So, on a whim I bought a cool old Yamaha 4-track cassette machine via Seattle Goodwill’s Ebay page. Thought it would be fun to record something on some really simple hardware, plus I’m just a gear hoarder plain and simple.
I purchased a Yamaha MT100 II picked it up from the Seattle Goodwill, and took it home. In order to test it, I grabbed a handful of cassettes from the bottom of a box of junk that I have probably moved 5 times.
A completely unlabeled cassette was among them, so I popped it into the Yamaha and hit play, expecting to hear something other than what I wound up hearing.
What I expected to hear takes a little explaining. Cassettes, generally speaking, have 4 tracks. Channels 1 and 2 are for the Left and Right signals on the tape’s A-side, and Channels 3 and 4 are for the Left and Right channels on the tape’s B-side.
For the bedroom recordist on a budget, cassette multitracks like the MT-100 series used
all 4 of these tracks on a single side, so one could track instrument and vocal parts over-dub style. With some creative mixing, one could bounce submixes down and get some fairly complex recordings with a little effort
So, when one puts a regular ol’ cassette tape into a machine designed to work with 4-tracks of information on a single side, what happens? You get 1 side of the tape playing forward, and the other side of the tape playing backwards, all at once. This usually just sounds like a mess that is maybe interesting for about two minutes.
Upon rewinding and playing the unlabeled tape, I was staggered to find that this dusty, chipped cassette from the bottom of a banana box already had a 4-track recording on it, not Van Halen taped off the radio from 1990 or something like that. There’s two acoustic guitar tracks and two vocal tracks. I recorded the song to my computer, panned the guitars wide, and posted the song to my SoundCloud account for your listening “pleasure.”
The mysterious ballad is a yarling tumbleweed of a yarn, detailing a widow’s bitter revenge against the man who shot and killed her lover. Here ’tis:
I have absolutely NO idea who this person is, or when they recorded this, or how the tape even came into my possession. Total mystery. If you have a bunch of tapes laying around, than you probably get the idea that the odds of reaching into a pile of unmarked, used junky tapes and pulling up a 4-track cassette recording—in order to test out a new 4-track cassette recorder—seems a little slim. Chances are this could be somebody I know, but I can’t place the voice.
The widow was lost and lonely
travelin’ through the badlands all alone
She had a bag of gold and silver
lookin for a gun for hire
She hopped the train to Dallas, Texas, and hired her the fastest in the west
They road down, trackin’ down the killer,
the man who shot her love between his eyes
Down in Misissippi
they cornered him with no place to run
The widow cocks her pistol
and shoved that barrel straight down his throat
The outlaw stabbed him slowly
she pulled the trigger six times
unloaded her gun
She took off all her clothes
made love to him
last payment made in full
Opium and whiskey laid by the fire
as the moonlight filled the sky
I find that if you bend the phrasing of that last line it makes a nice little haiku:
Laid by the fire as the
Moonlight filled the sky