Comments and Observations
The Story of Reel-to-Reel Tapes: The reel-to-reel format was already used in the first tape recorders for audio records, such as the German-British Blattnerphone with steel tape at the end of the 1920s, and the German Magnetophon machines of the 1930s. None of these systems had their own names, they only had to be named when the cartridges, cassettes and endless loop cartridges for radio spots came onto the market in 1954. The first full-format cassettes were made by RCA in 1958 for home use and the compact cassette (what most users think of as a typical "cassette") was invented by Philips in 1962 as part of the dictation machine.
The first pre-recorded reel tapes were offered in the USA in 1949 with 10 titles, including albums by Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx. In 1952 EMI started selling them in the UK. The tapes had 2 sides and were in mono only. But there were only about 300 titles, which were much more expensive than the LPs and appeared much later than the records.
The quality of tapes depended on the playback speed, the tape coating, the synchronization speed of the machine, and the quality and size of the tape heads. Due to the higher tape speed, the audio reel tape quickly became the format for audiophiles and professional recording studios. It was not entirely replaced until 1980 by intermediate digital methods and the DAT (Digital Audio Tape) which arrived in 1987.
The faster the playback speed of the tape, the better the quality reproduction, since the signal is recorded on a larger area of the tape (corresponding to today's bit rates). A possible dropout of a passage would not have too great an effect and would therefore be hardly audible. 3 3/4 inches/second (9.53 cm/second) and 7 1/2 inches/second (19.05 cm/second) are the speeds most commonly used on the pre-recorded tapes.
The heyday of pre-recorded reel-to-reel commercially-released audio tapes was in the United States in the mid-1960s, but the format was already being phased out by the end of the decade. The vinyl record dominated the market. The 8-track cartridge (aka the 8-track) and the cassette (aka compact cassette, MusiCassette or MC) were more practical, since no empty spool had to be threaded in. They were also more easily transportable and able to be played in the car as well as at home. But it wasn't until the introduction of the Dolby Noise Reduction system in 1973 that MC and 8-track with their improved sound became serious competition for the tape format.
Columbia House Record Club (CRC), one of the largest record clubs in the USA, offered pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes from 1960 to 1984. By the early 1970s, only CRC was still producing reel-to-reel tapes, as other companies narrowed their tape focus to MC and 8-track. Due to the continued decline in sales, it was no longer worthwhile even for Columbia House to offer reel-to-reel tapes in a large assortment, and in mid-1973 it was decided that only the most successful albums would be released on reel tape. Only 1/3 of all new releases in 1978 were offered on reel-to-reel, and then only selected titles until 1984.
ELO on Reel-to-Reel: No Answer and Electric Light Orchestra II were both available through normal music shops, manufactured by Magtec for United Artists Tapes. UA's suggested retail price of $7.98 for the reel-to-reel tape of Electric Light Orchestra II (one dollar more than the 8-track and cassette, and $2 more than the LP) was first listed in Billboard on July 28, 1973. (During the release of No Answer all three pricings columns in Billboard were blank, meaning that United Artists had not made a price recommendation.) The Magtec version of Electric Light Orchestra II (UST 040-C) was manufactured to be played at 7 1/2 inches/second, while the Columbia House version (UST 40, CRC's first ELO reel tape) played at 3 3/4 inches/second.
On December 29, 1973, when On The Third Day debuted at number 121 on the Billboard charts, it included a suggested price of $11.98 for a reel-to-reel tape. So, a tape edition was probably planned, but it never came out. Because of CRC's eventual reel tape monopolization and its decision to only release the most popular albums in this format, reel tapes of Eldorado, Face The Music and Olé ELO were also not released.
A New World Record, Out of the Blue, Discovery and ELO's Greatest Hits were all released on reel tapes. Neither UA nor CBS offered suggested retail prices in Billboard for these reel tapes because they were all CRC record club exclusives in this waning format, which had no further ELO releases as it faded into obsolescence.
The actual release dates of these reels remains unclear. Reels were typically released "later" after the other formats, as record companies wanted to see if the releases would be popular and reasonable sellers. The releases were probably weeks or months after the releases of the vinyl LPs and other tape formats. It remains nearly impossible to pinpoint actual release dates. The non-Columbia House releases of No Answer and Electric Light Orchestra II may have been released on the same day as the vinyl LPs, as this format was a normal format at the time.
The music on the reels is exactly the same as the vinyl LPs, with no as yet unidentified changes. Indeed, most of the reels were likely created directly from the LP masters, with no changes at all.
From 1980 only selected titles were to appear on reel-to-reel tape. Xanadu was an MCA product and therefore maybe not easy for Columbia to get a license. Time was also not in the selection.
Thus ends the publication history of E.L.O.'s pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes. From time to time they appear well cared for on eBay. Since buyers in the 1970s had to dig deeper into their pockets and listening to it was like a small celebration, it was clear that the tapes were almost always just neatly arranged on the shelves. That explains the good condition of almost all offered reel-to-reel tapes
There were reports of an unmarked Face The Music reel-to-reel appearing at one time, with some unique versions of the songs, but this is now believed to be a simple self-made recording of the vinyl LP (with some carefully done edits) and not any sort of official release.
Thus ends the publication history of ELO's pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes. From time to time they appear well-cared-for on eBay. Since buyers in the 1970s had to dig deeper into their pockets and listening to them was like a small celebration, it is clear that the tapes were almost always kept neatly arranged on the shelves. That explains the good condition of almost all offered reel-to-reel tapes.
This page is intended to be a complete record of Electric Light Orchestra's USA reel-2-reel tape releases. If you notice any errors or omissions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. We strive for accuracy.
Patrik Guttenbacher & Robert Porter