Since I'm now an over-fifty, I'm officially old enough to make posts about how youngsters these days don't know how lucky they are, compared to the days of my yoof, when we had to make our own entertainment out of clods of earth, pocket-fluff and string (the hairy Post Office kind). And since I was wittering on, a while back, about it being a good thing that vinyl makes cherry-picking of favourite tracks more difficult, let's consider what we did when we did want to have a bunch of favourites play one after the other.
These days, of course, creating a playlist is easy. Drag 'n' drop as many files as you want into your preferred music playing program, re-order to taste, and Bob's yer aunty's significant other; one playlist, created in seconds or minutes. And if you like the list enough, you can save it as a playlist file (
.m3u or whatever), and have your very own compilation album, available for your listening pleasure at a couple of mouse-clicks. And there's no limit on the duration of the thing, either. (Billy music player* informs me that a playlist consisting of all of the contents of my main music folder, for instance, is three weeks, five days, twelve hours, forty-seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds long.)
* Ignore the extremely negative staff review at that link. The author misses the point. Quite simply, and because it lacks the bells and whistles the reviewer laments, it's the lightest, least resource-hogging music player I know of. And that huge playlist I mentioned? It opens it—all nineteen thousand, two hundred and sixteen files of it—in an eye-blink.
We had tape cassettes. And for all that such things are now considered "retro" and therefore somehow "cool," they were a pain in the arse compared to the click-click-done of the modern equivalent. The process of creating a mix tape is analogue. Recording a two-and-a-half minute song from vinyl to tape takes, to belabour the obvious, at least two minutes and thirty seconds. Probably—by the time you've found the record you want to record, cleaned it, checked and adjusted the recording volume and then played the thing through whilst recording—it'll take you best end of four or five minutes to record that single track. Now imagine filling a C-60 or C-90 tape (2×30 and 2×45 minutes respectively).
Then there's the problem of quality. Any analogue copying process will degrade the material being copied, to some extent; and mass-market cassettes weren't exactly top-quality media to start with, even before transcription errors are considered, and there's no analogue equivalent of the checksum and similar checks on the digital file-copy process. All you can do is play the thing back and see if it sounds okay to the ear.
And then there's the problem of playback. On any but the very best equipment, tapes are even more susceptible to gradual mechanical degradation of the medium than is vinyl. Double that for any played in a car. They wear out, the tape binds like an over-wound clock-spring, they tangle, they unspool (Ah, the joys of carefully re-spooling a tape, using a pencil as a spindle!), they stretch and they break. Even factory-produced cassette albums suffered a horrendously short life-time of reliable playback; nobody bought the cassette album if they could afford the LP record.
In short, while I find the nostalgia for vinyl silly but mildly amusing, I don't understand longings for the "hipster cool" of cassettes at all. As Jonathan Wells found, on listening to Bohemian Rhapsody on tape:
… it suddenly dawned on me how terrible tapes were. Dull, muffled and plagued by an incessant hissing, even one of the greatest songs ever written could do nothing to raise the standard of this sound.
So anyway, looking for summat in the loft the other day, I happened upon a C-60 tape with (wonder of wonders!) a properly filled-in index card listing the songs on it. It's from the late nineties, so was probably put together for use in a car (one of the several Reliant three-wheelers we owned around then because a quirk in Brit law allows holders of a motorcycle licence to drive a three wheeled car). And so, Gentle Reader, I thought it might be fun to digitally reproduce it. Which I did, and then after adding some simple graphics, I stuck it on YouTube. This is not, I hasten to add, a recording of that tape. It's the same versions of the same songs, made from good quality digital recordings. No horrible background-hiss or click-click-click of a dodgy tape-spindle here! Still an' all, it's a bit of fun. The track-listing, for anyone interested, is in the video.
Oh, and fans of The Cramps (of whom I know there are a few amongst my readers) might be interested in the third track; the original, nineteen fifty-seven, version of Blue Moon Baby.
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