cassettes

#590: Hipster Moustache Cassette Player

GETTING MORE TALE #590: Hipster Moustache Cassette Player

As expressed in Getting More Tale #423: The Tyranny of Cassette in the 80s, I am not a fan (at all) of the cassette tape format.  As cassettes have picked up traction this year, it is an opinion that I have been sharing more frequently on social media.  I feel we need a refresher.

Some fans (such as fellow writer and tech-head Boppin) have made good arguments for tapes in the past, explaining that if you have the right equipment, you can make a tape sound so good that you won’t know it’s a cassette.  That may be so, but I:

  1. don’t have said equipment nor any desire to get a new tape deck.
  2. no longer have the need to play cassettes, having upgraded 99% of my collection to more permanent formats like CD and LP.

The subject of cassette tapes was recently revived with the announcement that the hit Netflix series Stranger Things will be receiving a deluxe cassette soundtrack.  The cassettes will be packaged to look like miniature VHS tapes…just like the 1980s.

I’m a fan of the show, so I get it.  Stranger Things celebrates so much about the 80s:  the culture, the style, the music, and yes, even the technology.  If you are also a fan, owning a cassette soundtrack version in retro packaging would be quite a collectible treat.  Not as cool as the 80s-style Stranger Things action figures, but still neat.

Fans of the music of Stranger Things would be well advised to get the excellent soundtrack, but if you get it on cassette, why bother to play it?  It won’t even sound as good as a Youtube stream.  Unless you’re one of the few who has great cassette equipment, why not just buy the CD, or the absolutely gorgeous LP editions, and play those?  They’ll last longer while the cassette will wear out the fastest.

Would you open it?  Would you play it?

This brings us back to a short bit that I recorded for Sausagefest 2017, which was received with agreement by those in attendance.  Here’s the relevant portion below.  I call it “Hipster Moustache Cassette Player”.  What do you think?

 

HIPSTER MOUSTACHE CASSETTE PLAYER

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REVIEW: Brocket 99 – Reservation Radio (1986)

BROCKET 99 – Reservation Radio (1986 comedy tape)

If you grew up in Canada in the 1980s, there is a chance you may have heard of Brocket 99.  This was an underground comedy tape that made the rounds in trading circles back in the day, and if you heard it, it was probably some lo-fi later generation copy.  Fair warning:  there are some out there who find Brocket 99 very offensive.  It’s a spoof of a native radio station on a reservation in Alberta, Canada.

The host of said radio station is “Ernie Scar”, played by creator Tim Hitchner, who also played most of the guests on the show.  Every other song that Ernie Scar plays is by AC/DC (sometimes two in a row), though the best tune is “Kaw-Liga” by Hank Williams Jr. The station ads usually involve alcohol in some way.  There are ads for Lysol spray (to get “ripped”) and Dr. Scholl’s foot powder (just put some in your moccasin).  Other contributors to the program include “Franklin Born With a Tooth”, and “Harley Squirrel Nuts”.

Obviously, in this country, the rights and well-being of native communities is a critical issue.  Teen suicides are only getting worse in native communities and their voices are not being heard.  I have long stood up for our native people, knowing full well their tragic history.  You may wonder, fairly so, how I can listen to this tape.  I believe the tape is clearly an over-the-top parody.  I don’t think it was created out of hate, though Hitchner had to remain anonymous for years until his death in 2011.  It seems more like a pastiche from somebody who’s familiar with these kinds of radio stations.  I’m sure a lot of this originated in Hitchner listening to reservation radio stations in his youth.  Radio people like Hitchner check out everything on the airwaves.  Much is just plain funny, regardless of the ethnic slant.  After “Kaw-Liga”, Ernie Scar proclaims “I fucking love that song”.  And now, thanks to Brocket 99, I do too.  One AC/DC track (guess which one) ends with Ernie advising to “Take your dink and sink it in the pink!”    Not everything is good, but some is.

Whatever your stance on this form of comedy tape may be, I remain torn.  Some is legitimately funny.  Instead of judging, I’ll leave this one up to you.

?/5 stars

Gallery: The Lego Cassette Project

Did you watch cartoons in the 1980s?  If you, you probably remember the Transformers.  Think back, and picture the cassettebots.  Remember them?  Soundwave (Decepticon) and Blaster (Autobot) were the cassette recorders, each with an arsenal of cassette mini-robots to back him up.  Using an advanced alien technology called “mass shifting”, these giant robots could shrink down to the size of an actual cassette, thereby enabling them to spy unnoticed on human and robot alike.  As affordable toys, you may have had some yourselves.  The neat thing was these cassettes designed by Japanese company Takara were designed to perfectly mimic the size and shape of actual micro cassettes.  On the TV show and in the pages of the Marvel comic book, they were depicted as standard sized cassette tapes.

cassettes

Third party company Toyhax (also known as Reprolabels) has come up with some fun ways to enhance your cassette-bot toy collection.  Recently they released a set of plastic engines and stickers for the current Buzzsaw and Laserbeak toys in the 2016/2017 Hasbro Titans Return line.  This time they transform into little media players.  Fans always complain that Hasbro toys “don’t look enough” like the original 80s toy they are an homage to.  Toyhax has created the labels and engines to enhance the current toys, and enhance them they do.  The new accessories even enable new modes, like the “Star Trek communicator” see below.

Toyhax have also released a sticker set that enables you to use ordinary Lego bricks to create you own shrunken-down cassette versions of characters both popular and obscure.  All you need  are those small 1×2 flats.  You know the ones I mean?

lego

Don’t have any of those just lying around anymore?  Get this.  You can buy them, picked to order, for just pennies a piece.  You can pick as many of any colour you like.  Mix and match the stickers to get the best looking mini cassettes around, and perfect for your Masterpiece scale figures to hold.

They look great, and it’s a fun little project you can do with very little cost.  They enhance any solid Transformers Masterpiece collection as scale accessories.  See below with Fans Toys’ “Tesla” (aka Perceptor), they look just perfect!

 

#519: Mistakes I Made Fixing Broken Tapes

GETTING MORE TALE #519: Mistakes I Made Fixing Broken Tapes

I used to play cassette tapes almost exclusively. Even when I had started growing a CD collection, my cassettes dominated. Why? They were portable. I could record a CD or LP on them, put them in my Walkman, or play them in the car. I didn’t have a good way of doing that with CDs. Plus, you could record a CD to a good quality blank tape, and make a better copy than if you bought it on a pre-recorded manufactured release.

But tapes break. They wear. They get old. There were ways of fixing them, which I sometimes screwed up gloriously. What mistakes did I make?

MISTAKE #1: Dirty hands

You shouldn’t even try to fix a tape with dirty hands. Any time I opened one up to splice or carefully wind the tape on the spools, I was touching them with my unclean, ungloved hands. This deposited dirt and oil on the tape, deteriorating the sound and then transferring that dirt and oil to my tape heads.

MISTAKE #2: Magnetized screwdriver

Here’s another no-brainer that I missed. I had a cool little screwdriver that was magnetized. It was hard to lose those little screws with one of those, since they stuck to the screwdriver. Brilliant way to keep all those little screws from disappearing, but not good for tapes!

I wondered why a lot of my tapes had drop-outs in the sound. Many could have been caused by my favourite screwdriver while trying to fix them. This is common sense but I didn’t think my little screwdriver could possibly do any harm!

MISTAKE #3: Incorrect reassembly

Putting the tape back together is sometimes harder than it looks. Small parts pop out and sometimes it’s tricky to get them back in correctly. The slip sheet – a little piece of plastic inside the tape shell – helps reduce friction and squeal, but only if you put it back in with the slippery side facing the tape spool. When hastily reassembling tapes, I sometimes put the sheet in the wrong way causing slowdowns and noise.

Another critical part is the pressure pad. This applies light pressure on the tape to keep it against the player’s tape head. These pieces were tiny and sometimes popped out of place. There were some tapes I put back together with this piece improperly inserted. The lack of pressure on the tape reduced the sound quality greatly.

push-pad

MISTAKE #4: Splicing with Scotch tape

I spliced successfully with Scotch tape…but only in the short term. As the Scotch tape ages, the stickiness reduces and becomes slimy. This means in time and with a few plays, a careful splice would break. You don’t want to get any of that stinky gunk in your tape deck, so use proper splicing tape. They used to sell it commonly at places like Radio Shack, but I came from a cheap family that used whatever was available. Hence my tapes were spliced with Scotch.

MISTAKE #5: Butter fingers

It’s tricky getting all the tape wound around the right spools and ready to screw back together. Sometimes – quite often actually – I would struggle with this and inevitably crunch the tape between parts of the shell. Once you crunch or crease the magnetic tape, you’re going to hear an audio problem.

I didn’t wreck every tape that I tried to fix, but I did make these mistakes periodically. No wonder my tapes sounded like crap.

#437: So You Want to Make a Mix Tape?

IMG_20150916_172503

GETTING MORE TALE #437: So You Want to Make a Mix Tape?

So you’ve decided to hop into your time machine and make a mix tape?  Good for you!  In the 80’s, making a mix tape was a rite of passage.  Today it is a fading art.  Congratulations for wanting to keep that art alive!  Here are some tips.

First of all, who are you making the tape for?  What do you want on it?  Prep all your recording materials in advance.  Get out the CDs and records you want to tape.  Are you doing a straight hits tape?  A mixture of artists?  Roughly plot out your track list, but only roughly, because you will probably have to make changes on the fly.

Get your tape ready.  What length are you using?  I recommend 90 – 100 minute tapes.  Anything longer than 100 minutes and you risk stretching the tape.  This length range gives you more room to play with than a standard 60 minute tape.

Clean your equipment.  Get your tape head demagnetized, and clean those pinch rollers with isopropyl alcohol or something similar.  Use lint-free cloth.  Since you’re making a mix tape, I assume you want it to sound as good as you can make it.  Use a decent quality blank tape.

Now, using a pencil or just your finger, carefully wind the tape so that the clear tape lead is no longer visible.  When you see brown magnetic tape, you are ready to hit “record”.

I used to add the little test frequencies that they put on the start of cassettes to open my mix tapes.  Don’t have one of those?  That’s OK.  Just download one from Youtube!

My recording technique involved having as short a gap between songs as possible.  I viewed a long gap as an amateur move, unless it was intentional, for effect.   To get a short gap, hit “pause” on your recorder immediately after the song stops, but don’t pause for too long.  Leaving that pause button depressed isn’t good for the tape, because on most machines, the tape head is still making contact with the recording tape.  Still, it’s better than hitting “stop” which tends to leave an annoying clunky sound between songs.

Now, the one irritating thing that amateur tapers do is let a song be cut off at the end of a side.  Don’t do that!  It’s very difficult to get exactly a side of music, so leave some space after the last song.  In fact, I suggest having a bunch of “standby” short tracks handy, to fill up any undesired blank space.  It’s also fun to end a side with a brief movie quote or skit.  It’s up to you, how you decide to end a side, but don’t cut a song off.  That’s annoying!  You may have to improvise, select some shorter songs, and re-do some things, but cutting off a song is just a rookie mistake.  You will have to be flexible with your track list when it comes to where the sides end.  Tape speed is anything but consistent, so even if you’ve clocked your side at exactly 45 minutes, if your tape is running fast then you’ll be out of space.

The beauty of cassette is the opportunity to use the two sides to your advantage.  Each side can be its own journey, with opening and closing tracks.  Yet it’s still part of a whole.  Perhaps you’d like to make a Led Zeppelin hits tape.  Why not make side one all electric, and side two acoustic?  You can have a killer electric opening for side one (“Good Times Bad Times” perhaps), and close it with a corker too (like “Kashmir”).  Then you can kick off side two with an acoustic opener, such as “Gallows Pole” and end it with “Stairway”.  The possibilities are endless, but the ability to create distinct sides is so much fun.

Finally, write those songs down on the J-card, or make some custom cover art.  If you’re artistically inclined, the cover art can be the most fun.

Making a mix tape is a time consuming process since you need to do it in real time.  It can also be a taxing job, if you’re a perfectionist trying to make your mix tape flawless.  The main thing is keeping it fun.  Have a good time with it!

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#423: The Tyranny of Cassette in the ’80s

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#423: The Tyranny of Cassette in the ’80s

Anyone who grew up in the mid to late 1980s probably enjoyed their music on the most popular format at the time:  cassette.  Vinyl LPs were still around, and still popular, but not nearly as much as cassettes.  CDs were new and only a few of us had CD players yet.  Cassette tapes had the portability factor going for them.  Everybody had a Walkman, and those who didn’t probably had one on their Christmas list in 1985.

Vinyl was a dying breed in our highschool halls.  There were still some older kids who boasted of the superior sound quality, but none of my friends had equipment good enough to enjoy that sound quality.  I certainly didn’t.  All I had was a turntable hooked directly into a Sanyo cassette deck for amplification.  The sound was harsh and tinny.  The scratches inherent with the format were also more distracting than the tape hiss of cassette.

So, it was all about cassette!  Buy ‘em, trade ‘em, swap ‘em and re-record over them when you decide you don’t like the music anymore.  I have a cassette copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller that had long ago been erased and taped over with other stuff.  When you couldn’t find a fresh blank tape to record on, you could just erase something else.  Everybody did it.  My friend Bob had a cassette of In Through the Out Door that he recorded over with us talking and goofing around!

For teenage highschool kids, cassettes were enough for our musical fixes.  A decent quality name brand tape could hold up to 110 minutes without stretching.   We used them to tape anything and everything.  (I have a tape with the sound of a friend’s dad taking a massive shit — no, I did not record it, they did!)  Since cassettes were re-recordable, that meant that every kid could even record their own music and become a rock star in his or her own basement.  You couldn’t do that with your fancy schmancy LPs, we all thought!  Don’t like your song?  Just rewind and record it again!  Those who didn’t play music could have their own fun, DJ’ing and and writing skits.  And let’s not forget about taping your friends’ albums.  Recording tape to tape would always result in excessive tape hiss, but kids didn’t seem to mind in the 1980’s.  We ignored the hiss.  It was something we considered part of the music, because we really never heard any music without hiss!

Although the flaws of cassettes are patently obvious today, in the 80’s we were just discovering these troubling issues for ourselves.  We overlooked the tape hiss, but it was harder to ignore speed issues.  The biggest problem that I had with cassettes was inconsistent speed.  Some tapes, especially those made by Polygram and EMI in Canada, seemed to have a lot of internal friction.   Grab a small screwdriver and open up an old cassette tape some time.  Inside you will find rollers, spindles, and bits and pieces all designed for the cassette tape to roll smoothly.  Whether they worked right always seemed to be a matter of random luck.  When friction inside caused the tape to run slow, it was immediately obvious.  The pitch would be noticeably lower, and often the tape would warble as your player tried to play it at normal speed, but fought against the friction.

On the other hand, sometimes the problems came down to your player.  Your tape deck had even more spindles and doo-dads to turn that tape around and around.  Those got dirty and worn out, too.  Sure, you could buy tape head cleaners and demagnetizers, but did they ever really have a noticeable effect on your listening experience?  Probably not.  I used to diligently clean the insides of my tape decks with lint-free cloths and isopropyl alcohol.  Although I could see black filth coming off the rollers when I cleaned them, the sound and speed never really improved.  It was always very frustrating when a tape would play fine on a friend’s deck, but went slow as molasses on your own.  My Sanyo went in for service and professional cleaning more than once, but that didn’t help either.

Although cassettes sounded like shit, and only got worse the longer you kept them, they did have a big advantage over CD for me, and that was portability.  I preferred cassettes in the car, up until fairly recently.  The reason for this was, working in the used CD store, I saw so many CDs that were just utterly destroyed by car CD players.  You don’t get that problem so much anymore, but in the 90’s and 2000’s, there were a lot of discs just annihilated by a lot of car decks. It didn’t seem to matter if the car player was a high-end stereo or a piece of crap.  People would bring their used CDs in to me, and ask me how they looked.  I’d usually ask, “Did you play this in a car deck?”  I could always tell.  Customers would ask me, “How did you know?”  Because the CD would be completely scratched, but always in perfect circles.  Some dirt clearly got into the car deck, and scratched up the discs as they were spinning.  Or, the disc was just scraping up against the internal workings of the car player as it spun.  Either way, the result was usually a CD that looks like a kid’s Spirograph drawing.

At least when playing a cassette in the car, those things could take a beating.  I only ever had one or two that were “eaten” by the player.  Compare that to the thousands of CDs that I saw destroyed by car decks over the years.

If life is a musical journey, then cassettes were my travelling companions for over a decade.  We had a necessary parting of ways, and now I am happy to stick to CD and flash drives when on the road!

#399: Record Shopping in the Sticks

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#399: Record Shopping in the Sticks

Summers in Kincardine, Ontario in the late 1980s and early 90s were beautiful, but to a teenage me they felt isolated.  No phone at the cottage, no cable TV, and nothing that cityfolk would call a record store.  We did have a few options.  There were places that you could buy music, including one crummy music store that popped up for a brief while.  Summertime is made for music, and one of my favourite childhood experiences was listening to brand new tunes in the summer.

We’d be at the cottage for two weeks straight every August, and I would usually pack my entire my tape collection to come with me (oh how my dad loved that).   Having all my favourite songs with me meant I’d always have music for whatever mood I was in.  Still, nothing could beat the rush of new music!  New didn’t have to mean “new” per se; I was collecting the back catalogues of many metal masters too.  There was always something to buy that would be brand new to me.

In the very early days, you could buy tapes at the local Stedmans store downtown.  Stedmans sold everything from clothes to musical instruments to toys.  Like many of these places, they are now closed.  It was one store to buy new cassettes, and that is where I picked up Priest…Live! back in July of 1987.  The other place to buy tapes at that time was an electronics store called Don’s Hi Fi.  White Lion’s Big Game and W.A.S.P.’s Headless Children came from Don’s Hi Fi during the summer of 1989.  I couldn’t wait until I got home and played them.  We’d rip open the plastic and check out the pictures in the car, waiting to get back and hit play.  The following summer, I bought Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory at the same store.  We would also be able to find tapes in the cheapie bin at places like drug stores, and I picked up The Earthquake Album from such a bin.

Around 1988, an actual music store opened up in Kincardine.  It was there that I purchased Painkiller by Judas Priest, and Exposed by Vince Neil.  It was a small store and they didn’t have many catalogue items, but you could pick up new releases there and some key older releases such as greatest hits.

Beyond these few stores, you had to get out of town.  Kincardine is a small place, but Port Elgin to the north offered a few more options.  There was a Radio Shack there with a different selection of tapes.  They also had 7” singles, of which we bought a couple on clearance.

L-R Peter, Bob, Mike. Note Peter wearing deck shoes on a deck.  He always was the best dresser.

L-R Peter, Bob, Mike. Note Peter wearing deck shoes on a deck. He always was the best dresser. Also note my official Starfleet sideburns.  Summer 1992

In the summer of ’92 we made several day trips to Port Elgin.  My sister and I were headed to a “cards & comics” store that we discovered.  One afternoon my sister phoned them up to ask if they had any promotional Star Wars cards?  They did – road trip!  The first of many happy and successful trips to Port Elgin looking for goodies.  (Yes, promo cards are collectible just like some promo CDs.)

On the same trip, we found this grungy record store on the corner of the main drag.  Really scummy, really dirty.  They bought and sold used tapes and records.  My sister brought in a whole bunch of her cassettes for store credit, and walked out with Rod Stewart’s Out of Order and one or two others.  My first purchase there was Black Sabbath’s Live at Last.  I bought my original copy of Helix’s Wild in the Streets on cassette at that store.  The tape glowed in the dark.  I’ve never seen another glow-in-the-dark tape before or since!  I also picked up Kiss’ Creatures of the Night (original cover) on vinyl, as well as Twister Sister’s Come Out and Play.  You might remember that Come Out and Play had that awesome cover with the opening manhole?  That was the reason I bought it.

Those stores in Port Elgin are both gone.  Don’s Hi Fi still exists in Kincardine, but they don’t sell music anymore.  I did buy a pair of earbuds there about five years ago, but things have changed so much.  There’s no such thing as “isolation” anymore, not like it felt back then.  Today I can sit on the front porch of the cottage, streaming live radio from home straight to the laptop.  I used to pack my entire tape collection for the cottage, but now anything I want to listen to, I can search for on Youtube.  It is simply amazing how much has changed in the last two decades, and I am sure that in another 20 years it will be just as startlingly different.

As long as I can still listen to my music there, I’ll be happy!

#395: Dutch Boy

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#395: Dutch Boy

As kids in the 1980s growing up in Kitchener, we would buy our music anywhere we could find it.  A lot of mine came from the mall: stores like Zellers and A&A Records.  Other places to find music included Hi-Way Market on Weber Street.  That place was incredible.  They had the largest toy section I’d ever seen, and every Christmas a professional Lego builder would put together a giant display.  None of these places exist anymore.

Another place that carried a small section of music was actually Dutch Boy Food Markets, just down the street from Hi-Way Market.  It too is long gone, but I have many memories of that place.  It had a small music section, but they also sold food, toys and clothing.  It was considered a supermarket but it had a little bit of everything.  My dad remembers buying many of my beloved G.I. Joe figures at that store.  He also says that we bought our Atari 2600 there.  That Atari still works today.  I think we got it in 1982.  My aunt actually used to work at a Dutch Boy location (not the same one) in Waterloo.

My friend Bob used to go there frequently.  I used to think it was because he was Dutch, but it probably had more to do with the fact that one of the Kitchener stores was within biking distance.

One afternoon in early ’88, we hopped on our bikes and hit Dutch Boy to check out the music section.  This “new” band called Whitesnake had been in our ears lately, but we only knew two albums:  Slide It In and Whitesnake/1987.  I didn’t even know they had any albums out before Slide It In at that point.  You can imagine our surprise when we found numerous other Whitesnake titles at Dutch Boy:  Snakebite, Trouble, Lovehunter, Come An’ Get It, Saints & Sinners, and Live…in the Heart of the City.  All reissued by Geffen, all on cassette.

WHITESNAKE FRONT

“Woah!” Bob exclaimed.  “Whitesnake!  Is this the same band?”

“No it can’t be.” I said.  “They’re only supposed to have two albums!”

Each of us grabbed a mitt full of Whitesnake cassettes and began examining them for more details.

This Whitesnake and our Whitesnake were both on Geffen.  This Whitesnake shared the same logo that was found on Slide It In.  It had to be the same band after all.  I explained this to Bob.

“This is the same Whitesnake,” I said.  “Look…they are using the same logo.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “but have you ever seen that guy before?”  He pointed to Mickey Moody on the cover of the live album.  He sure didn’t look like anybody I knew from Whitesnake, but it was impossible to ignore the evidence.

MOODY

“I think,” concluded Bob, “that Whitesnake are another band that had albums out before we heard of them.”  That happened from time to time.  We would discover a “new” band like White Lion or Europe, only to find that they had some little-known earlier albums.  It made it both frustrating and exciting to try and collect albums.

We both started collecting the earlier Whitesnake music.  Bob was first, picking up Saints & Sinners at Dutch Boy.  He brought the tape over one afternoon for me to copy. We loved the original version of “Here I Go Again”, as well as “Crying in the Rain”.  Later on, I added Snakebite and Come An’ Get It to my collection.  I enjoyed the earlier, more rock & roll sounds of these previously unknown Whitesnake tapes.

I’m not sure exactly when Dutch Boy closed, but I do remember the last album I bought there.  It was now spring 1990, and I had a CD player by then.  Once again Dutch Boy did not disappoint.  I found a Van Halen disc there that I had never seen before on any format other than vinyl.  The album was Fair Warning.   Since it was the most “rare” Van Halen I had found so far, I chose to buy it.  It came to about $24 with tax, a lot of money for an album that was barely half an hour long.  It should go without saying that Fair Warning was one of the best purchases that my young self ever made.

Too bad Dutch Boy had to shut its doors.  It was a good store and I hear a lot of fond memories of it from others.  Do you remember?

DUTCH BOY

#393: Format of Choice

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#393: Format of Choice

What is your audio format of choice?  Which is the one that makes up the majority of your collection?

In addition to occasionally speaking in the third person, LeBrain has specific wants and needs in his music collection.  I have a fast and loose set of rules when it comes to choosing the format on which I buy new music.  Some, like Deke from Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond, prefer the ease and speed of downloading from iTunes.  Others, like 1537, prefer vinyl.  How do you decide what formats to buy your music on?

Here are my collection priorities:

#1.  Compact Disc

99% of my collection is on CD.  I have many reasons for this.  One is the superior sound quality:  a CD just sounds better than an mp3.  A CD won’t crash like a hard drive.  The oldest CDs in my collection are over 25 years old, and still look and play perfect.  They have always been stored in their CD cases after use, in a cool dry place.  They do not suffer from CD rot, which is a deterioration of the aluminum layer inside a CD due to oxidation.  The discs may not last 100 years, but I am confident that most if not all will be enjoyed through my lifetime.  CD rot can be minimized or prevented just by handling your CDs correctly.

I have chosen CD as my #1 format for other reasons other than longevity.  They are easily transferred to mp3 for better portability (they are already easily portable).  Playing mp3 files in a mobile environment like my car can only extend the life of the source CD.  Also, compact discs are easy to store and just look cool when all lined up in my collection!

I buy almost all my CDs online now, and they ship fast and easy.  Most of the time the packages will even fit in my mailbox, saving me a trip to the post office!  For these simple reasons, CDs are the lion’s share of the LeBrain Library.

#2. Vinyl

IMG_20150420_174459Today’s vinyl LP has been around since 1948, and even then the technology wasn’t new.  It merely updated and standardized something that had been playing on gramophones for a couple decades.  They used to be made out of substances such as hard rubber and shellac, but vinyl proved to be versatile and enduring.

Since vinyl has been around so long, and couldn’t even be killed off by the cassette or compact disc, it is safe to say you should always be able to buy something to play an LP.  However, an LP doesn’t have the longevity of a CD in terms of a long playing life.  Your CD laser never makes contact with the plastic, but your stylus does contact the surface of the vinyl.  The force of friction means that every play will wear down your LP, even if it’s only microscopically.  The key is to use good clean equipment and records.  If you do, a record will outlast a temporary format such as VHS or cassette tape.  Minimizing friction-causing dust particles extends the life of both LP and needle.

For all these reasons, vinyl is my second priority in format collecting.  They are bigger and take up more room, but when I want the warmth of an LP or just bigger cover art, there is only one way to go.  180 gram vinyl is especially nice to hold and listen to.  For buying old albums affordably, vinyl is a great alternative to CD.  Some old metal albums have had limited CD releases in other territories, making them expensive and hard to get once they go out of print.  Vinyl can be a cheaper alternative for your collection.

Vinyl bonus tracks are a slam-dunk reason to buy an LP.  Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a great example of an LP that has a track unavailable on any other format (“Flatline”).  And of course Jack White took the idea of LP bonuses to the ultimate level with his “Ultra LP” version of Lazaretto.

#3.  Digital download (mp3)

I hate paying money for something that does not physically exist.  If I have to, I will, but I only “have to” when there are bonus tracks unavailable on any physical format.  Given the choice and the money, I will always buy the physical version, not just 1’s and 0’s floating around on a magnetic hard drive.  I hate that you (usually) don’t get any info or liner notes with an mp3.  I hate that your hard drive just needs to have a nice crash for you to lose this music that you paid for.  I understand the convenience, but digital downloads do not service my needs.

I know there are high quality download formats such as FLAC, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of not being on a physical format that won’t crash, and my issue of paying for a non-physical entity. I also know that a lot of people don’t care about these things, and I wanted to understand why. I asked Deke over at Arena Rock why he loves his iTunes:

“Here’s my deal: At the time when iTunes first came out, I had three young daughters. Getting to the record store (when there were record stores) was tuff to say the least, let alone the cost as well! I just couldn’t drop $20 all the time. Sure, I made exceptions and I bought actual product like Maiden and Rush, but iTunes became my way of music buying. Especially re-buying albums I had owned on cassette or vinyl. I just re-buy them on iTunes and download straight to my iPod! Now that my daughters are teens, I have just stayed the course with iTunes. I pre-order product from them, like the latest Priest, and the Van Halen live album. Convenience is just the way of life for me now! Don’t get me wrong though, I would still enjoy buying the actual product, but man it does boil down to affordability! iTunes delivers that and I can stay current with adding to my dinosaur rock collection! Ha!”

#4.  Cassette

IMG_20150420_174810Once the mighty majority of my collection, cassettes have been reduced to a mere novelty.  I treasured them for portability and convenience, but now I loathe them.  I debated putting mp3 last on my formats of choice, but the truth is, cassette is far worse.

Cassettes have several things going against them.  The first is moving parts.  A CD or LP requires no moving parts, but a cassette has spindles and rollers that rub against and wear the magnetic tape.  Sometimes a cassette’s parts can be too tight inside, causing it to warble when you play it.  But it’s the analog tape itself that is the real problem.  Even brand new, a cassette will not sound as rich as an LP because it’s not capable of reproducing the same range of frequencies.  A cassette has a built-in high level of static noise.  Then once you start playing it, magnetic particles begin to wear off.  In fact over time, tapes will degrade to be unlistenable, no matter how well you take care of them.  Even worse, record companies used the worst quality tape for their releases.  If you bought a cheap blank Sony tape, you would have better quality than a store-bought record label’s cassette.

The poor sound and lack of longevity are the two main reasons I’m still replacing all of my old tapes with CDs and LPs.  Anybody got a copy of Bonham’s Mat Hatter on CD for me to upgrade to?  How about Wolfsbane’s first?  Still looking for those!

#5. Miscellaneous

Not really ranked last, I just wanted to mention other formats that I own music on.

5.1 surround sound can’t be encoded on a standard CD, so DVD and Blu-ray have to step up to the plate.  I have several Rush, Queen, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple albums (among many others) that have been given official Quadrophonic or 5.1 surround mixes.  Often, these mixes include bits of music that are not in the stereo versions, such as guitar solos and fills.

The problem with DVD and Blu-ray is that I only have one home theater system.  I only have one place, one room in the house, where I can listen to these special albums.  I can’t play them in the car, on a walk, or at the cottage.  As such, a Quad or 5.1 release gets limited listens at Chez LeBrain.

How many people are there like me?  Let me know your favourite formats in the comments section!

REVIEWS: Russian Blue – Demo #1 and #2 (1990-91)

RUSSIAN BLUE – Russian Blue demo #1 (1990), demo #2 (1991)

Russian Blue were a Toronto hard rock act fronted by the talented Jo E. Donner who, in a perfect world, would have been signed to a major label deal had not the roof caved in when grunge arrived.  They first rose to national awareness as part of the legendary Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1 compilation of Canadian indi rockers.  Upon hearing that first song, “Once a Madman”, I was immediately hooked on this band!  Donner had the pipes (often compared to a young Robert Plant) and the looks (also Plant), and the band clearly had the writing chops to crank out at least one world class rock song.  Its slow build was unusual in hard rock at the time, as was the lack of an actual chorus.  I had to hear more, so I wrote the band and ordered a tape.

RUSSIAN BLUE_0004Demo #1 (1990)

The first self-titled tape came in a professionally printed three colour J-card, with printed stickers on a white cassette.  Pretty pro for the time.  The J-card itself is a three panel fold out, with a black and white photo of the band and lyrics too.  Four songs, same both sides.  Let’s give’r.

The familiar tamborine and guitar licks of “Once a Madman” open the first tape.  M.E.A.T editor Drew Masters always advised bands submitting demo tapes to keep it short (three to five songs), professional looking, and top-loaded with the best songs.  Someone listening to a tape was likely to hit eject after the first half of the first song if they weren’t feeling it.  Russian Blue must have been paying attention because they hit all three marks.  (Masters’ other major beef with bands was not listing the song titles, the name of the band, or any contact info on a demo tape!)  The second strongest song “Likkin’ Dog” (ugh, come on, spelling) is suitably next in line.  Digging into a heavy groove and solid riff, I’m reminded of early Skid Row or Guns N’ Roses.  Donner truly had the voice of a rock star.  The other members (guitarist Richard Gauci, drummer Mike Willerding and bassist “Robo”) are also up to the task.  Gauci in particular boasts an impressive arsenal of tricks and licks for a guy you’ve never heard of before.

“Miss Precocious” enters with the same drum drum hook as “Dirty Weapons” by Killer Dwarfs which came out earlier that year.  Coincidence or inspiration aside, it’s a demo so it’s not a big deal.  “Miss Precocious” is an OK sleaze rocker that David Coverdale would have been comfortable taking a spin with.  This could have been on Slip of the Tongue as one of David’s randy odes to young ladies.  The generic “Had Enough” is the weakest of the four tracks, and is last on the tape for that reason.


A brief history of M.E.A.T Magazine

RUSSIAN BLUE_0005Demo #2 (1991)

Russian Blue added me to their mailing list and sent updates as to their current goings-on.  A second demo tape with four all-new songs was put up for sale and I ordered mine forthwith.  I was disappointed that the second demo didn’t come as professionally packaged as the first, but I suspect that the band spent all their money on that first tape and the spot on Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1.  The second tape came in a hand-made J-card with a photocopied band photo on the front and a sticker with the song titles inside.  Unfortunately the second song is misspelled “Balck” (“Black”) and this carried over to the sticker on the cassette shell as well.  The tape, a TDK D50 (50 minutes was a specialized length) was of good quality and has the same songs on both sides.  The tape also came with a little Russian Blue paper logo.  At least they tried.

The second demo showed the creeping influence of darker alternative tendencies.  “Mama’s Love” was different from anything on the first demo, taking a swampy minimalist approach to the verses.  When Donner rips out some rock shrieks, things kick up on a notch or two on the chorus.  The song is almost equal to “Once a Madman” in terms of quality, but traversing a different more menacing direction.  Keeping the stronger tunes up front, “Balck”…err, I mean “Black” is second in quality.  It opens with a psychedelic lullaby-like opening, before creeping into another swampy groove.  The vibe is nastier, including the first “F-bomb” of the album: “Nothing lasts forever, except the words to this fuckin’ song.”  It’s a good track and though it didn’t really last forever, it did get re-worked into “All”, a song on Russian Blue’s only full length CD, after they changed their name to Feel.  The album was called This (1994).

sam_1568“Child of the Ocean” has a drony, spare riff and a cool exotic sounding guitar solo by Richard Gauci.  It continues Russian Blue’s journey into less mainstream sounds, as this is a dreamy rocker.  The final song, which is the F-bomb  laden “Bleed”, is the most old school.  This one is basically a Guns N’ Roses B-side wannabe, but who gives an F-bomb?  Russian Blue had ability to pull of a ballsy song like “Bleed”, false ending and all, without sounding like douchebags.  Good on them.

In closing

A few years back, I posted a chapter of Record Store Tales (Part 146) about my cassette collection called Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years.  I showed off these old Russian Blue tapes, and less than a month later, a fellow enthusiast found the post and contacted me.  He was really excited about this second demo, because he had never seen it nor even heard of it before.  He didn’t know that Russian Blue had anything out between the first demo tape, and Raw M.E.A.T Vol 3 (1992), to which they contributed “Mama’s Love”.  It’s always a pleasure to be able to bring content like this to the internet, finally shedding light on the dark crevasses of rock and roll that were previously obscure.  The reader told me, “I was really into these guys back in high school. I pretty much bought a cowbell because of ‘Once A Madman'”.  How awesome is that?

Given that you have to allow for certain deficiencies in demos, especially from the cassette era, I am giving Russian Blue a grade based on the reasonable expectations from the period.  That considered, the Russian Blue demos come in at:

4/5 stars each.