The best Christmas present I ever received (other than starting a blog) was the cassette tape-recorder my parents got me for Christmas of 1971. From that point on, I could record the songs I loved off the radio and ignore all the other crap. This went on for years.
Those little plastic boxes of reel-to-reel tape were a godsend to cheapo music addicts like me. Yeah, the sound might have been a little mushy and fuzzy and distant -- but that didn't matter when I could assemble nothing but The Good Stuff on a blank tape.
The only downside was that the recorder sometimes became possessed and ate tapes. Always the best ones, of course. And the chances of having something eaten went up, the longer the tape was. I had some 120- and even 180-minute tapes for awhile. They must have been microscopically thin. I could probably have seen through them. They didn't last long.
I started out with Really Cheap blank tapes. They used to sell three 60- or 90-minute blank cassettes in a bag for around 99 cents at places like, yes, Radio Shack. (I was actually addicted to Radio Shack's catalog for about five minutes back in the day -- back when I had the delusion that I could set up my own radio station in my bedroom.)
Needless to say, the sound quality on these tapes was pretty wretched. But I didn't care. They made noise. That was good enough.
Once at Radio Shack I was able to score a couple of "high quality" TDK blank cassettes -- actually the "basic" bottom-end of their line as far as sound quality goes. They must have cost a couple bucks each, a shocking expense. But they were far above the three-in-a-bag tapes I'd been buying up 'til then. Suddenly I could hear highs and lows -- sounds weren't as mushy and hissy.
The first song I recorded on these "high quality" tapes was The Wackers' fast-paced two-minute love ditty "I Hardly Know Her Name," which seemed to get a lot of airplay on Tacoma's KTAC AM, for a song that never cracked the national Top 100.
I know next to nothing about The Wackers. Wikipedia isn't much help. I read somewhere ages ago that they were a Northern California bar band that sometimes dressed in women's clothing when they went on-stage. Shades of David Bowie and Alice Cooper -- both of whom were too scary for me to hear back then.
Over 40 years later, I found a copy of one of their albums, HOT WACKS, which includes "I Hardly Know Her Name." It still sounds great -- a two-minute blast of energy in the same league as Five Man Electrical Band's "Absolutely Right." But the next track on the CD is a dull version of John Lennon's "Oh My Love." I've never gotten any farther. I've read that the second side was a six-song ABBEY ROAD-like medley. I should look into that.
A few weeks back I found a cheap copy of their third album, SHREDDER. This includes the band's only chart single, "Day and Night." Never heard it. But I'll be investigating it soon -- possibly in that previously-announced upcoming previously-unheard-music blowout that's seriously overdue here.
Other early songs recorded to high-quality tape? The Royal Guardsmen's great "Snoopy's Christmas" (hey, it was the holidays), The English Congregation's "Softly Whispering I Love You" (which really sounded like an overblown rock opera), The Jimmy Castor Bunch's "Troglodyte".... All these still sound great to me, though I don't play them much.
The cassette disease stuck with me, though. At one point I had more than 100 tapes full of favorite music, fake DJ-ing, spontaneous comedy skits with friends, etc. Almost all of it's gone -- taped over, eaten by cassette players, gone sticky and unplayable and then trashed. What remains -- the oldest of it's from 1981 -- is in a box in the closet. But I don't play it much. The sound quality's way better on CD's.
COMING SOON: More Nostalgia.
PS -- Hope you've seen at least SOME of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's THE VIETNAM WAR on PBS. It's damn hard to watch at some points, but it's an amazing piece of work. FINDING YOUR ROOTS is no slouch, either.