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Cassette (Re)collection: 1

Posted by NumberSix , 14 September 2009 · 338 views

My music collection began at age 10 with a vinyl copy of a K-Tel album called Night Flight, which appeared at the top of my 1982 Christmas list because a TV commercial told me it included one of my favorite songs from that year -- Joey Scarbury's theme from The Greatest American Hero. I was already a fan of the show, but this was the first Top-40 song that ever enraptured me deeply enough to require my ownership. Other than the poor song selection on AM radio -- which was all my mom would tune in at the time -- her large sleeveless collection of 45 singles and handful of random LPs were my only source of musical entertainment. Night Flight was different because it was MINE, despite one or two scratches at the beginning of each side. Beyond one-hit Scarbury, that album also introduced me to the likes of Hall and Oates, Paul Davis, Eddie Rabbitt, and Air Supply, all of whom would dominate my listening for the next year as I began to allocate some of my allowance toward other K-Tel collections.

Over the next two years, I began to allocate more and more of my allowance toward 45s and -- after I received a tape recorder for my 11th birthday -- albums on audiocassette. Cassettes didn't have to worry about scratches (it was years before I encountered my first warped tape), seemed to be longer than LPs (not entirely true), and took up less shelf space (arguable, depending on your racking format). As my tastes expanded in high school from Top-40 into all the various genres shoehorned into the ultimately meaningless "alternative rock" umbrella, my cassette collection expanded to threatening proportions until the advent of the compact disc signaled its impending doom. From 1991 to 1998 I bought both CDs and cassettes, depending on my fondness for certain bands, or on whatever was available in stores. Over time, local shops like Camelot Music and National Record Mart deemphasized their cassette selection as the tide of public preference turned toward the more expensive format. After one final new-cassette purchase -- the Smashing Pumpkins' Adore -- I begrudgingly made the conscious decision to go CD-only ever after, except for the infrequent thrift store discovery.

At work our department has two hours each morning set aside to focus only on processing customer service items -- no phones, no outside interruptions, no interpersonal distractions -- that doubles as a great daily opportunity for me to indulge in headphones without guilt. Over the next several months, my new optimistic project is to listen to my entire cassette collection in alphabetical order by artist and ruminate over which ones I still want to keep and which are ready for the Goodwill pile.

This isn't the first time I've listened to them all in this anal-retentive manner, but it's the first time I've used it as an excuse for a writing project. I've already plowed through my non-musical tapes -- e.g., radio dramas, audiobooks -- and my stacks and stacks of dub tapes, filled with singles copied from library checkouts or from albums I previously gave away.

Thus the alphabet begins:

Aerosmith -- One very influential book in my collection was Chuck Eddy's 1998 list-book Stairway to Hell: the 500 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, which inspired another (short-lived) project for me, one to see how many of Eddy's selections I could actually acquire. Since I was never a big Aerosmith fan, this was the only reason I bought Toys in the Attic (ranked at #4). I was even more prejudiced against it because the track listing on the back of the cassette case is out of order and therefore useless, but eventually I had to give it its due. The title track was okay by me because R.E.M. had covered it on Dead Letter Office; the original "Walk This Way" was justified because its remake gave the world Run-DMC; and the boogie-fied "Sweet Emotion" would eventually become a mainstay on today's adult lite-pop stations, which serve as a so-so nursing home for retired ex-metal songs. I'm still not convinced I need another Aerosmith album because this one sums them up just fine.

[Next entry: Scotland's failed answer to U2, and some thick Seattle sludge.]

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