In 1963, Philips launched the audio cassette, a compact recording and playback format invented by Lou Ottens.
It was the first truly portable music format. Cassettes could record or be played on relatively small, battery-powered devices. The audio quality wasn't great, and sometimes the tape broke or got tangled in the machine. But the cassette changed everything - for the better.
We could record new music straight off the radio, we could compile songs into themed mix tapes for road trips or to share around. Making a mix tape is a fine art. I'm sure many radio industry folk learned about music programming by making mix tapes when they were spotty teenagers. I know i did.
Lou Ottens died in March. He was 94. In Lou's honour, I've digitally restored a 1981 mix tape I made for a road trip to Melbourne.
And here's a Spotify of that long-ago mix tape.
In the 1950s and 60s, successful songs had sequels. Part two. What happened next? Like authors and film-makers, songwriters and bands looked to repeat success.
It didn’t always work – but sequel songs were often very big hits, sometimes bigger than the original.
Let's Twist Again, Bye Bye Johnny, Judy's Turn to Cry. There are many more, including Harry Chapin's Sequel, the sequel to his hit song Taxi.
The sequel song is a rare thing today, but at its peak, this was a fun and sometimes brilliant musical genre.
Listen to my exploration of sequel songs
The western world first noticed reggae in 1974, via Eric Clapton's cover of I Shot The Sheriff, with audiences soon finding the original, by Bob Marley and The Wailers. This new sound had been brewing in Jamaica since the early 1960s, when The Wailers had their first hit - Simmer Down - a lively appeal for calm in their home town, Kingston.
The Wailers were Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Neville Livingston. Reggae pioneers, proud Rasta men, they won fans and inspired musicians all over the world. Neville became known as Bunny Wailer - he and Tosh left the band just before Bob Marley broke through in England and became a global star.
Bob Marley died in 1981, Peter Tosh in 1987. And now, Bunny Wailer has gone. He was 73. Bunny helped establish his country’s most influential band, The Wailers, who are to reggae what the Beatles are to rock and pop.
Bunny spoke in a resonant deep voice, but he sang the sweet high harmonies you hear on early Wailers records. His solo work went deep into the beliefs that had shaped The Wailers music – and he won the best reggae album Grammy award three times. The world is a better place for the life and music of Bunny Wailer.
Listen to my ABC Radio tribute to Bunny Wailer
Music evolves. Each new style inspires another. We can reach back to the dawn of recorded music in the 1870s, but sometimes songwriters go much further – deep into the classical period of 1750 to 1820.
You’ll be surprised how many bits of classical music find their way into rock and pop.
Listen to my ABC Radio report & check out the Spotify
At their peak, The Beatles were the most imitated band on the planet, with groups all over the world copying their look and covering their songs. There are many thousands of Beatles covers, but only one that's consistently regarded as better than the original.
Australian soul singer Doug Parkinson managed to get a copy of the 1968 Beatles "white" album before it was released in Australia. He loved a song on it called Dear Prudence. His band, Doug Parkinson In Focus began playing it at shows, audiences loved it, the band recorded the song and it became their first hit.
Doug Parkinson was a great soul singer. He died on March 15th, aged 74.
Listen to my tribute to Doug Parkinson
Michael Gudinski was a rare blend of business nous and musical vision, entrepreneur and muse. His boundless passion for Australian music made him its greatest fan, and its most persuasive advocate.
He started Mushroom Records in 1973, when he was 19 - its first success was the era-defining Skyhooks album Living In The 70s.
Mushroom was one of the three Melbourne "M"s that launched the 70s - 80s Australian music boom, the others being Molly Meldrum and Michael Gudinski.
He had been inspired by the top Aussie bands of his youth - The Twilights, The Groove, The Groop and many more. Michael had the same enthusiasm for each new generation of bands and performers.
With courage and faith, this perceptive, persistent man, built a great treasure house of Australian song, and touched all of our lives.
Listen to my tribute to Michael - and the Spotify of Mushroom Records music.
The first truly reliable way to share sound recordings was on a fragile disc of shellac that spun at 78rpm on a record player. You could put around three minutes of sound on each side of the disc, which became known as the "78".
It was the start of the record industry, and it's how our grandparents got their music. Between the 1890s and the 1950s, about three million pieces of music were released on 78. The most commercially viable stuff has been harvested and re-released many times over, in all the newer formats.
But what about all those private collections, the tens of thousands of 78s gathering dust in sheds and garages all over the world? The Great 78 Project has begun collecting and preserving the records, and any surviving information about them. You can donate your 78s collection for preservation, and you can listen online to those already preserved.
Listen to my ABC Radio piece about the Great 78 Project
One of many conspiracy theories doing the rounds claims the coronavirus pandemic is a cover for Bill Gates' plan to put tracking microchips in all of us.
In January, a Facebook user posted a picture purporting to be the chip Microsoft would put in the COVID19 vaccine. A closer look reveals a circuit diagram, with words like "input" and "foot-switch". It was, in fact, a circuit diagram of a guitar effects pedal. And not just any old pedal. One with a bit of a reputation. The Boss Metal Zone 2, a distortion effect often wildly misused by aspiring guitar gods.
Somewhere, a conspiracy nut googling for "microchip photo" found the inner workings of a guitar effects pedal, pressed "publish", and gave us all a great laugh. And reminded us that guitar effects have been around for almost 100 years, from the "whammy bar" to the fuzz box, overdrive to wah-wah.
Listen to my ABC Radio piece on guitar effects
And here's a Spotify of some good guitar effects songs
In the early days, other Motown acts used to call them the "no-hit" Supremes. They were a formidable combination with talent to spare. Yet chart success eluded Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross for almost five years.
Then, one fortunate day, songwriters Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland brought them a song. The Supremes hated- Where Did Our Love Go. Mary and her colleagues said "it won't be a hit". The song-writers said "trust us". It began a long run of number ones for The Supremes, who became Motown's biggest act and the most successful female group in the world. They were, for a time, bigger than The Beatles.
Mary Wilson has died. She was 76. She sang lead after Diana Ross left the group and stayed with The Supremes to the very end in 1977. Then she had a successful solo career, and wrote one of the best-selling showbiz memoirs ever. Mary was a great talent, a great inspiration, and a really entertaining story-teller.
Listen to my ABC Radio piece on Mary Wilson
It features parts of an interview Mary did with Richard Fidler on ABC Conversations in 2010. Listen to the full interview here.
The KLF. The 80s/90s music enigma that pioneered the dance club scene and delivered a run of massive radio hits. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty mercilessly took the piss out of the British pop establishment, which honoured them in return. At the height of their fame, The KLF disappeared, deleting their entire music catalogue as they "left the building". And there's the curious business of burning one million pounds of fresh banknotes.
Their decision to delete their catalogue meant KLF material has been impossible to get, and hasn't ever been available to download or stream. Until now. On New Year's Eve, The KLF announced a slight return - they're on YouTube and Spotify,= making their music available for the first time in the digital age.
Listen to my ABC Radio story on the KLF. All aboard all aboard whoa.
Richard is a writer, podcaster, radio and TV broadcaster, an editor, and a lover of music. He tells the stories of how great songs are made, and of the people who make them.