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Rebuilding the old tape collection

07/22/09 | by Adam | Categories: Music

When I first started buying music I had a choice of cassette tape or vinyl. For reasons mostly involving the availability of singles, I tended to buy on vinyl. After a while I'd accumulated a pretty good stock and found it was rather non-portable. A single record is relatively light; a bunch are both unwieldy and extremely heavy. Oh, and surprisingly fragile. As I was at school at the time and the proud possessor of a Walkman knockoff, I proceeded to copy most of it to cassette. Yes, I have a lot of white inner sleeves with a logo of large skull and crossbones over a cassette tape with text stating "Home taping is killing music". Plus ca change.

Over the years since, I've accumulated a pretty good collection of music. Certainly far, far more than I did when I bought music on vinyl. With all of my CDs converted to MP3 I thought it might be fun to try to recreate my old tape collection with the newer higher quality versions. The gotcha is that I wanted to try to match the originals: the cuts had to be the appropriate single version where possible rather than just the album edit.

I can't do it.

The culprits are for the most part the old 12" singles which I was quite partial to. Take for example New Order's "Blue Monday '88". I own the original 12" version on vinyl but it's never been transferred over to CD. You can find the original 1983 12" easily enough, and the 1988 7" release turns up at least once on a compilation. The 1988 12"? Not on your life. How about the Ben Liebrand "Sunshine" 12" mix of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day?" Yeah, you guessed it. Paul Hardcastle's "19" was released in two different versions depending on the market; the US version has a very different voice from the British one and sounds a lot weaker. Guess which version always shows up. Now try to find the a nice remaster of the UK 12".

However, they're not the only ones. Trying to find the charting 7" version of a lot of songs is pretty hard too. There are a number of compilations that do include obscure mixes but too often it's just the album version again. Unfortunately there's no way to find that out before it arrives, fully paid for, on your doorstep.

Then there are the utterly wacky obscurities although still pressed by mainstream studios. Try finding "The Young Ones" cover of Traffic's "Hole In My Shoe" (bummer, man) or perhaps the Steve Harley vocal of "Phantom Of the Opera" (Michael Crawford sure spoiled that one.) Perhaps PhD's "I Won't Let You Down" (that would be the Scottish band, not the American one)? Even something as mainstream as Sly Fox's "Let's Go All The Way" was surprisingly difficult to find. On the other hand, I expected Guru Josh's "Infinity 1990" to be impossible to find and promptly discovered a CD single of it.

And the B sides? Oh. The flip side of the single with the theme tune to "Dr Who" during the Peter Davidson years is a great little synthesizer number called "The Astronauts". See this link to get an idea of how hard that one is to find, even on vinyl. Hefti's "Batusi A-Go Go (I Shouldn't Wish To Attract Attention)"? Yeah.

Fortunately I still -- even after all these years -- have the original vinyl. I've converted it all onto CDs so at least it'll now remain accessible and not degrade further. All the same, the sound quality just isn't as good as a properly remastered release. The hunt continues.


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