Word came down late Tuesday that Lou Ottens, the man who launched a million mixtapes by virtue of inventing the compact cassette tape, passed away last weekend in his hometown of Duizel in the Netherlands.
Ottens, who was 94 at the time of his passing, joined Philips in 1952 and became head of new product development in 1960. His department introduced the cassette tape at the Berlin Radio electronics fair in 1963, and since its introduction, an estimated 100 billion cassette tapes have been sold worldwide.
Ottens wasn’t done, however. He had a hand in the next generation of music media, as well, helping Philips to develop the compact disc for the consumer market and cooperating with Sony’s team on a standard format for the new medium. This cooperation was instrumental in the Philips/Sony format quickly being accepted as the industry standard for CDs, and CDs as the standard digital medium.
The thing with CDs, though, is that most people didn’t have the ability to record onto them, at least not until many years later, and not in any sort of readily portable way. With tapes, you could record songs off the radio. Or dub your albums onto tapes. Or go to shows and tape them and prop up an entire cottage industry (yeah, I’m talking to you, Deadheads). It wasn’t for nothing that the RIAA freaked out about music piracy in the early ’80s, worried that the taping of prerecorded music was cutting into their bottom line.
And even once recording on CDs became easier and cheaper, mix CDs never carried the cache of mixtapes. We made them for friends and family. We made them to show off our mixology skills. And we especially made them as a sort of courtship ritual for those we had a special eye on, the proverbial peacock displaying his feathers.
This particular mix, however, was more of a Christmas gift for college friends, judging from the song selection and titling. Typically I would make a master tape and then dub multiple copies in such an instance, and this tape is marked “Master.” It’s also devoid of the art I would’ve designed for it, the original of which is probably tucked away in some box.
Your Mother in a Frying Pan would’ve been created November or December of 1990, just before winter break of my senior year at Lynchburg College, based on the songs here (nothing after 1990, and closing with a wintry song). It had an Acid side and a Bong side (because there’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s called college). The title and art was a play on the Partnership for a Drug-Free America campaign that famously had character actor John Roselius cracking an egg into a hot frying pan to demonstrate the effect of drugs on your brain.
Amazingly, I was able to replicate the entire tape on Tidal, with one exception – I had to replace the remix version of The Heart Throbs’ “Big Commotion” with a 1990 live version. It’s at once amazing to have so much music available to us today with just a couple of clicks, and yet at the same time, there’s something that’s been lost in that ease of availability. That’s part of what made sharing mixtapes so special back in the day, and for that, we can thank Lou and his team.
Anyway, I post it here as a time capsule some 30 years on, and as a tribute to the man who helped make it possible. Requiescat in pace, Meneer Ottens, en ontzettend bedankt.