There’s a list of 100 “influential” albums making the rounds on Facebook. Not the 100 most influential, to be clear, but 100 albums that have influenced somebody. Somewhere. At sometime.
I’ll confess to having perused said list, as I had earlier fallen for CBC’s list of Canada’s 25 greatest guitarists — if only to see where Paul Hogan, The Mighty Popo and Patrick Lawlor were ranked. (Curiously, all three failed to make the cut. But then, with Alex Lifeson rated as the greatest Canadian guitarist ever to have walked the earth, the list may well have been intended as a joke.)
One does not have to look too hard to find lists of the greatest and most influential albums of all time. Magazines, radio stations and websites live for that sort of reader temptation. Time was, lists of the greatest singles were as common. Alas, in recent years the single has fallen out of favour with compulsive list-makers. As, indeed, the single as music-critics know it has all but disappeared. Arguably, the bona fide single has been dead for two decades, give or take small-run punk 45s. The CD-single never quite caught on — in large part due to the fact that the compact disc’s main selling-point was its ability to contain 80 minutes of continuous music; the idea of buying 12-15 minutes of music was unlikely to impress a CD-hungry (if generally gullible) audience. There are limits. For consumers the CD-single, it seems, was one.
In retrospect, the single’s ultimate heyday came with a format that has been essentially erased from the pop-culture history books. Moreover, most of those singles themselves have since been erased — in favour of private recordings.
I’m referring to the mercenary music-biz commodity that was the cassette single — the, if you will, cassingle. Portable enough to be desirable. Disposable enough to enjoy a shelf-life shorter than even its chart-life. For the cynical music-industry of the late-1980s and early ’90s, it was the ideal format. According to reports, it still sort of exists, with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of cassingles flying off shelves in Europe last year. In North America, not so much. The cassingle’s day, sadly, has truly passed. With a whimper. Or maybe that’s just tape-hiss.
So, in the name of giving an obsolete format its due, let us celebrate a modest product-of-its-time by honouring the cassingle with its own, long-overdue list. I hereby present, in the name of putting a few things right, the greatest cassingles of all time. That’s right.
Now, this is not about the greatest songs ever released on cassingles. No. Rather, to properly celebrate the cassingle in all it’s short-lived glory, we must consider the songs in the context of the format. Sure, Vogue, Losing My Religion and Don’t Cry were great singles. But were they great cassingles? I would argue that to be a great cassingle, a song must remain etched in the listener’s memory as something best enjoyed on a Walkman, and free from such distractions as an additional selection by the same artist. (Unless, of course, you flip the tape over. But why would you do that when you can instead rewind and enjoy the song again?) True, you may well have not heard these classics since 1992 or so. But not to worry. These essential cassingles had a good life in their natural habitat, as surely as Motown’s greatest tracks are still best enjoyed on old 45s. So let us reflect on songs that were born to be cassingles. Their like may never be seen or heard again. Certainly, no local radio station is currently playing cassingles. Not even these.
The Smiths meet Soul II Soul uptown.
ROXETTE Spending My Time
It’s hard to pick just one Roxette cassingle. But if you have to pick just one…
UGLY KID JOE Everything About You
Terrible song. Terrible band. But then, the cassingle was a pretty terrible format.
LEE AARON Whatcha Do To My Body
Now we’re talking! Probably the best of the lot, in its way.
CATHY DENNIS Too Many Walls
She’s still writing hits for others. But this faux-Madonna classic was all she ever needed to do. Really. She should have stopped there.
SCORPIONS Wind of Change
Arguably, no song takes you to the magic of the moment on a glory night where the children of tomorrow dream away quite like German rockers Scorpions’ misty-eyed ode to renewal in their unified homeland. A decade after its initial release, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the band performed the song live at the former border. Paired with the original studio version, it would have made a swell cassingle. Society’s loss.
OZZY OSBOURNE Mama, I’m Coming Home
A power ballad hit for Ozzy? In the world of cassingles, anything was possible. Briefly.
BIZ MARKIE Just a Friend
Great video too. But that’s for another list.
QUEENSRŸCHE Silent Lucidity
Turn it up! But be sure to first put it on the chrome setting, and take the Dolby off.
P.M. DAWN Set Adrift on Memory Bliss
Spandau Ballet for the Walkman generation.
VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE Monsters and Angels
Again, there’s a complicated formula behind determining what makes a great cassingle. Trust me.
SHAKESPEAR’S SISTER Stay
Siobhan Fahey had already conquered the 12″ single format as a member of Bananarama. With that sort of background, she was bound to rule the cassingle world. Once.
CRYSTAL WATERS Gypsy Woman
La da dee, la du dao. Rewind.
That’s about it, really. Where is NKOTB, you ask? Or Tasmin Archer? Or Candi and the Backbeat? Tough formats call for tough decisions. And the cassingle was a tough format — particularly for music lovers.