If you type “What is the longest pre-recorded compact cassette?” into Google search, you will be presented with a single entry, asked by someone on Reddit two years ago and receiving no answers.
Using tools like Discogs does not help much: you can search for a match, but not for inequality or for highest value, not all releases have track duration specified, and there is no field for a total release duration.
I looked around the cassettes I have, most of the pre-recorded ones are 40 to 45 minutes long, or 20 to 23 minutes per side, which is not surprising: they match a vinyl record, which for a long time has been the standard medium for music releases. I even have a couple of 46-minute blanks intended for dubbing a complete album.
Some releases have a “double length” mark like this rock-n-roll compilation. For example, a Time-Life cassette release of Rock-n-Roll Era, 1954–1955, is 60-minute long. This duration may be considered double length only when compared to early rock-n-roll albums, like The Beatles’ 32-minute Please, Please Me.
Maybe I should look to classical releases for longer running time. The Best of Italian Opera, 67 minutes. The Grieg’s greatest hits, digitally mastered and recorded on a chrome tape, 73 minutes.
Here is a real double-length release, two albums on a single cassette: Oxygene and Equinoxe by Jean-Michel Jarre. Each of these albums is just shy of 40 minutes, so this is almost 80 minutes of playtime. Now we are talking!
After CDs have replaced LPs, albums became longer. Some CD releases even went above the official 74 minute limit, pushing the envelope all the way to 90 minutes. These CDs make use of the tolerances in CD specification and may not play on older or less precise machines, so few artists are willing to take the risk. For example, Pink Floyd’s The Wall has never been officially released on a single CD despite clocking at relatively safe 81 minutes. On another hand, its cassette release comes on just one cassette.
I’ve got a Jesus Christ Superstar twin-pack or a two-album set on a single cassette. The release date is cut off, but judging by the catalog number it was made in 1973, which was already a re-release, the rock opera was first released in 1970. It is 87 minutes long, and it is all here, on one cassette. It still plays just fine, but compared to later pre-recorded tapes, it has too much hiss — no Dolby noise reduction — and its frequency range is quite narrow; this is immediately noticeable when you compare it to something like a digitally-mastered recording on chrome or cobalt tape from the early 1990s — there is no contest.
Another Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production — the Cats musical — was released in 1981 in the U.K. and in 1983 in the U.S. The American version has Broadway cast, it is 1 hour 41 minutes long and comes on two cassettes, nothing special. The U.K. version was recorded with the original London cast, it is slightly shorter, 1 hour 35 minutes, but it was released on just one cassette! This is the longest pre-recorded cassette that I have, 95 minutes!
I would be extremely surprised if out of all the titles ever released this indeed were the longest, so please let me know if you know about a longer single-cassette release.