A question I have been asked more than once by users of the The Shadows at EMI book is: why did I have nothing (or practically nothing) to say about The Shadows on cassette? Well, although the medium is still around, it was never taken one-hundred-per-cent seriously as a tool for listening seriously to music, though its metamorphosis into a miniature portable device would be brilliantly marketed worldwide. The cassette was devised in the 1960s by Philips engineers to provide a recording and playback medium for offices, and for that purpose it was admirably suited. Tape noise and wow and flutter in reasonably controlled amounts didn’t matter too much. But what about your actual music?
Subsequently, the Japanese majors in particular decided, despite all the odds - the absurdly slow tape speed and the flimsiness and vulnerability of the tape itself - to develop the cassette as a high fidelity medium for domestic use, spurred on by the availability of Dolby ‘B’ Noise Reduction on a integrated circuit, by significant advances in the development of highly specified, ferric, chrome and metal tape formulations, and by experience gained in manufacturing reasonable tape drives with the associated electronics. In the end, though, you got what you paid for: compatibility among machines was abysmally poor overall, and very often the Dolby and/ or equalisation circuits, and even head-azimuth (position of tape-head relative to tape-path, very important!) were mis-aligned, so much so that it was only the high-end machines in my view that were truly impressive: in particular the Nakamichi Dragon, as the name implies a brute of a machine, which more or less told the tape how to behave: but at a price.
In fact, if you wanted to appreciate just how awesome, for instance, the Album Rockin’ With Curly Leads was, you could get equally good (or, with a bit of care) better results on a carefully set-up vinyl turntable for less than a quarter of the price of a Nakamichi.
By the time Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) was a feasible proposition for domestic use (with DAT being beyond the pockets of most), non-contact playback systems, notably the Compact Disc, with the eventual promise (now fulfilled) of recordability, were already becoming established.
In the intervening period though high fidelity had lost out, when the opportunity was bypassed to adopt a device which was indeed suited to its purpose for both recording and playback, the Sony "Elcaset": wider tape (detached from the housing during record), faster running-speed, excellent three-motor closed-loop dual capstan transport. This beautiful piece of engineering, which to all intents and purposes brought the unwieldy reel-to-reel down to a manageable size for home use, was introduced by Sony in 1976: towards the end of 1979, with nobody willing to commit to quality with the bog-standard cassette still very much alive, the large stock of unsold machines were dumped in Finland and sold at knock-down prices: many enthusiasts there still run them to this day!
Another thought. I have heard a lot of people complaining about the quality of Shadows bootleg material, even (in the judgement of some) the more "respectable" bootleg material which bears a stamp of approval from a certain overseas government. What else can you expect? Much of this stuff was copied, from various sources, on the "humble" analogue cassette, as it is often termed - and with very good reason.
This is not to say that cassettes do not occupy some sort of place in a Shadows’ discography, and perhaps one day some fanzine may find room for a comprehensive listing. I think I am right in saying however that the majority consist of original Albums or compilations already available on vinyl, with items like the French "Karting" from 1974 very much in the minority. But maybe there is another side to the argument, who knows?
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