Remember those days when our main source of music was cassettes; rewinding each time to listen to our favourite tracks again and again? Praveen Iyer takes a trip down memory lane.

Before the MP3 and iPod revolution; before file-sharing programmes on the Internet; before the rise of music fanatics and enthusiasts who went on to try their hand at the drums and guitar, there was a wildly successful wave that spread quickly : the cassette tape.

Whether it was British rock or punk or the Top 40, music from cassette tapes and records will remain a cherished moment.

In these post-modern days, when sleek mobile tech is in, the fact that cassettes still have a faithful fan following speaks volumes of its impact before it was dumped by the Gen-Xers.

Today, with shorter childhoods and faster lifestyles, even the young are feeling the urge to turn back the clock to appreciate the days when the cassette was a huge hit.

Let us take a U-turn back to those old days… when “iPods” had not been invented; when one electronic gadget ruled the roost.

When I asked some of my friends about how things have changed, one of my seniors recalled, “I was a music freak back in the early 1990s. I used to buy Chinese Laundry, Howiee T, Dr Hyde, Rythme Nation, E.T.C tapes as they came out. I can never forget the classic cassette wars of Juice Crew vs Teddy Mohommed or Rythme Nation vs First Priority.”

With the introduction of the Walkman, being able to take my music with me and put on my headphones to create a private space, helped me cope with trying moments. Who can forget that black shaded version of the Sony Walkman!

Walk to the tune

The first generation of the Walkman was released way back in 1979 in Japan. Sony managed to sell 200 million iterations of the cassette Walkman during the product line's 30-year period. After retiring the floppy disk, Sony has halted the manufacture and distribution of another now-obsolete technology: the cassette Walkman, the first low-cost, portable music player. The official announcement was delivered just one day ahead of the iPod's ninth anniversary, and read, “although the decline of the cassette Walkman is attributed primarily to the explosive popularity of CD players in the 1990s, not the iPod”.

It took a little less than a decade after the decline of vinyl for a nostalgia movement to arise. In the mid-1990s, some bands would even have the top of their CD design take the form of an album or a 45. But I think we are slowly starting to experience a bit of CD nostalgia as well. Even though CDs are still present and available, people have started to stubbornly cling to them just like albums.

Though cassettes were a part of the music scene in the 1970s, they took off in the 1980s, finally outselling albums in 1983 at the height of the Michael Jackson mania. But while the album enjoyed a four decade-plus run as being the preferred medium for popular music, cassettes only enjoyed a eight-year run before CDs overtook them in 1991. If there is a movement for nostalgia for cassettes, it's not the medium, but for the concept of freedom it offered to its listeners. For those who thought junior and high school were exercises in purgatory, a Walkman finally offered a little refuge. The medium also offered an exercise in freedom with the ability to create your own playlist from blank tapes.

I do feel the cassettes don't need a nostalgia trip. They are still a practical medium. They are very durable; the tapes last for decades.  I heard that some most recently released albums in the U.S. have been “TAPE-ONLY” releases. As essential as they were while we were growing up, it seems like cassettes were just the training wheels for what was to come. And people cannot attribute this tape-dump on the Gen-X. Of course no one would complain when they have the most advanced techie going into the iPods and when the iPods or music players also come with a video screen... that's certainly something to cheer about.

 Praveen is a final year IT student at Rajalakshmi Engineering College.