In the 70s, 80s and early 90s, the audio cassette reigned king. Practically every car was built with a tape player installed, and special carrying cases littered the floors of American automobiles everywhere. In fact, cassettes were a revelation. They provided a surprising amount of music in its little package, plus they were resistant to heat, cold, and sun.
Not only that, but they also had pretty good audio quality, were compact, and were rattle proof. That last quality made them perfect for portable music listening. But what kind of music could you find for tapes when they were first released?
It turns out, that’s not an easy question to answer. To prove the point, three artists lay claim to making the first album to release on cassette.
Nina Simone: Wild is the Wind - Nina was an incredible African American musician with a career that spanned decades. Her life was filled with volatility, accomplishment, and beautiful music, and ultimately, she might have had the first album that was ever released on Cassette. Wild is the Wind was released in 1966, the first year that the cassette started gaining steam, and this album was one of the first pressed.
Eartha Kitt: Love for Sale - Eartha Kitt was another African American artist most famous for her rendition of Santa Baby. She was also an accomplished actress and comedian, and she gets the prize of creating one of the first albums on cassette. Personally, my favorite piece of work that Eartha Kitt completed was voicing Yzma, the devilish villain in Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove.
Johnny Mathis - The Shadow of Your Smile - Mathis, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, sold over 360 million albums worldwide in his career. It’s no surprise then that he would also have one of the first albums to show up on cassette. Spanning multiple genres, Mathis made music with tons of influences. The Shadow of Your Smile was a compilation of covers from all sorts of artists that were popular at the time, so it would have been the perfect album for release on cassette.
So, Uh, Who Wins?
It turns out that, while the cassette tape was a major revolution for portable music, nobody bothered to document the actual first album ever printed on one. The hipster in me likes to dream that, somewhere deep in the recesses of some grandmother’s sofa, lies a cassette of the hottest and rarest mixed tape ever created. This unicorn of an album, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, still sits unlistened to like the rarest and most beautiful diamond that the world has never found.
A hipster can dream.