Various Artists: NME Mighty Reel UK Cassette 
Side 1/Disc 1
- Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Town Cryer [Fast Ver.]
- Haircut 100: Calling Captain Autumn [Live]
- Kid Creole & The Coconuts: Loving You Made A Fool Out Of Me [Spanish Rap]
- Weekend: A Day In The Life Of…
- Music From Soweto/elfas Zondi: Umkumbane
- Brother “D” With Collective Effort: Dib-be-dib-be-dize
- Fashion: Whitestuff [The Unfinished: Edit]
- Yello: Sensation (No More Words) [Early Mix]
- The Honeymoon Killers: Petit Matin
- Billy MacKenzie/British Electric Foundation: Secret Life Of Arabia [Dub Mix: Edit]
- Mari Wilson: Are You There (With Another Girl)
Side 2/Disc 2
- King Sunny Adé & The African Beats: Kita Kita O Mo La
- Ornette Coleman: Sleep Talk
- Robert Wyatt: ‘Round Midnight [Version 2]
- The Ravishing Beauties: Futility
- The Three Courgettes: Now Dance
- Rockers Revenge Featuring Donnie Calvin: Walking On Sunshine
- Fun Boy Three: The Alibi
- Cabaret Voltaire: Loosen The Clamp
- Liasons Dangerueses: Dancibar [Live]
- UB40: Forget The Cost [Dub Mix]
- Michael Smith: Trainer
This particular remastering was like a fairy tale come true. For those who don’t know, back in the 80s the New Musical Express was a music trade newspaper who took to making the occasional mix tape, which was available via mail order for their readers at low cost. I heard one of these once. A friend had ordered one. I didn’t read the NME and I didn’t buy cassettes. I have bought three or four pre-recorded cassettes… ever! All of mine that have required it have been digitized for posterity already. In many cases, I had to remove the reels from the cheap shell they invariably have and place them into a new one, with a metal spring pressure pad to replace the foam pad that had by now deteriorated, making playback impossible.
What’s worse are cases where the dry lubricant has deteriorated, leading to the dreaded binder squeal on playback. This sometime happens after removal and placement into a new shell; rendering that work moot. It’s said that home baking of the tapes, as in professional tape restoration, is the key to getting the tape in a playable state, but my cautious ways pretty much immobilize me in these cases. I need to practice with trash tapes, but I don’t have any.
At any rate, pre-recorded cassette tapes from the 80s are probably not playable thirty years later due to various breakdowns inherent in the format. I’m fine with that since there are almost no cassette releases that are of interest to me. I stick with higher quality, more durable formats, generally. But there are exceptions to this rule.
I collect The Associates, and there were several cuts that the NME released on tapes like this one that never appeared elsewhere. There was one cut that did, after a fashion. Back in 1981, Billy MacKenzie of The Associates recorded with the British Electric Foundation on their “Music Of Quality + Distinction” album. They created what I consider the definitive take on David Bowie’s song “The Secret Life Of Arabia.” The 4:00 album version is in my collection in various digital and analog formats. There also exists a 7:06 dub mix that’s truly spectacular on the 1982 Virgin compilation “Methods Of Dance vol. 2.” Intriguingly, in my research, there also exists this NME tape [“Mighty Reel”] that contains a 6:00 track labelled “The Secret Life Of Arabia.” Nothing more. I wondered if it was a vocal extended mix or an edit of the dub mix. No one was talking, so in a fit of optimism, I put it on my Discogs.com want list. After a year or two, it appeared as available.
The price was right, so I read the description of the tape and it was called “mint – unopened.” I imagined that it meant that it was still in its case with a J-card. I ordered the tape. Imagine my shock when after the trip across the big drink, the tape arrived and amazingly enough, the tape was, yes, in its case with J-card, but the case was wrapped tightly in cellophane with its gold plastic removal strip fully intact! Having only seen someone else’s NME tape already opened, I had no idea they were wrapped so thoroughly.
My mind began racing as it contemplated a cassette which had been perfectly sealed against the environment for its entire 30 year lifespan. Binder squeal might not happen here! Upon opening it, I checked the pressure pad. This tape wad a higher quality metal spring with cotton pad instead of the foam style pressure pad. I got my cassette deck cabled up to my analog audio interface and played the tape. It sounded flawless! I mean, sure… it was a tape with lots of hiss, but it played like a brand new tape with not a speck of unnatural noise artifacts. I digitized that puppy in a blissful state that Saturday afternoon. I could not believe my good fortune at finding and obtaining this tape! It was as if I had a time machine at my disposal to travel back to 1982 and buy the tape new and then whisk it forward in time for digitizing!
The tape was filled with delight, much of which had never been heard by me before. There was an alternate fast version of “Town Cryer” from Elvis Costello which was not on my Ryko edition, was on the Rhino 2xCD [not in my collection], and is now off of the current RM. I enjoyed the Kid Creole extended version that is only available here, still. I also collect Fashion [this album period only] and the track “Whitestuff [the unfinished]” only got a US promo 12″ release in an 8:44 cut only available in the US. Here it appeared in a 6:00 edit of the longer version.
Most exciting for me was the Yello cut “Sensation.” It’s an early 1982 mix of the track “No More Words” from “You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess” from 1983! It’s a decidedly different mix that may have surfaced here on this test pressing edition of 50 that Yello’s UK label of the time released in 1982. But can you afford that? I didn’t think so! Also exciting was the appearance of The Ravishing Beauties! This was a pre-solo Virginia Astley in a trio with Nicky Holland and Kate St. John and yes, it sounds exactly like what you’d think! Apart from an unreleased Peel Session, they have nothing else that ever reached the public ear.
This mix tape is exceedingly eclectic with a blend of pop, jazz, reggae, world music, electro, and funk. A few of these cuts have made their way to the Record Cell over the years [Mari Wilson, Weekend, Cabaret Voltaire] in reissues on other releases by the artists, but even now, over 50% of it is still exclusive to this tape. I would recommend it for anyone in 2012 to get an idea of where the editorial head of the NME [represented by editor and compiler Roy Carr] was thirty years ago. As you can see, it was pretty much the “rock is dead” Post-Punk period in a nutshell where guitar rock was simply past its sell-by date.
For the record, the MacKenzie/B.E.F. track was an edit of the Dub Mix.
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