Dust off your cassette recorder. The tape has made a comeback, as listeners rediscover the delights of the only music format that can be rewound using an old Biro.
Nearly 50,000 cassette albums were bought last year, according to new figures from the British Phonographic Industry. It is a leap of 125.3 per cent on 2017, and the largest volume sold since 2004.
Digital devices may provide better sound quality and ease of use, but cassettes now appear to have the ‘cool’ factor.
The biggest-selling act on cassette was The 1975, a band whose lead singer took their nostalgia-laden name from a book inscription but in fact was not born until 1989. Their latest album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, sold 7,500 copies on cassette.
Many of the artists in the bestseller list began at a time when cassettes were all the rage, including Queen, Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley. The latest Now That’s What I Call Music compilation also appeared in the top 10. But there were also some younger acts, such as 25-year-old Ariana Grande. One of the most popular cassettes was the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, with a ‘handwritten’ tracklist featuring such classics as Mr Blue Sky by ELO and George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord.
“Sales of cassettes are still relatively small compared to other mainstream formats and clearly have a way to go before they can fully match the vinyl revival, but there are signs the format is stirring back to life,” said the BPI’s Gennaro Castaldo.
“Innovative marketing around the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise has also had a galvanising effect, and it’s telling that a number of major artists see some cache in releasing on the format again.”
Sales of the LP, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018, are at their highest level since the early 1990s with over one in 10 of all physical album purchases now on vinyl. However, audio streaming accounts for nearly two-thirds of UK music consumption.
Demand for the CD, which helped to kill off the cassette at the beginning of the 1990s, was down by over a fifth although deluxe box-sets by Kate Bush, David Bowie and the Beatles performed well.
Overall, consumption was up nearly six per cent on the previous year, with 143 million albums bought, downloaded or streamed.
Movie musicals were a big driver of sales, especially The Greatest Showman. The film, loosely based on the life of PT Barnum and starring Hugh Jackman in the title role, was dismissed by critics but became a word-of-mouth hit.
The soundtrack was the biggest album of 2018, selling 1,621,905 copies.
The Greatest Showman was also the biggest-selling film in home entertainment, with 2.68 million copies bought either as DVDs or downloaded via Amazon, iTunes, Sky and others. It outsold the closest competition, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and Avengers – Infinity War, combined, according to figures from the British Association for Screen Entertainment.
Back in the music charts, the soundtracks for the Mamma Mia sequel, A Star Is Born and the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody were also major sellers.
The biggest-selling albums by solo artists were from George Ezra and Ed Sheeran. Dua Lipa was the only female solo artist to make the top 10.