This week, it has been 37 years ago that the first Sony Walkman was available to consumers in Japan. The US had to wait a little bit longer: It was introduced there in June 1980. Finally there was a way to listen to music on the go, in an easy portable way. Carrying a stack of cassettes and spare batteries was a bit more of a hassle though. Mix tapes were a wonderful solution: You could create your own playlist, or make one for someone else, and because space on your cassette was limited to 60 minutes (or 90, or 120 if you were really lucky), you had to be ruthless in your selection, and only the very best tunes made your tape.
Cassettes are still doing well. The only remaining cassette factory in the US, National Audio Company, has been manufacturing analog audio tapes since 1969. The company says it had its best year ever in 2015, and 2016 is on track for exceeding that.
While the 80s was the decade for Walkmans, most of the Most Wanted cassettes in the Discogs Database surprisingly date back to the 90s and even as recent as 2012. Let’s have a look at the top 10! We’ll only look at cassettes that were released individually, cassettes that are part of a box set are not included.
According to the band, this album was released on cassette in 1994, and only 33 copies were ever made. They recorded this self-released cassette as a trio before deciding to transform the group into a large band. There is something mythical about the release as none of the music on this release seems to have ever surfaced online, much to surprise of the band. And if you didn’t think that someone would try to get some credit for unearthing this recording, well, you’re wrong.
Considered an essential Vaporwave release, after this album was released in a digital format only in 2011, 100 copies were released on C44 cassette in 2012. The cassettes included 2 tracks that were not included on the previous digital release.
Released in the UK, 1982, this was the only album ever released by this band, and it was only released on cassette. There hasn’t been an official release on vinyl or CD since.
This demo by Metallica was released in 1982. Drummer Lars Ulrich has estimated he sent out between 50 to 100 copies of the original tape and that the recipients would then copy it and send it to their friends. “I don’t remember being particularly goal-oriented then, but I assume the intention was to get signed,” he says in this interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2015. The interview was related to the re-issue of the cassette by Metallica’s label Blackened Recordings for Record Store Day 2015.
Maybe you’ve heard about the experimental musician called Oneohtrix Point Never? Chuck Person is another alias of Daniel Lopatin, who got a lot of attention for this record, considered to be the original, the holy grail of Vaporwave. Of this 2010 release only 100 cassettes were issued, and no other formats have been released since. If you haven’t been able to find a copy, you can listen to it here.
Boards of Canada is a music phenomenon built on secrecy, rituals, obscurity and modern world paranoia. Their music has been accused of containing many references to numerology and occultism. That’s nonetheless good news for the duo, whose records become instantly a must-have for all record collectors out there. “A Few Old Tunes” was privately released to family and friends in 1996. It’s unclear how many copies exist. Luckily for you, you can give it a listen here.
Another Boards Of Canada release in the list, from the same year as the one above, 1996. And just like “A Few Old Tunes”, this one was only ever released on cassette, no other formats are available. Some tracks on this tape would later become part of 1998’s masterpiece “Music Has The Right To Children”, but we can understand how excited listeners back in 1996 were to be listening to these tracks two years before the rest of humanity could.
Released in Ghana, 1994, only 50 copies were ever released. In 2006, collector Brian Shimkovitz found a copy in Ghana, took it home and was so struck by the sound that he started a blog, Awesome Tapes From Africa about the music he found in Africa. After years of searching he finally found the artist and in 2015, the album has been re-issued on vinyl, cassette and CD. As a cherry on top, Ata Kak is currently touring Europe for the first time ever, to the amazement of audiences at festivals such as Sonar, Beaches Brew and Strange Sounds From Beyond, just to name a few.
Don’t want to influence the way you view Richard D. James but… we’d like to introduce you to the king of record promotion. While two years ago he put a pretty nice stunt to promote his comeback record “Syro”, in the nineties he was telling the media stories about him living in a war tank, about why the twin in Aphex Twin (which is rather creepy) and everything in between. Released in 1992, the cassette version of his revolutionary debut is highly sought after.
Just like “A Few Old Tunes” at number 6 in the list, this one was only released for friends and family. If you happen to have one of these tapes sitting on your shelf, maybe now it’s time to consider quitting your day job and living the dream!