Local Current Blog

My top ten cassette memories

This Saturday, Sept. 27, is the inaugural Cassette Store Day. It’s inspired many to think back on their many audiocassette memories. Here are ten of mine.

The “Scream’r” blank cassettes. Each had a nose printed on it so that the two spools looked like eyes, which I thought was awesome.

My first two pre-recorded cassettes, which I got in the mid-80s when my mom sent in a Columbia House intro card and let each of us kids pick two tapes. My picks: the Back to the Future soundtrack and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer.

The Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome soundtrack I bought on cassette at Cheapo. The second side ended with an instrumental version of “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” that was not so instrumental that it omitted the children’s choir—and then a sequence of those little tones you’d sometimes hear at the beginning and end of prerecorded tapes.

Feeling dangerous and on-the-edge as my uncle Carlos illegally dubbed the La Bamba soundtrack for me at high speed on his double-tape deck.

The tapes my dad would listen to in the car: Paul Simon’s Graceland, James Taylor’s That’s Why I’m Here, and a British Invasion collection that started with a pre-Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac song.

The Tom Petty tapes that would conclude Side A with a wry comment by Tom, telling you it was time to fast-forward to the end of the tape and turn it over to Side B.

Learning about the types of cassettes—Type I (normal), Type II (chrome), and Type IV (metal)—from my stereophile father. First I had to look to see what type a cassette was so that I could set the type switch accordingly; then Dad upgraded to a tape player that was so fancy, it detected the type automatically. I never did figure out why there was no Type III.

The tapes I recorded off the radio in a multi-year series I labeled “Stereo Sounds.” I made so many of those tapes, with clips of the DJs caught in between the songs, that when I hear some of those songs I can still hear the hosts’ lame jokes. (“Here are the Four Seasons with ‘Save It For Me,’ a song they wrote for the North Stars goalie!”)

The cassette, purchased at a garage sale, that served as my introduction to Styx, Wall of Voodoo, and Shalamar. It was K-Tel’s Hot Tracks of 1983, and I’ve always wanted to know the story behind why the cassette had scrawled across it, in black Sharpie, F–K THIS TAPE. Maybe “Mr. Roboto” was some couple’s song, and the relationship ended badly.

The hosted mixtapes I made starting in 1988—when I was 13 years old—under my long-running DJ alias Willy Wilt, a popular host on the fictitious WHEE (“Minnesota’s hit party radio”). I was deep into my braces years, and the audible voice impediment comes from an orthodontic spring stretched across the roof of my mouth. The thick spring also caused me to constantly salivate while speaking, so about every 30 seconds listeners would be regaled with a sloppy slurp as I sucked up the excess spit.

  1. Listen Jay Gabler as Willy Wilt

Prior to making this tape I polled 44 friends and family members, asking what their favorite party songs were, then tallied the votes and recorded a 90-minute countdown show. I supplemented my narration with sound effects from an album I’d checked out of the library as well as with skits featuring characters such as my producer Mickie (my Cabbage Patch Kid), Gizmo from Gremlins, and Willy’s wife Wanda. (All were voiced by me.) This break reveals that although I’d never actually seen The Gong Show, I knew what to do with a gong sound effect.

Scream’r image via Project C-90