The PlayTape was the kookiest, cutest music format of the 1960s
Everyone from the Beatles to Leonard Nimoy released music on this obscure format.
If you were trying to sell a new piece of technology in 1967, who better to have behind your product than Spock himself? Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy parlayed his television fame into a music career. The actor's debut album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space hit stores between the first two seasons of Star Trek.
Months later, he recorded Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, an LP that featured a side of in-character "Spock songs" and a revealing side of personal Nimoy folk. You could buy the album on vinyl, of course. There were also versions of the title on cassette — but not the common cassette tape you know.
Frank Stanton invented the PlayTape format in 1966. At the time, several audio wizards were looking to popularize the audiotape cassette. We already mentioned the Stereo-Pak, introduced by Earl "Madman" Muntz, a car salesman and boyfriend of Phyllis Diller. That was a 4-track format. Of course, you are likely aware of the 8-track cassette, developed by Bill Lear. That would eventually win the format war and become an iconic gadget of the 1970s alongside the lava lamp. (Until the smaller, easier-to-use cassette tape came along and dominated the 1980s.)
Anyway, back to the PlayTape. It was a quirky little format. Adorable, you might say. A mere 2-track cassette, the PlayTape could only fit about eight to 24 minutes of music on a continuous loop. Thus, Two Side of Leonard Nimoy included a mere four songs, "Love of the Common People" and "Amphibious Assault" on one channel, "Gentle On My Mind" and "Highly Illogical" on the other channel.
The PlayTapes themselves looked like a tiny, slimmer version of an 8-track. You can see an example of one — a release from the Mamas and the Papas — above. So, let's say you purchased a PlayTape? Where could you, well, play it?
The PlayTape Music Machine, of course! The portable plastic player could be easily carried with its handle in one hand. It looked a bit like a cross of an apartment intercom and a small purse. Big-name artists released extended plays on PlayTape, everyone from the Beatles and the Kinks to Patsy Cline and Jimi Hendrix. Surely, someone reading this used one.
The box declared that the PlayTape Music Machine was perfect for Home / Beach / Car "Even Your Boat"!
Speaking of cars, just one automobile manufacturer offered a dashboard-mounted PlayTape player. It was Volkswagen, naturally.
Smith Corona utilized the format for an even cooler, quaintly futuristic device. The typewriter manufacturer used blank PlayTapes in Mail Call gizmo. A sort of snail-mail cellphone, this predecessor to voice mail looked like a cordless telephone. You would pop a PlayTape into the handset, record a personal message… and then drop the cassette into an envelope and mail it.
Of course, the person on the other end would need a device to play it.
Check out a video further exploring this forgotten tech. Did you ever own one?