Listening to Prince on cassette teaches you a lot of important things. How many of us used to save up to buy a $40 Sony Walkman so we could ride our bikes around the neighborhood jamming to Sign O the Times? How many would save up allowance money to go straight to one of many music retailers to buy a cassette, and then beg mom and dad to play that tape in the car? That was me through and through: a kid who just appreciated knowing the minutiae of my favorite albums, reading every credit on the fold-out inserts, reading the thank-you notes over and over again, knowing every role from songwriter to executive producer.
Listening to Prince on cassette, or vinyl for that matter, teaches you about the importance of how the ending song on the A side transitioned over to the starting song on the B side. Cassettes are more compact and portable than LP, but the musical experience is comparable.
Listening to Prince on tape — where skipping around is more complicated than clicking a track or lifting a needle — encourages you to appreciate Prince’s visions for his albums as split but cohesive experiences. Consider Purple Rain:the lust-laden, dramatic powerhouse ballad stylings of “Darling Nikki,” with its whimsical and haunting conclusion, lead to the primal and cold groove of one of Prince’s most iconic jams, “When Doves Cry.” Listening to Purple Rain as a unit is a lesson in the makings of a classic: how “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Take Me With You” went tit-for-tat in matching the energy and intensity of the one-two combo of “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 U.”
The A side of 1999, to consider another example, may fare better against the B side as a whole. The powerhouse trio that set off the A side with songs like “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious,” almost would make that discussion no contest. Still, Prince created 1999 as an entire album, not just an A-side, and when you listen to the album on tape, you appreciate the importance of the transition from the end of side A to the opening of side B: the way the hypnotic and infectious synth line of “D.M.S.R” gives way to the B side’s nine-minute jam on “Automatic” is marvelous. Listening to it on cassette makes you appreciate that lengthy wait, in hopes of a great payoff.
There are plenty of other examples: how the A side of Parade: Under the Cherry Moon closed with the two-minute instrumental coda of “Venus De Milo,” and how that gave way to the B side’s introductory “Mountains.” Then there’s the way Around the World In a Day messes with your mind by closing out with “Tamborine”, making way for the many false vinyl starts of “America” — or how on Sign O The Times, the mid-tempo jam of “Forever In My Life” helped usher in the infectious “U Got the Look.”
The experience of listening to Prince on cassette taught a lot of people patience and the importance of tangibility in music, before digital listening took over.
On September 22, 2014 some Latvians celebrated World Car-Free Day by building car-size cages around their bikes to make the point that cars take up lots more room on the roads, and that each cyclist helps reduce traffic by exactly that much. Space is more of an issue in Europe, and these caged bikes at the first sight looks like a “protection.” It takes several cognitive steps to connect bike+cage=car/replace car with bike = fewer traffic jams. Overall it was a powerful statement about the vulnerability of cyclists on roads, and a statement that bikes are vehicles too.