9 Valuable Cassette Tapes That Made Music History

From unreleased albums to iconic moments in music history, these are 9 valuable cassette tapes you don't want to rewind.

Published December 4, 2023
Man inserts cassette in retro tape player

If you just missed the cassette tape generation by a few years, like I did, then you know that heart-racing, gut-wrenching feeling when the tape deck snatches the cassette out of your hands for the first time. I definitely waited with bated breath, hoping that I hadn't just ruined my new-to-me vintage Sam Cooke cassette. Today, these valuable cassette tapes are the ones you can’t afford to sacrifice to the tape deck gods.

Be Kind and Don't Rewind These Valuable Cassette Tapes 

From artists you know and love to tracks you never knew existed, these are the valuable cassette tapes that put some platinum records to shame.

Valuable Cassette Tapes Value
"Man in the Mirror" Demo $30,000-$50,000
John Lennon 73 Recording $30,000-$40,000
The Smiths 83 Demo $22,664.68
2 Prince Cassette Tapes $10,000
Prince's The Black Album $8,750
Elvis Presley & His Parents Interveiw $7,170
Madonna 79 Recordings  $6,400
Prince's Rendition of "Happy Birthday" $5,120
Michael Jackson Pepsi Commercial Playback  $2,560

Original "Man in the Mirror" Demo: $30,000-$50,000

Today, people remember Michael Jackson for his many late-in-life controversies, but in the 1980s, he was the King of Pop. No one can deny that he was a master at his craft, and it’s why a demo tape of the single “Man in the Mirror” was estimated to be worth $30,000-$50,000 by auction house, Bonhams.

John Lennon 73 Recording: $30,000-$40,000

If there’s one thing that wouldn’t have been on our bingo cards in the 2020s, it was seeing The Beatles drop a new single. But the massive hype that’s come out of “Now and Then” explains exactly why a saucy John Lennon cassette recording from 1973 was estimated to be worth around $30,000-$40,000.

The Beatles recording

What can we say? Six decades later, Beatlemania still lives on.

The Smiths Original 83 Demo: $22,664.68

If you love early indie rock, then chances are you’ve got a soft spot for The Smiths. With only four albums to their name, they’re up there with the likes of Nirvana in terms of cult followings. Naturally, when something as special as an original demo tape from their first album went to auction, people’s ears perked up.

In 2022, a demo cassette from 1983 that included a folded-up piece of paper introducing the then-unknown band sold for $22,664.68.

Prince Cassette Tapes x2: $10,000

The first Prince cassette to hit this list is actually a pair of tapes from his estate. In 2017, they were auctioned off at Julien’s Auctions for $10,000. Only three songs appeared on the cassettes “Oliver’s House,” “Baby I’m a Star” and “She’s Always in My Hair.” Yet, the real driving force behind the lot wasn’t the cassettes themselves but a handwritten notebook with a few pages of Prince’s writing.

Prince's '87 The Black Album: $8,750

Prince was as notorious for his music as he was for his enigmatic and somewhat misanthropic personality. Only an artist who would rebrand himself as a symbol could have the gumption to pull an entire album from sale just before it was set to be released. One lucky auctioneer was able to snatch a 1987 promo cassette of the infamous The Black Album in 2017 for $8,750.

What makes this such a remarkable score? Only one known copy exists. Fans who vacation at Paisley Park every year might know the rerelease story, but only a fair few have gotten to listen to the original 87 cut.

Early Interview With Elvis Presley & His Parents: $7,170

From Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis to Sophia Coppola’s Priscilla, Elvis Presley has been getting more press in recent years than in the past few decades combined. Take a second to think about the booming Elvis impersonator industry, and you can understand how anything even remotely connected to his life would be a big-ticket auction item.

Interview Recording of Elvis Presley and His Parents 1956

That’s how this cassette recording of an unassuming interview featuring Elvis and his parents in 1956 — the same year his first album was released — came to auction and sold for $7,170 in 2007. That comes out to $10,639.43 today.

Madonna 79 Recordings: $6,400

Years before she shocked MTV with her “Like a Virgin” wedding dress performance, Madonna moved to NYC hoping to launch her modern dance career. Just one year later, in 1979, she cut a few acoustic tracks for a potential bassist to audition with in one of her many short-lived bands.

From his hands to his girlfriend’s, the cassette eventually ended up at Julien’s Auctions, where it sold for $6,400. Who wouldn’t love a look into Madonna’s musical infancy?

Prince's Rendition of "Happy Birthday": $5,120

We’re not surprised that Prince is a frequent flyer on this list. He was a prolific creator and left a goldmine of material behind. One of these secret pieces of his legacy was a personal rendition of “Happy Birthday” for his bandmate Mayte Garcia’s celebration.

Although it can’t take the top spot for the most recognized cover of “Happy Birthday” (Happy Birthday, Mr. President…need we say more?), it’s an incredible look into Prince’s personal life and artistic ingenuity. Naturally, when the cassette came to Julien’s Auctions, it sold for an impressive $5,120.

Michael Jackson Pepsi Commercial Playback Cassette: $2,560

There were many newsworthy moments in Michael Jackson’s career, but one that still lives on in meme culture today is the infamous Pepsi commercial. Yup, that one. The one where Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire thanks to ill-timed pyrotechnics.

Michael Jackson Attends Pepsi Press Conference

One unusual artifact from this iconic moment in music history is the cassette tape with the studio-mastered playback tracks for the 1985 commercial. Anything one-of-a-kind related to a celebrity with Jackson’s notoriety always sells well. It’s why the cassette sold for $2,560 in 2010.

You Don’t Want to Rewind These Cassette Tapes

Music fans are unpredictable in the things they’ll snub at auction and the stuff they’ll go ga-ga over. Despite not needing to massacre your car’s tape deck to play the latest tunes from your iPod, cassette tapes live on. Though, these are the special kind of tapes you want to keep as far away from your old Corolla as possible.

9 Valuable Cassette Tapes That Made Music History