When we think about old media formats--things like VHS tapes, 8mm reels, and cassettes--we also forget about what was on them. Just like technology has evolved, so has content.
Most of our blogs here at Southtree focus on the format, but we don’t do a whole lot with the stuff under the hood.For this particular article, we’re going to talk about cassette tapes. But we’re not going to talk about the tapes themselves. Instead, we’re going to dive into the music that was on them to see if we can figure out what the most popular song of all time on audio cassettes was.
I’ve been thinking for a few days about how we can figure out what this song might be. The problem is that most cassettes were sold as albums, so getting to the bottom of which individual song was most popular is going to require a bit of research and educated guessing. Unlike Spotify and other digital music players, cassettes didn’t keep track of how many times folks listened to a certain song. Additionally, I can’t even find exact numbers for how sales broke down for a particular album (i.e. cassette, vinyl, 8 track). All I can see is the release date and total album sales.
I might not be able to say with 100% certainty what the most listened-to song on cassettes was, but I think I can get close. So here we go.
For the rest of the article, I’m going to list a few things. First, I’m going to give you the highest-selling albums during the time when cassettes were most popular. Then, I’m going to let you know what the leading single off of that album is. Then, I’ll let you know if there were any other songs on the album that might have been even more popular than that single. Through that process, we should be able to at least approximate the most popular song ever on cassette tape.
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
My Song Guess: Beat It
It’s no surprise that the King of Pop is number one on this list. Thriller came out at a time when cassettes were nearing or at their heyday. Thriller is an incredible album that’s full of amazing songs. Billie Jean was actually the leading single on this groundbreaking album, and it’s an amazing song.
But there are also another couple of really great tracks from that album that could be the winners: Beat It and Thriller. My final guess is that any one of these three songs could take the prize for the most-played song on any cassette, but I’m going to give the nod to Beat it, because that one’s my favorite.
Whitney Houston: The Bodyguard (1992)
My Song Guess: I Will Always Love You
Not only did Whitney Houston have a legendary voice, she was also a pretty great actress. Even though The Bodyguard soundtrack isn’t on the top 10 of the most popular albums of all time list, it did release right at the apex of cassette popularity. Because of that, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of its sales came in cassette form.
I think it’s a pretty good bet that its most popular song should be on this list. With this soundtrack, there’s only one song that cuts the mustard: I Will Always Love You.
Michael Jackson: Bad (1987)
My Song Guess: Bad
Michael Jackson is wild to look back on now, because he was so popular when he was making music. There just aren’t any artists around these days that can boast that kind of popularity and universality. Everyone knew who he was, and they knew all of his songs. Like Thriller, Bad also boasts some great tracks including The Way You Make Me Feel and The Man in Mirror.
Unlike Thriller, I’m going to guess that the most listened-to track on this album was the leading single, Bad. It’s the best song on the album and had to have been the most popular.
So there you have it! The most popular songs on cassette were probably Beat It, Thriller, Billie Jean, I Will Always Love You, and Bad. We can’t say with 100% certainty that those are the winners, but if I had to put money on it, that’s where my cash would be. If I had to guess which song out of that bunch is number 1, I’m going to guess Beat It.