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December, Day 9: Old School DIY Gift – Mixtapes

9.December 2010

Back in middle school, I came into possession of a boombox that featured a CD player (FANCY) and a double tape deck.  I also began to have major crushes.  You know what came next.  Mixtapes.  Mind you, this was pre-CD burning, pre-iPods, pre-memory sticks, pre-digital music.  We didn’t have a lot to work with.  My music collection was also composed almost entirely of Classical music and showtunes.  Let me tell you, that made for some pretty bleak mixtapes.  So, I often waited around, radio tuned to 96.1 FM (the cool radio station of the time) just waiting for a song to come on in order to hit the record button and almost always missing the first fifteen seconds or so of a song.

Things got better in high school when I started buying my own CDs and found some people with pretty rad taste in music (Jen and Ellen, I’m looking at you!) who had a real knack for putting together a mixtape (I remember one that included a Tori Amos cover of “I don’t like Mondays” and a live version of  The Cure’s “Just like Heaven” that I’ve never yet been able to replace.  That tape was epic.  I actually just about wore it out during the Summer after graduation.)

And in college I met Kelly, who was a DJ at our college radio station and has really eclectic taste in music and is always about 9 months ahead of the curve.  She put Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” on a tape right next to Ferlinghetti reading some poem, which I think was totally brilliant.  And her radio show’s theme tune was Röyksopp.  I’m still pretty sure I’m not actually cool enough to be her friend.  (She also made a pretty kicking mix CD for the Girls during our amazing epic vacation this summer.)

My point is, some of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received were carefully thought out mixtapes (and evenutally CDs) made for me by people who knew what I would be in the mood for, even when I didn’t know myself.  What I’m suggesting is that you consider making a mix CD (or playlist or whatever the kids are doing these days – are the kids even still making mixes for each other?)

In the immortal words of Rob Gordon, from High Fidelity (the ultimate mixtape movie):

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Anyway, before you sit down to make a mix, you need to know what you’re getting into.  Set aside twice as much time as you think you’ll need. (Thankfully, at least, the days of dual tape decks are past, so we don’t have to sit through each song while recording.)  I also recommend coming up with a theme to guide you.  For instance, for a mix that Dan and I gave my sister a couple years ago, we took our inspiration from The Office (the original one) and David Brent’s brilliant song “Freelove Freeway” and those old commercials for compilations like “Power Ballads Gold” that always came on during Golden Girls reruns in the 90’s.  We interspersed the songs with audio clips from the show – memorable lines and funny sound effects.  (The full playlist minus the audio clips is after the jump.)  Or you might choose an artist or a decade as your inspiration.  Or maybe you’re like Kelly and you already know exactly what to do.

So, tell me, what was your most memorable mixtape music discovery?  Who gave you the best mixtape ever?  What are you putting on a mixtape this year?

The Office Party Mix – Volumes I and II

  1. We Built This City (On Rock and Roll) – Jefferson Starship
  2. Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Deep Blue Something
  4. Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
  5. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  6. Kyrie – Mr. Mister
  7. My Sharona – The Knack
  8. Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
  9. Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams
  10. The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby and The Range
  11. Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane
  12. Free Love Freeway – David Brent (from The Office)
  13. Africa – Toto
  14. Punk Pop Song – Tactful Cactus
  15. Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) – Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel
  16. Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
  17. Feel Good, Inc. – Gorillaz
  18. More Than a Feeling – Boston
  19. Hey Ya! – Outkast
  20. You and Me Song – The Wannadies
  21. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
  22. Deeply Dippy – Right Said Fred
  23. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
  24. Damn, It Feels Good To Be a Gangsta – Geto Boys
  25. Walking on Broken Glass – Annie Lennox
  26. Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas
  27. Overkill – Men at Work
  28. Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
  29. Video Killed the Radio Star – The Buggles
  30. Since You’ve Been Gone – Rainbow
  31. Magic Dance – David Bowie
  32. Tribute – Tenacious D
  33. 99 Red Balloons – Goldfinger
  34. (My Angel is a) Centerfold – J. Geils Band
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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Frauke permalink
    9.December 2010 10:10

    This brings back memories! Back in the day, I had a notebook in which I planned mix tapes according to mood, who it was for, how long, what occasion. Best mix tape came from my best friend from high school; it included (among others) “Free Falling”by Tom Petty, “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, “When you come back down” by Nickel Creek and “Hotel California” by the Eagles. Add: big crush on pretty boy, just gotten your driver’s license, summer = awesome!

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      9.December 2010 10:17

      Yeah – there was something magical about driving around in the summer listening to mixtapes, wasn’t there? Makes me mourn the Grand Marquis with its tape deck.

  2. 9.December 2010 11:25

    Ohhhh mannn, this post brings back memories. I know it was slightly annoying (perhaps in retrospect, now that mixes are creatable at lightning laser speed) to listen through each song in order to make a mix, but to me the taking time was one of the best things. You had to *craft* it.

    I remember sitting by my parents’ cd/tape/record player (yes, a turntable), fingers poised on the right buttons, waiting for the right instant. Remember how the tapes were only a certain length (literally, because its the physical tape wound inside), so you had to time the mix perfectly to fit? Ah, such memories.

  3. 9.December 2010 11:29

    I hate to say it, but I never made mix tapes, just mix CDs.

    A warning, though: Ryan and I once made a mix CD for various car rides, including highly stupid songs that were also brilliant (a la The Office Mix). But as we started listening to it in his driveway, he got distracted and reversed his VW Golf into a brick pillar in front of his house.

    Music is dangerous, man.

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      9.December 2010 11:31

      That’s because you’re a wee ickle little BABY. But yes, beware the power of ironic mix CDs to distract while driving!

  4. 9.December 2010 12:24

    Mix”tape” discovery: Holiday mixes that include a large amount of non-traditional holiday songs. For example: Dido “Christmas Day,” Enya “Trains and Winter Rains,” Weepies “All that I want,” Beau dommage (Québecois folk group) “23 décembre,” Charlie (French) “Le sapin,” etc. etc. Including some instrumental music in your holiday mix is also a good idea.

  5. 9.December 2010 20:28

    “So, I often waited around, radio tuned to 96.1 FM (the cool radio station of the time) just waiting for a song to come on in order to hit the record button and almost always missing the first fifteen seconds or so of a song.” The fact that I just wiped away tears from laughing after reading this must mean that I can clearly remember this very experience, although my radio was tuned to 92 PRO FM. Experienced many a twisted ankle en route to the radio…

    We’re on the same wave length here. I spent Friday evening downloading music and making a mix for my favorite Anglophile. xo

  6. 10.December 2010 12:30

    What a great post. I just pulled my record player out for my kids to discover. They were in wonder that you had to take the time to sit down and listen to music….. Ah, the good old days…..

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