I’m showing my age (and my geekiness) a bit here, but I’ve been thinking about cassette tapes quite a bit recently. No, seriously, I have.
I loved cassettes. In fact, I still have two large boxes full of them taking up valuable CD and DVD storage space in my room, but I’m strangely reluctant to get rid of them. And, somewhere or other, I still have a Sony Walkman (of the cassette variety) in full working order. It’s a cute little thing too; matte silver and about the size of a tape case, and still the best personal stereo I’ve ever owned.
I guess it might end up being a collectors item now that Sony have finally discontinued the cassette Walkman after thirty years on the market, but I won’t be putting it up for sale on eBay, despite this slightly disconcerting little snippet of information:
There is a bloke currently selling blank cassettes on eBay: unopened TDK MA-R C60s, to be exact. Before you take this as further proof that eBay is the great car-boot sale of cyberspace, it is worth mentioning that unopened TDK MA-R C60s don’t reside in the sad hinterland of 0 bids and 0 watchers. They are going for £75. Each.
Blimey. Run that figure past me again? £75? My precious Walkman didn’t even cost £75! For that much money, you’d be looking at some serious tunes – that’s probably the best mix tape in the world… ever.
And when it comes to great mix tapes, dammit, I’m the queen of them all. Just ask my friends. Everyone has their own set of random, esoteric skills, and one of mine is the compilation of brilliant mix tapes. I firmly believe that there is a true art to putting together a great compilation – and that quickly burning a thrown-together CD is just not the same.
In the article I quoted above, Alexis Petridis gets right to the nub of this contrast between mix tapes and CDs:
Cassettes are a reminder of a lost age, when you had to work a bit harder to be a music fan. You couldn’t make a compilation by disinterestedly dragging and burning in iTunes. You actually had to sit and listen to the music you were recording, noting down track titles on an inlay card as you went – which meant you really had to like what you were taping.
Petridis is spot on there (and I recommend you read the rest of his article; it is a small but delicious nostalgia trip for those who, like me, spent a large chunk of the 1990s with the radio on loud and a finger on the pause button of a much-used cassette deck), although I would add my own recollections to these almost Proustian memories of home taping.
Recollections like desperately hunting for a really short track to fill the few minutes that would always be left at the end of each side of the cassette, or spending hours neatly writing out tracklistings and an explanation of why I had chosen each song in purple or red ink on A4 refill pad paper.
If you’re going to make a kick-ass mix tape though, you’ve got to like the person you’re compiling the tape for. Personally, I’ve only ever made mix tapes for people I think are really cool. You’ve got to know them well enough to have at least an idea of what sort of music they might appreciate (or not, as the case may be). Are they going to like a tape full of obscure indie? Or classic thrash metal? Or brand new funky house tunes? Or a mixture of everything?
Although the whole point of a mix tape is to share the tunes you love with others, it is crucial to remember the tastes of the tape’s recipient at all times. I work on the principle that if I know someone likes a particular band or artist, there will always be other (often similar or connected) bands and artists they will probably like too.
Personally, the best mix tapes I’ve ever recieved have managed to achieve that, as well as cunningly combining lots of new tunes with a few classics that I know (and love) well – so even if I don’t like some of the new tunes on the tape, at least there’s something I do like on there somewhere and I’m more likely to listen to it all the way through!
If you’re feeling really flashy, you could even theme your mix tape. In the past, I’ve done themed tapes of brilliant cover versions, of political songs, and of my favourite tracks from a specific year. In picking a theme, you’re really only limited by your imagination.
You could put together genre-themed mix tapes, or compile a tape full of covers of, say, Bob Dylan tracks (I can think of at least half a dozen off the top of my head!), or songs with a sporting theme, or a collection of the best film soundtrack moments, or even a tape of tracks that have been banned by the BBC over the years, should you be feeling controversial.
I could go on forever. In fact, the simple act of writing this post has stirred up a mass of nostalgic feelings for the music I grew up on, and happy memories of sitting cross-legged on the floor by my much-loved second-hand stereo, surrounded by CDs and cassettes, and attempting to figure out whether I could get away with putting The Clash on a tape after a classic house tune…
And on that nostalgic note, it’s over to you, my music-mad readers, as I am sure many of you have practiced the art of mix tape making – how did you approach the compilation of a truly great mix tape?
And here’s a little challenge for you too: I’m handing out virtual C60s and I want you to compile your ultimate mix tape for me. Genres, themes, tracklisting – all up to you.
Post your playlists here, and feel free to let me know the reasoning behind your choices too, if you wish!
I look forward to your selections!