Last month, Time magazine published a story celebrating the 50th anniversary of the cassette tape.
Cassette tapes were invented by the Dutch company Phillips, who introduced them at the 1963 radio exhibition (Funkausstellung) in Berlin. Can you imagine what it would be like if someone at that show could have time-traveled fifty years to see the electronics shows we have today? Man, what a change.
As the 60s progressed, cassettes took over the market, putting a big hurt on albums and 8-track tapes. By 1969, all cars came equipped with cassette tape players. I accumulated hundreds of tapes, and, I must confess, I still have them all. The two cars I own have cassette decks, and I hesitate to trade in for a new car, because I’ll lose my ability to play tapes while cruising down the highway.
In the late 60s. when cassette tapes started taking over , I was no longer an Elvis fan. My hero from the 50s was now pushed back to a forgotten corner of my brain, while I listened to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Moody Blues, and the like. So, I never bought any of the original Elvis cassettes while he was alive.
But, ten years later, my rediscovery of Elvis occurred, and I hit the record shops and garage sales and record shows. I bought many old Elvis albums, singles, and EPs, but just a few cassettes. Here is a look at the seven Elvis cassettes I bought years after he was long gone, and I probably never paid more than $4 for any of them.
Blue Rhythms: Released 1984 — A product of Great Britain:
This is my favorite Elvis cassette, because it is a great collection of 24 blues songs spanning his entire career. Some of my favorites are “I Want to Be Free,” “Reconsider Baby,” “Give Me the Right,” “Baby What You Want me to do,” and my favorite of all Elvis songs, “Like a Baby.”
I took the songs from this tape and added more of my own selection to make a ninety minute tape of Elvis Blues. That one gets played in the car a lot.
Elvis Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Parts 1 & 2: Released 1974
This is another equivalent of a double album – 25 great hits from my high school years. Pop this into the tape deck in the car, and it is nonstop Deja’ Vu for me. However, I always wish they would have included “Love Me” and “Baby, I Don’t Care.” Those two songs would have made it perfect.
Elvis: The Beginning: Released in 1996
I did not buy this for the five songs from Elvis’ Sun Records’ days. Had them already numerous times on every format. What I really wanted was Side 2. It is 18 minutes of Scotty Moore telling “The Story of the First Year.” I’ve met Scotty a few times and hung out backstage with him and DJ once, so he is my favorite. I like hearing the Elvis story from his perspective and in his voice.
Elvis Inspirational: Released 2006
I actually bought this in Egypt during a vacation trip six years ago. (Good thing we got that trip in well before things went crazy over there. Sure wouldn’t go there now.) The tour company took everybody to a Cairo bazaar that dated back to the 1300s. It went on for blocks, stretching deep into old, ethnic areas. It had all kinds of authentic clothing, jewelry, food and trinkets, and my wife bought plenty of each. But, my mission was to see if I could find something – anything – Elvis.
I found a music store. It was 99.9% Arabic music, but down on a bottom shelf, they had three different Elvis cassettes. I like this one, but don’t play it while cruising in the car.
Elvis – TV Special: Released 1978
The cover says just ELVIS, but the label spine calls it ELVIS – TV Special. I guess the name ’68 Comeback Special hadn’t yet caught on in 1978. I bought this tape primarily because it contains the unplugged pit session. I like listening to Elvis singing acoustic, stripped-down versions of some great old songs. When it gets to “Memories” and the songs backed by full orchestra – not so much.
The Legendary Elvis Presley: Released in 1987
This tape came from Italy, and I must have bought it because it was unfamiliar to me and it cost only 50¢ or a buck. It is a mis-mash of songs from several genres and from all over Elvis career – no theme at all. Probably one of the strangest Elvis compilations ever.
Elvis: Return of the Rocker: Released 1986
I had to buy this one once I saw its unusual cover lay-out. It is landscape, rather than the usual portrait. Have you ever seen another cassette done like that?
The music was a very pleasant surprise. It was Elvis’ hits from the early 60s, and features some underappreciated goodies like “King of The Whole Wide World” and “Marie’s The Name – His Latest Fame.” This tape is my second favorite and is a lot of fun to drive to.
Here’s a footnote about cassette tapes. The Time article says they are coming back. 200,000 albums on cassettes sold in 2012, an increase of 645%. If this strong trend keeps up, I’ll be ahead of the curve with my trove of cassettes.
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