/

Mixtapes and Memories

118 views

For as big of a music geek as I am, I ought to spend my more time in my music (and comic book) room.

My cats, Venus and Pandora, spend far more time there.

More often, as is the case right now, Venus hangs out there while, across the hall, I’m in my office tapping away at the computer keyboard.

We like it here. And, we’re just saying:
A cat-toy collection? Would make a great addition.

When I do venture in, I can spend hours going through the contents – visual, aural or both.

Recently, a small box caught my eye. It was a minuscule collection of cassette tapes I’ve kept. I have upward of a thousand LP’s, 45’s and CD’s. But cassettes… just didn’t hold the same aesthetic appeal.

As soon as I had the technology to convert the cassettes to digital files, I tossed them with no regret.

Except for this box:

… Of mixtapes.

Both Pauly and Phylum have written about their experiences with mixtapes. As I looked through this box, I realized it might be worth sharing the few stories from the ones I’d kept.

In truth, I only created some of them, and I wasn’t the intended audience for any of them.

Maybe that’s why they made the cut when the other cassettes didn’t.

“Our Tape for Mom’s 50th.”
In 1992, when my mother turned 50, my brother, sister and I solicited stories from her siblings and her longtime friends.

We then took turns narrating them, a la Casey Kasem’s “Long-Distance Dedications,” and playing the songs the friends requested for Mom’s tape. The last three stories were ours:

  • My brother dedicating Three Dog Night’s Shambala (a song that soundtracked our summer of ’73) and two with more obvious meanings
  • My sister dedicating Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life
  • … and me dedicating Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.

“Tape for Thomas”
It would be easy to tell that this was way early in our relationship because I was oh-so-seriously calling him by his full name (something I never do today).

I mentioned in my reply to Phylum’s column that I had made mixtapes for us each year of our first 21, but not the more recent years – both because he wasn’t as much a Top 40 fan.

And because, by this time, neither was I.

For our 30th in November, I gave him a digital frame and two flash drives full of pictures from three decades. No music, though.

“The Redesign, Part III: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Press”

This is an artifact of an era gone by.

One of my then-colleagues at The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., created these mixtapes for three straight years in the early to mid-‘90s, capturing lots of newsroom stories via carefully selected songs. The songs are a much more eclectic mix than what I tended to put in my collections.

“The Gary Tape”

Another keeper for the same reasons – more diverse, adventurous and bitterly funny, this is a collection that a friend created after a breakup. There’s “The Slightly Less Harsh Side” and “The Harsh Side.”

One of my favorites, “Faith Formation, Vol. 2,” is so despite its anodyne title and fairly obvious, middle-of-the-road selections.

Not long after moving from the Midwest to Raleigh, N.C., in 1993, I knew that the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi would be my spiritual home. At the time, the pastor, a Franciscan friar, personally interviewed prospective parishioners. I decided I needed to know right away if I would be fully welcome, so I came out in the interview.

His response? Something to the effect of:

“We have lots of volunteer opportunities at St. Francis.

Have you ever thought about being a catechist?”

What?

A year later, I was.

One hallmark of our seventh-grade faith formation classes was the music that my co-catechist and I played at the end of each week’s session. We purposely selected contemporary music to matched the themes we explored. At year’s end, we gathered the songs and gave a tape to each student.

Mixtapes and memories.

What stories do your mixtapes hold?

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “heart” upvote!”

8

Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (8 legal).

Subscribe
Notify of
23 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
January 23, 2023 7:49 am

That’s great that you were able to hold on to those old tapes. Are you still able to play them?

As far as actual cassettes go, I don’t have any old mixes. I tried to recreate some of my old favorites made by friends via mp3 playlists, but they are only rough approximations.

The notion of recording vocals from a mic was a whole other world that cassettes brought to mixes. I think the only time I did that was an intro for a mix, with me reading Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” in the voice of Jeremy Irons. Don’t ask.

Note: The Gary Tape sounds like a legitimate rap album name. Also like something mt might record some day…

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
January 23, 2023 8:17 am

Hmm…

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
January 23, 2023 9:59 am

I’ve just recently pulled out my box of cassettes and have started digitizing them. Most are live recordings of my bands over the years but some are mix tapes. I’m in the office today so I can’t give you a list of anything interesting. I’ll have a look when I get home.

However, I remember that one is my wife’s from before we met. It’s mostly disco from the 70s but also has Steve Forbert’s “Romeo’s Tune,” a song I’ve always liked.

Those of you with a punk background may remember a song called “Sex Bomb” by Flipper. WMBR, the radio station at MIT, had a contest where they asked for listeners to record their own version of “Sex Bomb” and send it in. I don’t remember what the prize was but I didn’t win. However, they played all the submissions on the radio and I recorded many of them. It’s a very strange mix tape.

I just went aGoogling for it and found only this paragraph: “In 1983 the audience was put to work for the Sex Bomb Contest. Listeners were asked to do their own version of Flipper’s Sex Bomb. The submissions went from weird to very, very weird. One can only wonder what T Max’s neighbors thought of him bellowing ‘Sex Bomb, BABY’ for twenty minutes to the rhythm of squeaking bed springs.

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
January 23, 2023 10:47 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Alas, the mattress megamix is not on YouTube…

thegue
Member
Famed Member
thegue
Offline
January 23, 2023 11:06 am
Reply to  Virgindog

“Romeo’s Tune” is an underrated forgotten CLASSIC.

I’m going to go listen to it (and Bernie Higgins’ “Key Largo”) as a result of this reminder!

As for mixed tapes, I’ve posted copies of a few I made in the 80s and 90s, but since I can’t listen to those, I’ll share with you this song:

https://youtu.be/WdW48xSbb9s

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
January 23, 2023 11:23 am
Reply to  thegue

For reasons that will likely only apply to me, these songs remind of this:

https://youtu.be/GzZr4F9V-fo

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
January 24, 2023 7:42 am
Reply to  mt58

Romeo’s Tune? Bernie Higgins? Cool Night? I’m loving this collection.

Aaron3000
Member
Famed Member
Aaron3000
Offline
January 23, 2023 10:55 am

Good stuff, Chuck!

But I can’t be the only one who saw “The Gary Tape” and thought it was an Easter egg planted there by mt58, until I read the rest of the article… ☺️

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
January 23, 2023 11:07 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

You’re not the only one.  😀 

dutchg8r
Member
Famed Member
dutchg8r
Offline
January 24, 2023 9:26 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Me three. 😁

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
January 23, 2023 11:36 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

Oh. Look.

What a surprise. It’s another new project.

Great. So much for me leaving on time for my Pilates class.

g2.png
JJ Live At Leeds
Member
Famed Member
January 23, 2023 1:00 pm

Great stuff Chuck and cool how they all have stories behind them so that they’re about more than just the music. I am intrigued as to what is on the The Gary Tape – especially the harsh side.

I got rid of my cassettes sometime in the early 00s. They didn’t get played, took up space and I decided not to be sentimental about them. There were a few mixtapes that had been made for me, such as from an ex girlfriend but I can’t say I miss them. CDs I largely got rid of a few years ago, made a few hundred pounds selling them off as again they weren’t listened to having gone digital.

Whereas even though I haven’t had a turntable for a long time I’ve hung onto my vinyl with no intention of letting it go. It just feels more personal and more of a treasured possession.

One thing I didn’t like about mixtapes was trying to squeeze the full artist and song title onto that line on the little card. Perhaps a little anal but it had to have the full credit and my handwriting is illegible to others at the best of times. It was alright if there were spare lines but I always crammed as much as possible onto a C90 which meant they weren’t often available.

blu_cheez
Member
Noble Member
blu_cheez
Offline
January 23, 2023 4:39 pm

Don’t know how your back can deal with the comic long boxes – I had to give up the ghost & switch to short boxes about 15 years ago.

Pauly Steyreen
Member
Famed Member
Pauly Steyreen
Online Now
January 24, 2023 1:01 am

I still have all my old mixtapes (as well as my fairly extensive cassette collection) in my shed. I was a late adopter of CD’s, so from my first cassette in 2nd grade (Michael Jackson Thriller, natch!) until I was a sophomore in college, I only bought and consumed music by cassette. Even after culling the herd, I still have over 120 cassettes, about 1/3 of which are mixtapes or dubs from friends (shhh!). I barely have a means of listening to them, but I can’t bring myself to throw them out. My son will probably he left with that duty when I die.

Anyway my mixtapes are mostly ones my friends from high school and college made for me. All are well worn and full of memories I still revisit (on YouTube Music). I also kept mixtapes of my own music I brought to Nepal. I was told CD players were hard to come by, so I recorded all my favorite CD’s (some full discs, some song-by-song) on tape so I could listen during my Peave Corps stint. Also have several live recordings of Archers of Loaf concerts, including some early rarities.

Anyway, I gave at least as much as I received… I recorded no telling how many dozens of mixtapes for friends or girls I wanted to impress (never worked… I think my wife fell for me in spite of the music lol!).

A buddy of mine and I just last week were reminiscing about the process of making a mixtape back in the day. If you didn’t calculate right, your last song on a side could get cut off before it finished. Then you had to go back and record a shorter song over it… then you had to record dead air over the remaining seconds, or you’d have a little snippet of your previous song hiding there. A mistake I made before…

Of course I kept doing this with CD’s eventually, and I have many mixes from friends and many I made as well. All the ones I made for my future wife returned to my collection when our music merged… they were hit or miss (mostly hit!)

I think the last one I made was for our wedding… music to play while the band took a break. It was about 1/4 Rat Pack and 3/4 boleros or other old classics from Mexico — mainly from Luis Miguel, though one Chavela Vargas song is the star of that CD.

https://youtu.be/PtenL7GCa04

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
January 24, 2023 12:43 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

“I recorded no telling how many dozens of mixtapes for friends or girls I wanted to impress (never worked… I think my wife fell for me in spite of the music lol!).”

Concur on both counts! I made some damn good romantic mixes, but never good enough to actually help me woo.

And yeah, my wife was good enough to see past a lot of obnoxious music and find something to work with.

Once we started going out, though, I made a few romantic mixes that she really appreciated when we were long-distance.

So maybe the magic of the mix is not in the initial lean toward romance, but to strengthen what’s there once action has been taken.

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
January 24, 2023 8:13 am

I was always holier-than-cassette, so of the 50-75 cassettes that I still have in a box, only about 3 of them are pre-recorded store bought ones.

In my middle school/high school years I made a series of about 10 mixtapes that I frequently replayed. My senior year of high school I dated a girl and made about 10 mixtapes for her in the space of 12 months…I still have all of my copies of those. Then in my #1 hit collecting phase, I made a series of tapes with the #1 hits in chronological order. I made it from “Rock Around the Clock” to somewhere around 1973. They all had colorful homemade inserts with detailed song credits. Then recordable CDs made cassettes feel especially passe.

I have digitized some of my cassettes! Digitizations of some of my recordings of jingles and commercials (like Linda Ronstadt singing about Diet Coke) are wonderful additions to my music collection.

It’s funny, for as much as I didn’t like the cassette format, there are times that the thought of the design of a Maxell paper insert or the color theme of a TDK label brings the odd rush of nostalgia.

dutchg8r
Member
Famed Member
dutchg8r
Offline
January 24, 2023 9:25 am

Do songs recorded off the radio count as mix tapes? Mix tapes to me were purposely constructed, but I had many more Mix cd’s that I compiled than I ever created Mix tapes. I tried to hold onto the ones I taped off the radio for nostalgic reasons as long as I could, but I think they eventually got trashed in the move/escape from FL 13 years ago.

It was a weird sense of accomplishment to be able to time out songs to maximize the tape/cd without a bunch of dead space or cutting songs off, wasn’t it? “Huzzah, I have conquered you and your cassette realm, I found a 2 minute 20 second song that would fit, nyah-nyah…”

Clicking “add to playlist” is just so boring these days, lol.

thegue
Member
Famed Member
thegue
Offline
January 24, 2023 9:39 am

Back to join this amazing discussion…

  1. I made a whole collection of mixed tapes for the British Embassy bar in Damascus (The Pig and Whistle). One of the first times I hung out there, I noticed they only played two mixed tapes made locally, and the musical choice was…weak. On my own I created one, called it “Spank! The Best of the Pig and Whistle, Volume 1”, and the creating of mixed tapes became a thing. A few of us would get together at my apartment, excitedly pick a few songs for the 90 minute tape, and roll it out on Tuesday night, when the bar was open. Eventually I was recruited to make tapes for the German bar (Wednesday nights), American bar (every other Friday night), and I really enjoyed making them. I still have half the collection from Spank!, though the German version (Der Spank!) I imagine are long gone.
  2. I also used to make mixed tapes for the ex-fiancée in Norwich. Every time I’d fly across the Atlantic I’d have a new collection of tapes for her – she was delighted in my choice of music (you’ll notice how big British indie rock is on my Top 40/50 Alt Rock songs from this period 2004-07), and it was a small way to share my appreciation of her. I don’t have any of those, for obvious reasons….
  3. I shared a few pictures of the mixed tapes I made in the late 80s/early 90s while in college and living on my own for the first time.
  4. I doubt any of these could be played, 30 years later? I am planning on creating Spotify playlists based on these…someday.
dutchg8r
Member
Famed Member
dutchg8r
Offline
January 24, 2023 11:25 am
Reply to  thegue

VDog!!! Band name alert!!!

“Der Spank”

TLeo
Member
Active Member
TLeo
Offline
January 24, 2023 4:14 pm

Like you, Chuck, I ditched most of my cassettes. But I still have all the mixtapes. I put too much work into them, and they hold too many memories — even though I can’t tell you the last time I popped one into the cassette player (yes, I have one, though it’s not hooked up to the receiver!).

Also, I think there are a handful of songs that STILL aren’t available digitally, though I haven’t checked in awhile …

TLeo
Member
Active Member
TLeo
Offline
January 24, 2023 4:16 pm

Also, can I say once again that mt’s graphics are AMAZING?

mt, I know you’re a private guy, but I hope you are/have made a living as a designer. You’re extremely talented.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
January 27, 2023 12:48 pm

When I send graduation cards, I make sure not to write in cursive.

23
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x