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Alex Cann's Weekly Blog - 2nd April

Not a lot makes the headlines from Belgium, but this week, a collection of cassette tapes was unearthed in the city of Ostend containing unreleased Marvin Gaye songs. The BBC reports it has potentially been there for over 40 years, and there are thought to be 66 demo songs.

A legal tussle is set to begin over what happens next to the songs, but one song is said to have been written shortly before Sexual Healing, and have the potential to be a lost classic.Any mention of cassettes always makes me feel nostalgic, as I think back to the days of taping my favourite new songs whilst listening to Bruno Brookes counting down the Top 40, and the lost art of pressing pause just before he spoke at the end of the track. Making someone a 'mix tape' was somehow a lot more special than sharing a Spotify playlist.

It's easy to take for granted how accessible music is nowadays. Some artists resisted the inevitability of streaming for longer, with the likes of KLF and De La Soul only arriving relatively recently, due to various factors involving artistic rights and record company legalities. But the fact is that most songs are now available at the touch of a button, for little over a tenner a month for a paid streaming subscription.

Tapes are a format as old as the hills in terms of technology, but sales in recent years have surpassed all expectations. Figures released last April showed around 195,000 cassettes were sold during the previous twelve month period, representing a yearly growth of 5.2%, according to the British Photographic Industry (BPI). Further, on ten occasions during 2022, cassette sales accounted for more than 10% of purchases for the number one album in the Official Albums Chart. This is nothing short of astounding, given the range of other options now available.

Florence and the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Harry Styles and 5 Seconds of Summer are amongst the artists who have shifted a decent number of cassettes in recent years. I do miss my yellow Sports Walkman, and remember how upset I was when the volume dial broke off mine whilst I was on holiday. I seem to remember it cost a small fortune to repair!

Features like "Dolby Noise Reduction" and "auto reverse" were once seen as the height of technology, and every cassette enthusiast knows the importance of taking the tabs out of a mix tape to prevent it from being recorded over. Not to mention the unique relationship between a TDK D-90 and a pencil to sort out any unfortunate tangles.

I wonder how much other work is lying undiscovered in dusty basements around the world? It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Marvin Gaye case, as Belgian law states that after 30 years that the material becomes the property of the person who holds it, no matter how it was acquired. Publishing the musical time capsule could be a legal minefield, for sure. Fans will no doubt be champing at the bit to hear the recordings.

The recent Beatles release Now and Then came from a cassette handed to Paul McCartney by Yoko Ono, which contained a rough demo for this song, plus the bare bones of two other songs, Free As A Bird and Real Love. With some modern technology, and Beatles magic, the New York traffic noise from Lennon's apartment was filtered out and the vocals enhanced, to create a really good final ever Beatles single in 2023, much to the delight of their fans. All of this from a tape marked 'for Paul'.

I doubt we'll see people wearing Walkmans on their belts again, like Cliff Richard did in one of my favourite ever pop videos for the 80s track Wired for Sound, where he emerged from the smoke in a fairly cheap looking leisure centre on roller boots, but it seems the tape is back to stay. I wonder if there's a shoebox in the shed somewhere containing my old compilation cassettes which I made in the late 80s, not to mention my Now tape collection. Might have to go for a rummage this weekend.

In the meantime, there's a fuss over the new Beyonce album, which apparently is missing tracks on the CD and vinyl releases. I can only assume they were added last-minute to the digital release. Either way, Cowboy Carter is a superb album. The covers of Blackbird and Jolene, by Beatles and Dolly respectively, both come highly recommended.

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