to say, it was a time when people were more personally connected with their music, and didn’t think of songs as disposable files that could be downloaded anytime they want. If there’s someone that you’ve had your eye on for a while, and you’re looking for a one-way ticket to their heart, try this:
1. Buy a blank cassette and a cassette player.
2. Make a personalised mixtape of all those songs that the two of you love. You know, the ones that say the things that you can’t find the words for. If in doubt, load it up with a healthy dose of The Smiths.
3. Get some paper, scissors and textas and craft some personalised, hand-drawn artwork (complete with inner lining and track listing).
4. Now send it to them with a walkman (batteries included) and wait for them to knock on your door with their knickers in their pocket.
Crafting a cassette mixtape requires a lot of time and effort on the creators behalf—time and effort that won’t go unnoticed when it’s handed over to your sweetheart.
5. YOU’LL DISCOVER NEW MUSIC
When you’re the proud owner of a walkman, it’s impossible to walk past a car-boot sale without keenly eyeing off each store to see if the vendor has any cassettes on offer. You’ll trawl through boxes of crap at thrift stores, just hoping to stumble across a cassette—any cassette—just for something new to throw in your player. In time you’ll chance upon an entire cassette collection, or a ‘job lot’, which will undoubtedly contain a myriad of titles you’ve never even heard—let alone listened to. This, dear friend, is how cassettes can help you expand your musical knowledge and appreciation. By limiting yourself to a cheap, physical medium, you’ll find yourself listening to countless records simply because they were available.
I once had no appreciation for Steppenwolf beyond Magic Carpet Ride and Born To Be Wild. But, since purchasing a bulk lot of Steppenwolf cassettes, I can hold my own in a discussion with even the most dedicated Steppenwolf fan. You could say I’ve grown. I’ve become a wiser, more cultured and more worldly man with a greater appreciation for 70s rock. You needn’t continue to lie in that philistinic wasteland that is your current music collection. Join me. Buy a walkman and together we’ll rule the musical galaxy as father and son. The Emperor has foreseen it.
6. YOU’LL LISTEN TO FULL ALBUMS (I MEAN REALLY LISTEN)
The digitisation of music brought with it the death of the full-length album … sort of. To explain, please come with me on a magic carpet ride to the late-80s/early-90s.
At the time, I was a youngster hell-bent on listening to as much rock n’ roll music as I could consume. I received a very modest allowance from my parents for completing household chores, and save for the odd candy indulgence, I squirrelled away every nickel of my pocket money so that I could invest my hard earned loot in rock albums. Typically, it took me about three months to save up enough money to buy one, single, solitary album.
Once I’d managed to scrape enough cash together, I’d head down to the record store, while my Mum did the grocery shopping, and browse the shelves of cassettes for hours. We’re talking about a regional music store here—I didn’t have the luxury of being able to purchase any title I wanted. Furthermore, I typically didn’t even know the name of the song or the artist that I was dying to purchase. More often than not, I’d heard a song a few times on the radio and fallen in love with it without even knowing the artist or song name. Humming the song to the retail assistant and asking if they knew what it was called was business as usual in the days before the internet.
I simply had to make the right choice though. After all, this was three months of my hard earned I was about to lay down. I wasn’t about to squander it away on any old record. As you can imagine, once I’d finally settled on an album and made my purchase, I’d play that cassette end-to-end, non-stop for the next three months straight. I’d come to know each song intimately, as if I’d written the record myself. Sure, I’d fast-forward straight to the big hits in the initial days, but this haste would soon give way to more complete listening that would ultimately see the obscure album track arise victorious as my favourite song.
When cassettes gave way to compact discs, and ultimately downloads, my intensive love affair with albums ultimately faded and my focus shifted to trying to have the largest possible MP3 collection. However, since parting ways with my iPhone and re-connecting with an old analog friend, I’ve re-discovered my love affair with the album and the sweet, beautiful obsession that comes with it.
7. YOU CAN CELEBRATE CASSETTE STORE DAY
That’s right, just like vinyl, cassettes now have their own dedicated day: Cassette Store Day. Despite the irony of the fact that there are no ‘cassette stores’ anymore, Cassette Store Day is really starting to get some traction with the help of dedicated cassette labels and a growing market of cassette consumers. The 2014 event brought limited releases from the likes of Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, The Gaslight Anthem, Karen O, They Might Be Giants and Andrew Jackson Jihad, and this year’s Cassette Store Day saw special events going down in the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and America.
So, grab yourself a walkman and get involved. It’s nice to belong.
8. BATTERY LIFE
It’s no secret that there has been less progress made in the development of batteries than any other technology. They keep adding all this cool shit to our phones, but guess what? It all requires more power, and the batteries haven’t gotten any better. If I’m listening to music on my phone and still using it as a phone, it will barely last the day. In fact, it’s not uncommon these days to see people carrying around phones plugged into portable charging units that are as big as a walkman.
My Sony Walkman will run for 39 hours straight. Enough said.
9. RE-DISCOVER YOUR INNER COLLECTOR
Remember the days when you treasured your music collection? You couldn’t wait to have a physical copy of every release that your favourite band had ever made. I bet you even bought the Nirvana singles box set, just to get a physical copy of the B-side track ‘Even In His Youth’. It felt good, right? Well, cassettes represent a cheap way to gain a physical connection with your music again; to be come a collector of the physical products that bands have produced, both from yesteryear and the present day.
10. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CHARITY SHOPS
By purchasing second-hand cassettes from your local charity store, you’ll not only be the coolest kid on the beat, but you’ll also be supporting local charities. It’s also worth keeping in mind that since the cassette already exists and was manufactured many years ago, buying second hand cassettes won’t affect your carbon footprint. Help the environment and support charities all while rocking out to the Best of Buddy Holly? Sold!