There isn’t much here in 2015 that’s managed to evade the attention of the Internet. Once in a while, however, you unearth an item which, as far as Google is concerned, doesn’t exist. This rare and highly unusual audio cassette fits that bill perfectly.
So, a TDK Records audio cassette. What is it? Is TDK Records the same as TDK the cassette manufacturer? Is this a blank tape or a pre-record? Why is there Japanese writing on the label? At first glance the item is full of mystery and intrigue, and even after investigation some of the contradiction is not resolved. I have a theory, but we’ll come to that in due course…
Firstly, TDK Records is a recording label – not the purveyor of blank audio media. On hearing that, your thoughts head towards a pre-record, and your thoughts would indeed be correct, sort of… It’s difficult to reconcile pre-recorded media with the format of the label, which blatantly suggests blank, but it appears the generic “TITLE, “ARTIST” spaces for user scribble are in part a red herring.
The tape features a very dated and extensive medley of 1960s pop tracks, called The Mersey Beat Medley. The medley’s backbeat is in fact even more generic than the cassette label. It’s a machine-generated disco beat which instantly screams “early ’80s!” If you remember Stars on 45 (and if you do, I have the deepest sympathy), you’ll need no further info.
If you don’t remember Stars on 45, it was initially one medley of well known pop tracks set to a uniform, mechanical disco backbeat. The huge success of the medley then spawned spin-offs, a wide array of copycat releases, and ultimately a range of ironic parodies of the idea, which even included the tongue-in-cheek discofied punk-fest of Damned on 45, by Damned guitarist Captain Sensible.
These medleys did become annoying as the early ‘80s drew on (mind you, some of us were annoyed upon hearing Stars on 45 for the first time), and we see from this tape that even in the depths of obscurity the disco-beat medley bandwagon had a full load. The actual group responsible for the medley on this TDK Records cassette called themselves Nobody, and the track was released in 1983. As with the original Stars on 45 recording, the musicians were session players, But unlike Stars on 45 (who came from the Netherlands), Nobody were Japanese.
The tape is a very reddish-looking ferric. With direct light it looks almost like a red leader section in the photo, but that’s the actual tape. The quality of reproduction isn’t particularly good, but I suspect these were not sold as expensive products, and they may well have been bundled with tape recorders or given to dealers for test/demo purposes. I stress that this is only me speculating, but the write protect tabs are left in for both sides (meaning the manufacturer anticipated users being happy to record over the medley), and the whole of the Mersey Beat track fits on one side, with the other left blank.
So this could have been a type of demonstrator cassette. Whatever it is, though, it’s a hybrid – half pre-record, half blank. It should also serve as a lesson that fantastically convincing early ‘80s Japanese copies were not confined to the world of guitar replication. In the same period, the Japanese were evidently also able to copy Mick Jagger pretty convincingly too.