A History of Beatles Cassettes

Winner of the Tape War

Last Modified 27 Se 07

The technology for the cassette (or compact cassette) is based on the simplest premise: make the reel to reel tape smaller. The cassette was introduced to the Capitol Records buying market after the four track, eight track, and Playtape, but the format was being developed simultaneously to the others. The Philips company is chiefly responsible for the cassette tape, meant as competition with the other formats. A history of the cassette can be found at this site.

The four track and eight track were directed at music to be played in automobiles, replacing the nasty "singles player" and reel tape player. But the cassette was at first deemed unsuitable for music, due to its slow speed of 1 7/8 inches per second. No reel to reel tapes featuring music were issued at 1 7/8 ips, and the cassette had a smaller bandwidth. But it came into use for voice recording. The microcassettes still used today for dictation were once a leading purpose of the cassette tape.

As the sixties progressed, strides were made to make the cassette "listenable." Mercury Records appears to have produced the first music cassettes, and by 1967, some companies were issuing cassettes as an alternative to four tracks and eight tracks. When Spring, 1968, rolled around, most major record companies (including Capitol) were buying in. Capitol seems to have been somewhat tentative at first, making only 25 of its best-selling titles available on cassette. Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys, and of course, The Beatles were among the artists selected to indroduce the public to Capitol cassettes. Within a year, the cassette was beginning to establish itself.

While it is often true that early pressings of albums have better sound quality than reissues, the early cassettes were recorded at lower volumes (meaning greater tape hiss) and apparently did not have as long a life as the cassettes we have today. The advent of noise reduction (Dolby A, B, C) and the use of Chrome and Iron ("metal") bases allowed the tapes to increase their dynamic range, to the point where eventually the cassette overtook the l.p. in sales. By 1983, the cassette was the only tape format available to retail consumers. In approximately twenty years, the cassette had gone from being "unlistenable" to being the only remaining tape format out of all those introduced in the fifties and sixties.

What follows is a listing of original Beatles/solo cassettes issued up to the time of Let It Be.

Hard Day's Night United Artists ACR-4-5218
white shell; yellow paper label. Features 60's UA logo. Song titles are listed on the inside of the cover/card. Made for UA by Mercury.
SI = 9

Family Way Soundtrack (P) London LKX 57136 (1967)
snap-open plastic box with "cover" affixed.
SI = 6

1968 Cassette Style
with paper label and large window

Sgt. Pepper's LHCB Capitol 4XT 2653
Rubber Soul Capitol 4XT 2442
Revolver Capitol 4XT 2576 (shown at top)

The above three Capitol cassettes were three of the first 25 cassettes issued by Capitol. The cover/inserts state merely "cassette" under the Capitol logo. In order to avoid confusion (since mono was still an option for albums), future issues and reissues of these tapes read "Stereo Cassette" on the front cover. The first issue cover/inserts also list all 25 of Capitol's available cassettes.
SI = 7 (for each)

Insert to an original Capitol cassette

Hard Day's Night United Artists K-9006
white shell; label features boxed UA logo. Cassette comes in slide- out black title box. The UA cassettes contain an extended version of the title song.
SI = 7

Meet the Beatles Capitol 4XT 2047
SI = 7

Magical Mystery Tour Capitol 4XT 2835
As always, three songs are in rechanneled stereo on this cassette and on all reissues of it.
SI = 6
Yesterday and Today Capitol 4XT 2553
All the songs are in true stereo on this cassette.
SI = 6

As 1968 came to an end, manufacturers' information was added to all new cassettes. On the flap that lists the songs, from this point on, all Capitol cassettes indicate that they were manufactured by Capitol Records, Inc., a subsidiary of Capitol Industries, Inc.. Also, the Capitol logo on the "spine" was increased in size. Finally, the catalog number on the spine was increased in size and from here on is written on two lines. For example:

The Beatles Apple 4XWB 101 (4XW 160 and 161)
The two tape set was packaged so that each cassette was individually sealed with a black sticker. The inserts list other Beatles cassettes and sport a large Capitol logo. The two cassettes were housed in a black outer box with "The Beatles" and a large Apple on it, along with the catalog number.
SI = 6
Two Virgins (J) Apple/Tetragrammaton TNX-55001
paper "covers" affixed to snap-open box
SI = 6
Yellow Submarine Capitol 4XW 153
SI = 6
Like the second issue reel tape and the eight track, this release is on Capitol, not Apple.
Wonderwall Music (G) Apple 4XT 3350
According to Capitol's "Apple Album Label Series" from March, 1975, this LP was not issued on cassette.

Second Album Capitol 4XT 2080
SI = 6
Something New Capitol 4XT 2108
SI = 7
Beatles '65 Capitol 4XT 2228 SI = 8
These cassettes were made during late Spring of 1969 -- before the change in logo styles.

With the change in logo styles in July, 1969, came two related changes to the cassette packaging. First, three (white) vertical bars were added to the blue spine, making it easy to distinguish the title and artist information from the catalog number. In order to make room for these bars, the Capitol logo was removed from the spine. The second change consisted of the addition of a catalog/title sticker to the end of the black cassette box, allowing the information to be seen if the cassettes were displayed so that the ends showed. A typical "end sticker" looked like this:

Cassette with 3 "hash marks"
from 1969

Beatles VI Capitol 4XT 2358
SI = 8
Life With the Lions Zapple 4XT 3357
SI = 5
Electronic Sound Zapple 4XT 3358
SI = 6
Early Beatles Capitol 4XT 2309
SI = 8
Help! Capitol 4XT 2386
SI = 8

Beatles Deluxe 3-Pack Capitol 4X3T 358
Features Meet the Beatles, MMT, and Y & T in a 12" box. This set was apparently planned for release in order to promote the cassettes in September, 1969. For some reason, perhaps the Beatles heard and objected, this item was withdrawn, as was the eight track issue of the same item. Although l.p.'s exist of "3 packs" for Capitol's other artists, no known Beatles Deluxe 3-Pack exists on l.p.. The cassette is extremely rare, with fewer than ten known copies.
SI = 10

Abbey Road Apple 4XT 383
does not list "Her Majesty" on the paper label.
The cover has the Apple logo and catalog number in white. The cover does not list "Her Majesty." Some first pressings were originally housed in a 12" by 4" long custom box that is now estimated at about $125.
SI = 5 (cassette)
SI = 10 (long box)
Abbey Road Apple 4XT 383
does not list "Her Majesty" on the paper label.
The cover has the Apple logo and catalog number in green. The cover lists "Her Majesty" as the last selection. (probably released early 1970)
SI = 5
Wedding Album Apple 4AX 3361
12" boxed set with inserts, as the LP. The cassette inside is numbered 4XM 3361. The cassette can also be found by itself, without the box.
SI = 3

All of the preceding Capitol/Apple tapes have paper labels glued to the cassette shells. There are some minor differences between those tapes made in '68 and those made in '69. In addition, some cassettes (and eight tracks) were available through the Capitol record club. These have additional catalog numbers as well. The tapes come in the standard flip-out box, similar to what we have today, unless otherwise specified.

Cassette label from 1970
(in box)

For a period in 1970, Capitol experimented with the cassette housing, replacing the plastic cartridges with paper outer boxes. These continued until later in the year, when the traditional "fold open" cassette cover returned. One permanent change from Fall, 1970, on is that the title spine would now appear in black and white, instead of blue and white.

Live Peace In Toronto (J) Apple 4XT 3362
The cassette rests in a tray, which slides into the cover/box.
SI = 2
Hey Jude! (The Beatles Again) Apple 4XT 385
The cassette rests in a tray, which slides into the cover/box.
This cassette was only available until 1974. At that time, the words "STEREO CASSETTE" were moved to the bottom of the cover, being replaced by the word "apple." The new issue, shown here, also has Apple's new address at 1370 Avenue of the Americas.
SI = 4 (original)
SI = 2 (1974 reissue)
In the Beginning, Circa 1960 Polydor CF 4504
white shell
SI = 5
Hard Day's Night United Artists K-9006
black shell or blue shell; label features 1970 version of boxed UA logo. Cassette comes in slide- out black title box, reading "EFR" (Extended Frequency Response). The maker is shown as "Liberty/UA". Back cover is mostly green with black print. The UA cassettes contain an extended version of the title song.
SI = 7
McCartney (P) Apple 4XT 3363
The cassette rests in a tray, which slides into the cover/box.
SI = 4
Let It Be Apple ART 2001
The cassette rests in a tray, which slides into the cover/box.
SI = 3

All Capitol/Apple cassettes featured paper labels until after the release of the Concert For Bangla Desh. From about that time onward, the cassette shells were tan or white, and the Capitol/Apple logo appeared directly on the cassette shell. Like the eight track, the cassette carried a warranty until 1975. For a time in 1977, paper labels were used again, sparsely, but these do not resemble the originals. The round "C" logo appears on cassettes until 1977, being replaced by the dome logo afterward. From 1986 onward, the cassette shells have been clear, rather than white or tan.

From meager beginnings, the cassette rose to dominate the market. As always, the Beatles were involved when Capitol introduced its new format.

Interestingly, "Penny Lane" did not appear in the US in stereo until the Rarities album in 1980. There, the song is a special edit created by Capitol. The actual stereo mix did not appear in the US until the CASSETTE issue of Mobile Fidelity's Magical Mystery Tour album in 1981. Ironically, the MMT album in England contained the stereo version of the song on the cassette.
"Baby You're a Rich Man" shares a similar fate, appearing in stereo for the first time on the 1971 German issue of Magical Mystery Tour, but not appearing in the US or UK in stereo until cassette issues of that album.

Values: most original paper label cassettes of the Beatles go for c. $50 to $75. The White Album sells for $100. The Wedding Album falls within the $30 - $40 range. The original issue of Hard Day's Night fetches roughly $125. The Beatles Deluxe 3-Pack, a rare item indeed, would sell for $2000 - $2500 if you could find a copy.

About the Scarcity Index

A Scarcity Index has been introduced to indicate the relative rarity of records and tapes. The rating ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being "very common" and 10 indicating that fewer than 20 copies are known to exist.

Since early cassette tapes were sold in much lower quantities than were vinyl albums, and since cassettes were typically not available at the same time as the LP (originally), they tend to be much scarcer than their LP counterparts.

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Beatles Cassettes
Frank Daniels

1996, 2003 Frank Daniels
at The Donaldson Corporation