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Home / Features / Cassette tapes were always rubbish and should be consigned to history – unlike Kate Bush

Cassette tapes were always rubbish and should be consigned to history – unlike Kate Bush

Too spool for school? Pfft! Tapes were terrible, and the sooner everyone realises, the better

Broken cassette tape
Tapes: not cool. (But this image by Elijah O’Donnell: cool.)

Who says TV can’t be educational? The latest run of Stranger Things on Netflix digs deep into history (well, the 1980s), reframing nuggets of classic media for a new generation. There are scenes of terror seemingly wrenched wholesale from famous horror flicks (albeit with superior special effects). Also, there’s Kate Bush.

During key moments across the run, Running Up That Hill wallops you right in the feels. It’s not a blast of nostalgia, because it turns out the kids like it too. So much so that the song was recently propelled to the top of the UK charts, handing Bush accolades like ‘longest time for a song to reach No1’. 

Despite my propensity towards snark, I won’t belittle this achievement, because the song is objectively excellent – and I was there the first time around. But I was baffled by how rapidly the value of Hounds of Love (the album Running Up That Hill appears on) shot up – on tape. 

For a few days, the price of second-hand cassette copies on eBay continued to increase until one – terrifyingly – sold for £420. Since then, things have returned to something at least glancing towards normality, but if you can find a copy in your loft, dust it off and sell it, that’ll keep you in Netflix for six months.

I’ve been duly informed this isn’t nostalgia either. It’s not just old gits like me snapping up ancient tapes – the kids love cassettes too, and want to add seminal works to their collections. With some formats, that makes sense. I don’t indulge in vinyl fetishism, but I get it: the warmness of the sound; the deliberate nature of putting on a record; the large and gorgeous sleeve art. But tapes? Just no, because, like Hounds of Love, I was there for those the first time around too – and they were always rubbish.

Not rubbish (unlike tapes): Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill.

Fans claim otherwise. They laud this physical medium’s quick and easy remix culture. (Let’s face it – the average punter can’t put out a ‘mix record’.) And old hands bang on that tapes were cheap, portable and easy to store. They gave you content you could get in the home that otherwise wouldn’t arrive until the era of shiny discs.

Even so, tapes were terrible, across every format, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. With VHS tapes, you’d pay wodges of cash for three random episodes of a cherished TV show, only to sit there laboriously fast-forwarding to the bit you wanted to watch – assuming your player didn’t decide to get creative and serrate the tape’s edges first. With 8-bit video games, you could get budget cheapies for two quid from a garage, but they took an age to load – several ages if the game was a multi-load.

And then there was music. Sure, you could record music off the radio (arrrrr) and make mix tapes, as if appearing in your own personal edition of High Fidelity. But you knew deep down the low quality audio was plain bad, the butchered album artwork on original tape sleeves was an abomination, and there was a reasonable chance every time you played your copy of Goodbye Cruel World by Elvis Costello And The Attractions that it would ironically get eaten by the creaky Saisho tape deck foisted on to you by a dodgy yet persuasive Dixons salesperson.

So, yes, Kate Bush deserves her second wind. But the only reason anyone should be ‘running up that hill’ when it comes to cassette tapes is if from the top of said hill, you can hurl the bloody things into the sea.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.