Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cassette culture

A new book, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, edited by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, explores the mix tape art form and laments its demise. Check out the review at Salon.com (you may have to watch an ad first).

In the days of my youth, I was an inveterate, mix-tape connoisseur, regularly mixing tapes of the best music from my record collection for my friends. Quite often they would return the favour. Sometimes the motivation was musical evangelism, other times it was to impress a girl.

Nowadays, the music I listen to is almost exclusively digital. For the most part, the core albums of my record collection have been upgraded to CD, some of them more than once, as the record companies repeatedly milk the upgrade cycle for all its worth by releasing a continuing stream of remasters and special editions.

After picking up a cassette deck at a garage sale last Saturday, I was looking forward to listening to some of my old mix tapes. Unfortunately, despite the assurances of the vendor, the tape deck did not work when I got it home.

In my view, the mix tape is a lost art form. A lot of love and attention goes into a good mix tape. From the careful selection of the music, to ensuring the right sentiments, to the song flow, to the transitions and finally to the packaging, whether it be a cool magazine photo montage, calligraphic script or chicken-scratch lettering. Dragging MP3s to an iPod list or burning them to a CD is not quite the same.

Although my best work has all been given away, I do have several mix tapes on hand. The set list of one of them follows below – a veritable musical time capsule.

Blood & Guts mix tape circa 1985

Side A

  1. Too Much Blood (Rolling Stones)
  2. Fun It (Queen)
  3. Smile Away (Paul McCartney)
  4. Panic in Detroit (David Bowie)
  5. Dangerous Rhythm (Ultravox)
  6. China Girl (Iggy Pop)
  7. Perspective (Peter Gabriel)
  8. Road To Nowhere (Talking Heads)
  9. This World Over (XTC)

Side B

  1. Night Train (James Brown)
  2. D.M.S.R. (Prince)
  3. Tenderness (General Public)
  4. E=mc2 (Big Audio Dynamite)
  5. Another Sad Story (The Boomtown Rats)
  6. Concrete Jungle (The Specials)
  7. Spiritual Healing (Toots & The Maytals)
  8. Close To Me (The Cure)
  9. Passion (Tulpa)
  10. One World (Dire Straits)

If you have a good mix tape kicking around, why not share the set list with us in the comment section.

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