Home Taping Is Killing Music – Further Tales of Taping Off The Radio

Tommy Vance - with John PeelPhoto from the Radio 1 DJ Calendar 1981
Tommy Vance – with John Peel
Photo from the Radio 1 DJ Calendar 1981

Another Home Taping Confession: The Friday Rock Show And Why Record Companies Always Put The Best Tracks At The Start Of The Album.

Whilst I have confessed to my musical piracy when taping off the radio – indeed the BBC have broadcast the tapes to prove my guilt – the extent of my taping songs off the radio moved on from the Top 40 countdown show. The trouble was – and the reason I continued this sordid life of crime – Slayer never made the singles chart. And if they did, they didn’t get played on the radio anyway. I don’t blame Mark Goodier for this. It’s tricky playing Angel of Death on a National, Licence-Fee-funded Sunday evening Middle Britain Radio show. “Auschwitz /The meaning of pain…” is likely to put most people off their tea and scones before they settle down to watch Downton Abbey – or Ever Decreasing Circles as was the staple Sunday night TV show back then…

Indeed there was a famous moment when Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes did play Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of... on the Sunday evening chart show – and didn’t realise that it contained a naughty word. Actually that song contains 17 instances of the F word and some other choice phrases, all of which were broadcast in full at 5pm to the delight of teenagers and the horror of their parents throughout the land. A friend of mine caught the moment on tape. Priceless.

Nevertheless, these occasional lapses of good taste by the BBC were all too infrequent and I was ravenous for new music. And not new music recorded by Wham. Or Rick Astley, Bros or Timmy Mallett. Especially not Mallett. Lovely chap though I hear he is.

The only time you could hear rock music on any radio station was Tommy Vance‘s Friday Rock Show.

TV on the radio, he called it. 10pm until midnight on a Friday night. I would always tune in, even for the last few minutes when coming home from the pub. Almost every record Vance played on that show was new to me – I heard it all for the first time. I first heard Metallica on that show (Battery). Rage Against The Machine (Fistful of Steel – which he played twice in a row). Guns n Roses’ Night Train. Magnum’s Midnight (You Won’t be Sleeping). Bon Jovi’s breakthrough single You Give Love A Bad Name.

And some terrible dross too (too?). So I taped it all, and then (and this bit is very sad and embarrassing to admit) I recorded individual songs onto ten or so other blank tapes and arranged them all in alphabetical order. Machine Head under “M” and so on. I even wrote a track listing on the little cards inside the cassette boxes. Bless. I was a one-man prototype Pirate Bay or Napster. Without the distribution capability.

The theory behind this ridiculous (and some might say weird) behaviour was actually fairly sensible. No, really. I thought that if I read about a band I might be able to look them up on my tapes to see if I had heard them on the radio before buying their album on the back of a magazine review. It only worked once – with a Metallica song.

The filing system lasted about a couple of months until I got bored / swamped with the effort required – but it is an indication of how starved I was of the music I loved that I went to those lengths. Or how genuinely tragic a character I am. You decide. I think I know the answer…

As I mentioned, I put this Heath Robinson plan in place so I might avoid – where possible – buying records unheard, something I would do often. The reviews in Kerrang and, later, Raw and Metal Hammer were a vital part of this process. A rave review would often unlock the purse strings. Why else would I have bought albums by Candlemass, E-X-E, Salty Dog or Sea Hags? (That last one was a particularly good album…) Is it even possible to buy an album unheard nowadays? It’s so easy to look up something on YouTube or Spotify.

The closest thing to YouTube I had in the eighties was travelling to the record shop, walking shyly up to a sulky and / or sarcastic looking punk or goth (always punks and goths) at the counter and asking them if they wouldn’t mind awfully, y’know, if I could perhaps hear a record on headphones – which would allow them the opportunity (in my head at least) of inwardly sneering at my poor musical choice whilst I listened to the record in front of six other people who were all tutting and looking at / tapping their watches impatiently holding a copy of Fun Boy Three’s Tunnel of Love or the latest album by The Fall or The Smiths – or anything cooler than Queensryche’s Rage For Order or Aerosmith’s Classics Live or whatever it was – putting massive pressure on me to Hurry Up And Decide Whether You Wanted To Buy The Damn Record Or Not!

It’s character building stuff to ignore a mass of similarly minded folk. I was never very good at it. I never lasted beyond the end of the second track. And this, I suspect, was exactly the reason why record companies always put the good tracks at the start of the album…

Record #134: Slayer – Angel of Death


17 responses to “Home Taping Is Killing Music – Further Tales of Taping Off The Radio”

  1. beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes Avatar

    Brings back good memories of my high street record store. Do you remember when they actually had vinyl inside the cover sleeves? We used to buy singles, but could never afford albums – so we’d do our best to steal them. I managed to bag the Rezzillos, Can’t Stand The Rezzilos and The Damned’s Machine Gun Ettiquette, before they filled the A-Z slots with EMPTY COVERS!
    I risked a few months incarceration with Ray Winstone in a young offenders institute, whereas today, the kids can steal music with impunity on the net!
    Like you say, back then, a journey to the record shop was character building.
    John H.M.P. Brixton.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      You clearly live(d) in a more trustworthy area than I did. All the records in my shops were behind the counter on large shelves to prevent the sort of thieving you mention. I was far too scared of going to jail (because clearly that’s what would have happened) to shoplift however…


  2. Defending Axl Rose Avatar

    I’m currently reading “You Never Give Me Your Money” which is a book about the Beatles and their finances. They squandered a bunch of money via Apple Electronics via the infamous Magic Alex. One of Magic Alex’s supposed inventions was a signal that could be added to music that would render them “unrecordable.” I’m not sure how real this was (probably wasn’t) but I chuckled when I read about what a threat to the music industry home tapping was.

    If they only knew what was coming…


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That’s a great book. Further reading on the mercurial Magic Alex is in the excellent book The Longest Cocktail Party written by Apple’s House Hippy Richard Di Lello. It is, as you say, funny to think of home taping as such a threat – compared to what the music industry has to deal with now…


  3. Push Avatar

    Enjoyed that post a lot. I was a voracious taper of radio stuff and TV music stuff when I was a teenager. I taped countless John Peel sessions and Radio One In Concerts and bits of the Old Grey Whistle Test and other TV shows like Rock Goes To College. I got quite good at hitting the record and stop buttons at just the right time. But for some reason, I never wrote on the cassette boxes what the artists/tracks were or the dates they were recorded. Instead, I numbered each cassette and then put all the details in an exercise book. I still have tons of the tapes, neatly stacked in cardboard boxes in my mum’s loft, but I’ve no idea what’s there because I haven’t seen that exercise book for years. Doh!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Glad you liked that. It would probably have been far cooler to have taped Peel sessions – there’s still a call for that sort of thing and I have found a few on line which are great (a couple of Mercury Rev sessions are especially good – including a version of Sabbath’s Planet Caravan). I can see the logic of the exercise book – I hope it turns up one day – probably when you least expect it. Try behind the sofa…


      1. Simon Avatar

        There’s a great website called “Keeping it Peel” that has extensive notes on Peel sessions throughout the years.


  4. Heavy Metal Overload Avatar

    “Home Taping is killing music… and so are Venom”. One of the greatest advertising slogans used by a Heavy Metal band!

    I very rarely listen to music/bands before I buy them! So it is possible… The only album I remember making a point of hearing first was the new Aerosmith one. A lucky escape I think.

    I need to hear that Sea Hags album. I keep hearing great things about it and have seen a lot of used vinyl copies in local shops.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Now you mention it – I do remember that slogan! Very funny. The Sea Hags is a no-brainer if you can find a cheap copy. Sleaze rock at it’s finest (which is possibly damning it with faint praise).


  5. Simon Avatar

    I too used to compulsively record Friday Rock Show sessions, Peel sessions, In Concert and many many more. I remember some time in the mid 80’s, whilst at art college, staying up until 3 in the morning just to tape a two minute interview with Slayer on Night Network. which was the closest thing to all night TV in those days. Looking back, I felt totally starved of decent music on TV. I also remember in the weeks and months after Reading or Donington, Waiting for the broadcasts of the bands as they were rarely broadcast live on the day (Too much swearing probably). I believe Tommy Vance bet Mike Read he wouldn’t play Venom on his show. To his credit, he did!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      The question is: What did you do with the tapes?
      Nice to think of Black Metal being played in Mike Read’s breakfast show. I taped Deep Purple’s Knebworth show (see previous posts) – which was probably the start of it all – beyond the charts – or Live Aid.


      1. Simon Avatar

        Still got the lot! Sad I know (and the wife’s none too pleased). The live shows and sessions, I keep telling myself, are going to be transfered to CD for future generations (I know delusional too, but the medication is helping). All I need is a few spare months and no interruptions. Dio at Hammersmith Odeon ’83 anyone?
        But which tape brand stood the test of time the best?


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        Always D90s for me – rather than C90s. Not sure why – probably no discernible difference – but there was much playground comparison and discussion over the merits of each. Never got why chrome was so popular (if it needed its own button to prevent hiss, how good could it be?). Can’t remember the manufacturer. TDK maybe?


  6. Marcus Avatar

    Now this brings back some good memories. Living in Scotland I was lucky as we also had Tom Russell on Radio Clyde from midnight to 2am after Tommy Vance – reception was a bit crap and I had to listen to amazingly low volume to not wake my parents – but I mean four hours music you actually liked as a teenager in the mid-80’s – it was heaven! I used to really some of the concerts they broadcast – Dio from Donington ’83 springs to mind listened to it to death, made me a complete fan of the man to this day (now I have the CD). Magnum at Milton Keynes in ’85 or ’86 was also brilliant would love to hear that again.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Another rock show after the Friday rock show! You were spoiled. At one point The Mary Whitehouse Experience radio show followed the Friday rock show, which I listened to (quietly) because I recognised David Baddiel’s voice from having seen him compere at The Comedy Store. A few years later they were headlining Wembley Arena…


  7. Rex Bussey Avatar

    The poor music industry appears to have been under siege since the dawn of time! funny how it seems to keep limping along anyway… really interesting read though, particularly enjoyed hearing about the travelling record shop, would have never even dreamed that something like that existed


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Just a market trader of bootlegs – I guess record fairs and car boot sales would be the modern equivalent. As for the record industry? Nothing it doesn’t deserve…


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