I used to make mixed tapes. Honest-to-goodness mixed tapes. Remember those? Each side of the tape held 45 minutes of music, so we had to time each song to make sure it all fit. Sometimes it wouldn’t fit on one side, so we had to adjust which song we wanted last on that side, so that it would fit and we wouldn’t look stupid when the recipient of the tape realized we had run out of space. So, it took timing, but it also took real vision in recognizing the songs that naturally went together. Which song would start, which song would end, and how would the natural flow happen. Now, some mixed tapes were better or easier to make than others, because the themes drove what you could do with them.
The easiest theme was, of course, love. There are so many love songs out there, or what I call “near love” songs, that finding the right combination was less than complex. For example, an eighties love mix: “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner is a perfect opener. A good closer would be “With or Without You” by U2. Then you fill in the middle with songs like “Love in an Elevator,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” “The Girl is Mine,” and “Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car).” Other simple themes included loss, hate, relationships, or specialized themes. I once made a series of 14 tapes with the theme, “A Big Time in the Real World.” The first song on the compilation was “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel, and the song that closed out the 14 volume opus was “Real World” by Matchbox Twenty.
We would trade the tapes like they were candy. Some people would meticulously write every single song title and artist down on the tape case liner so we would know what they were if we wanted to get other music from that artist. Others of us would write nothing down on the liner, and initiate the guessing game. Still others would have titles for their tapes, and hence themes, but no liner notes. Regardless of the method of labeling/no labeling, getting each tape in the mail was like a little bit of Christmas all over again. I would put on those majorly big headphones (beats by dre ain’t got nothing on those mega-headphones), plug into the boombox and just drift on the sea that was a brand new mixed tape. It was full of new possibilities, new artists, and a musical journey that was unrivaled at the time.
Then it all stopped. Tapes became nearly obsolete, and the network of mixed tape traders ground to a sudden halt. I was left wondering if something like it would ever be seen again, and I was also left with a bevy of mixed tapes I had made that never got sent out. Sometimes I still listen to them when I’m lonely for the old days. But you know how the story went, though. A couple of months later the CD became writable by mere humans, CD-drives became the norm on computers, and music was downloadable, all bastions of the new world that had come: the mixed CD. Unlike the mixed tape, though, the mixed CD didn’t take quite as much work, and therefore it didn’t have as much fulfillment when one was finished. You didn’t have to sit there and listen to each song as they played, waiting to be able to stop it when the song was finished, but before the next song started. There was no chance of running out of space with a song unfinished either, which was both satisfying and disconcerting at the same time. That was one of the joys of the mixed tape.
Now there are things like Spotify that have you make playlists for others to listen to and share, but it’s still not the same. It seems like in each incarnation something is lost, and I really miss the mixed tape, the joy of it all. I want to trade them like in the old days, and while I realize it’s not coming back, maybe the mixed CD might be something we could bring back. My friend Ashley and I traded a couple of mixed CDs a couple of years ago and it was amazing. It brought back some good memories. So, anyway, what I’m saying is that we should bring them back. Are you with me? Maybe we could start trading again soon? Let me know. I’ll be sitting here listening to Kate Nash.