A cool blend of contemporary & retro culture

Would you pay $6,000 for a Prince cassette? Why tapes are making a (very valuable) comeback

If the images above and below mean anything to you, then you most likely listened to music on cassettes in the 1970s or ’80s, while realising the humble pencil was far more valuable than for just scribbling notes. It seems, too, that the humble cassette alone is proving valuable these days.

Cassette tapes were one of the most popular formats for listening to music in the late ’70s and most of the ’80s. In fact, thanks to the invention of the Walkman, by 1984 cassette sales had beat vinyl sales for the first time, and the cassette trend continued towards the turn of the decade, just as CD sales began to pick up pace.

With the advent of the compact disc, and the availability later of MP3 downloads, cassettes ought to have died a certain death. Instead, the humble cassette is enjoying a major resurgence. So much so, that cassette sales are officially being recognised by charts such as Billboard and ARIA. Pop culture, too, is being inundated with cassette imagery, be it in the form of book covers (the music interview anthology There’s Your Quote, Mate), album covers (the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks), TV series (eg: 13 Reasons Why), and even transfers and tattoos.

According to Nielsen Music, cassette sales went up 23% in 2018 – seeing 219,000 tapes sold that year compared to 178,000 in 2017. Popular albums on cassette that year included the soundtracks to the Guardians of the Galaxy films (Awesome Mix Vol. 1 sold 24,000 units, while Vol. 2 shifted 19,000 copies), Twenty One Pilots’ album Trench, Britney Spears’ 1999 debut …Baby One More Time (an odd inclusion), and the soundtrack to Netflix’s Stranger Things.

By the end of 2019 it is predicted 75,000 tapes will be sold in the UK alone, and Australia shouldn’t be too far behind considering a lot of our alternative artists are opting to record and distribute music via cassette.

A new annual event – Cassette Store Day – was founded in 2013, to help celebrate the resurgence of tapes as a serious source of music listening. The event is recognised by old-school music fans who head to record stores and swap meets in search of that hard-to-find copy of H’its Huge or limited edition releases of albums by their favourite artists.

Fifty-plus years after the prototype cassette was introduced at the 1963 Berlin Radio Show, the value of some tapes is sure to surprise even the most ardent collector.

Quality music sales site Discogs has taken the time to tally up the 100 most expensive cassettes, with The Artist (Formally Known As Prince) coming in at number one. Prince’s The Versace Experience – Prelude 2 Gold recently sold for a whopping AUD$6,124.00.

Other titles that made it into its top 100 including various versions of Madonna’s Like A Prayer (averaging around AUD$800.00; Depeche Mode’s Violator (AUD $2,015.00); and a one-track recording by Coldplay oddly titled Ode To Deoderant (AUD $1,188).

Other expensive titles are literally scribbled on TDK cassette labels as if having been dubbed by the artists at home.

Discogs reckons there are enough signs pointing to a strong high-end cassette market, much like the ever-increasing trend seen in the vinyl market.

However just because you own an old format recording doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the money. It will pay to note that some albums have had so many pressings in their lifetime, it makes it hard to spot a true rare record. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, for example, has been released at least 385 times on vinyl, and probably close to this in cassette format.

Still, it’s worth searching through your dusty old boxes of cassettes to see if you can spot a gem or two. Being an avid music collector and owning records on vinyl, CD, MP3 and cassette, I personally wouldn’t know where to start.
Antonino Tati

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