Younger readers might struggle to remember the cassette tape – but for people who persist in driving ‘eighties and ‘nineties cars, the odds are it still defines their in-car listening experience.
After the clumsy, horrible, stick-out awfulness of the Eight Track, it was the sonically inferior compact cassette that won the in-car entertainment war in the 1970s. And, for the next two-and-a-bit decades, nothing could touch it.
Indeed, you can keep your CDs and your iPods, because I reckon the cassette is long overdue a revival. I’ve just made a long cross-country journey listening to nothing else, and I can’t think of a better way to avoid being babbled at by local radio DJs. My daughter was less convinced, examining the scratched plastic cases with a look of intense scepticism: “who were Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds and Level 42?”
My answer, of course, was that all were due the same sort of revival I reckon the cassette that imprisoned their innovative soundwaves deserves. The huge advantage of a cassette is that you end up listening to the album in the way the artist intended, rather than constantly shuffling through your digital downloads to get that hit tune fix. Indeed, many of the cheaper cassette-playing head units didn’t have a rewind function, committing you to another 50 minutes of listening before your favourite track came round again.
That’s what wrong with the yoof of today, they’ve not got the patience to tolerate the distinctive hissssss of tape. Nor do they understand the pleasure that comes from pushing that little ‘Dolby’ button that makes almost no discernable difference to the level of interference.
Hell, having to endure the interminable noodling of Mark King’s bassline puts you into the sort of bass-induced trance where the £8 gallon of fuel, interminable roadworks and speed camera vans of 21st century Britain no longer seem to matter.
Of course, I’m old enough to remember when an in-car cassette deck marked you out as someone. I can remember a mate pleading with the sales manager to be allowed a cassette radio in his company car. He should have been grateful: back then getting a radio was hardly a certainty. It was even possible to get a car with ‘radio prep’ – which cost £50 and just bought you some wires.
What’s better is just how cheap keeping your cassette deck fuelled with ‘eighties classics is. Legally downloading a track costs 79p – but the cassette comes in a handy carrying case with artwork and lyrics you have to use a microscope to read, and is available at car boot sales across the country for about 10p a throw.