NPR logo The Big Tapeover

The Big Tapeover

The other night, I was sitting around in a motor home with a pink boom box and some cassette tapes. With me was a friend and local Portland DJ who goes by the name DJ Hostile Tapeover. Different from his other DJ persona — the one called Tiny Vinyl, who spins only 7" singles — Hostile Tapeover plays cassettes and cassingles, mostly '80s rap and a genre known as freestyle.

On this blog, we've spent a lot of time discussing the merits and demerits of vinyl, MP3s and compact discs, but little energy has been spent on tapes. So it wasn't until we were in the trailer, rewinding a Company B cassette, accidentally rewinding the wrong side (remember that?), that I was fully brought back to the wonders — yes, wonders — of cassettes. The drawbacks are obvious: the wear and tear, the breakage, the warping, the wobbliness. Not to mention the laboriousness of finding the track you actually want. (Hey, the cassingle fixed that, didn't it?)

But the benefits of tapes cannot be understated. For one, the sound of loading and unloading a cassette is really satisfying. It's like when you're a kid and you're pretending you're a grown-up at work in an office. Everything about cassettes and cassette players sounds official: the clicking, the whirring, the big buttons... It's like you're launching the Space Shuttle every time you hit play.

If you have any doubt that your MP3 player is making you dumber, go to Goodwill and buy a tape machine. Within minutes, you'll feel like the rocket scientist you were pre-Internet, pre-iPod. It's ironic, I know. But the more buttons there are, the smarter you'll feel. It boils down to this: With a cassette player, you have more to do; it's kind of like having a job. And, let's face it, people need jobs right now, or at least they need to feel like they have one. I'm not going to go so far as to say that manufacturing cassette players and putting them in the homes of Americans might solve our economic crisis and the subsequent malaise. But the sense of productivity they deliver is quite satisfying.

So, what about those tunes we listened to that night on the boom box? Well, here they are in a very post-cassette context: YouTube!

Company B's freestyle hit "Fascinated." A classic. It brought me right back to junior high.

Expose's "Come Go With Me." You'd be surprised how many hits this freestyle band had. Remember that one song from the '80s? There is a 1-in-5 chance that it was by Expose.

"Point of No Return."

"Seasons Change."

Feel free to share your own thoughts on cassette tapes. And I'm curious: How many of you have never owned one?