Mix Tapes

How many of us tried to win a potential significant other’s heart with a Mix Tape? In the cassette era, mix tapes gave us our first control over our own playlists.

John Cusack as Rob in the film High Fidelity famously said, “You gotta kick it off with a killer, to grab attention. Then, you gotta take it up a notch. But, you don’t want to blow your wad, so you gotta cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

For us radio people, that line sounds familiar. Like the ultimate format clock, a great mix tape holds the listener’s attention with the right music at the right time.

But let’s begin at the beginning.

Some of us may have actually had an encounter like the cartoon at left. In an age where music magically appears on a smart device, it’s hard for some youngsters to believe that, once upon a time, we spent our money on expensive electronics that used a revolving flat plastic disc to render our favorite songs.

An iconic Marantz Stereo Receiver

Most started out with a portable record player, perhaps graduated to an integrated stereo system where all the components were in one box and then moved up to a component arrangement that was worth more than the car you drove. Names like Marantz, The Fisher, Sansui & McIntosh (not the computer) were coveted brands. Often times, we’d put together a receiver, tape deck, turntable and speakers that were each made by different companies. And the bigger the better! How cool you were sometimes paralleled the size of your speaker cabinets and whether or not you had one of those way cool reel to reel tape decks.

Sony’s wide array of tape recorders, circa 1975.

Mix tapes were carefully crafted back then, created from a thoughtful review of our collection of 33 1/3 albums and the 45 rpm singles we bought our favorite record store after consulting the latest music guide from our favorite radio station. In the car, we might have sprung for electronics to replace the AM-only receivers with the pristine sounds of FM. Some of the more adventurous among us might even have added reverb units to simulate stereo sound with the often static prone AM signals that were the mainstay of our youth. Along the evolutionary way, 8 track tapes had a brief vogue. Even though they played at only 1 7/8 inches per second, versus the 7 1/2 ips format that was the broadcast standard, we put up with the artifacts, just to be able to listen to our favorite albums on the road.

The Sony Walkman

By the early 1970s, cassettes had come to the fore and it was only a matter of time until the machines that played them became convenient handheld devices, a precursor to today’s smart devices. Most of us also owned one cassette recorder that was attached to our stereo stack. Mix tapes became more than just a way to listen to our favorite tunes. They could also be love letters. How many of us created mix tapes for our significant others in the hope of deepening the relationship? As John Cusack’s character in the film High Fidelity put it, “The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.”

Today, it’s possible to create playlists on your favorite music service with ease. But it’s just not the same as lovingly recording specially selected music for a special someone.

Perhaps Rob Sheffield, writing in Love Is a Mix Tape said it best. “The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.”

Quick Takes:

Beautiful Juliette

Today is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. 3/21 symbolizes the extra gene that contributes to the extraordinary human beings these people are. We’re celebrating with our 4 1/2 year old granddaughter’s today. Her situation was a surprise, something we discovered when she was born. Ever since, she’s been a true miracle in our lives. She’s blessed with great health and a loving personality who knows exactly what she wants and does things in her own way at her own pace. We wouldn’t change Juliette for all the money in the world and are finding purpose in making sure she gets the best teachers, access to the latest tools and every opportunity to get the most out of every day. Pretty much how we raised our own kids. When she was born, we were told to have the same expectations for her that we do for her older brother. She’s taught us the joys of living life “on the scenic route”, a valuable lesson that has enriched us all. You can learn more about Down Syndrome at our feature rich website: DownSyndromeNation.com.


Today in History:

1958: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, then performing as Tom & Jerry, sang ‘Our Song’ on ABC-TV’s ‘American Bandstand.’

1961: The Beatles, with Pete Best on drums, played their first evening show at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, opening for an act called the Bluegenes, who later renamed themselves the Swinging Blue Jeans.

1963: After 30 years as a federal penitentiary, the prison nicknamed ‘The Rock’ on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was closed by decision of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

1963: A year after opening together in the Broadway show, ‘I Can Get It for You Wholesale,’ Elliott Gould and Barbra Streisand were married. They had a son before divorcing in 1971.

1964: Folk singer Judy Collins made her debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

1965: In Alabama, more than 3,000 civil rights demonstrators led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began a successful march from Selma to Montgomery, the third of three such attempts that month.

1967: John Lennon took his first major LSD trip and freaked out while recording backing vocals on the track ‘Getting Better.’ Producer George Martin, not realizing the effects of the drug, took Lennon to the roof of Abbey Road Studios to get some fresh air. Paul and George, upon learning where John was, rushed up to get him down. The group worked on a piano track for ‘Lovely Rita’ instead..

1976: Singer Claudine Longet shoots her boyfriend, world skiing champion Vladimir ‘Spider’ Sabich. Despite her claim that the gun discharged accidentally as Sabich was showing her how it worked, the former wife of Andy Williams was arrested for manslaughter but convicted of the lesser charge of misdemeanor criminal negligence and sentenced to pay a small fine and spend 30 days in jail.

1980: In ‘A House Divided,’ the season finale cliffhanger episode of the CBS-TV series ‘Dallas,’ J.R. Ewing, played by actor Larry Hagman, was shot. Viewers had to wait all summer, and most of the autumn because of a Hollywood actors’ strike (and Hagman’s own holdout), to learn whether J.R. would survive, and which of his many enemies was responsible for the shooting.

1987: Actor Robert Preston dies of lung cancer at 68.

1991: Inventor/guitar maker Leo Fender dies at age 81.

2008: Five years of legal wrangling ended after Beach Boys Mike Love and Brian Wilson sued former member Al Jardine in an attempt to stop him from using the group’s name while touring with his own band. Jardine’s lawyer, while not disclosing the terms of the agreement, said his client ‘feels very happy and feels that this is a friendly settlement that allows them to focus on the talent and future of this American iconic band.’

2013: The Funk Brothers receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2017: Television game show host and TV Producer, Chuck Barris, who claimed to have been a CIA assassin in the 1960s and ’70s, dies at the age of 87.

Happy Birthday to:
(1930) James Coco (d. 1987)
(1949) Eddie Money
(1951) Russell Thompkins, Jr.
(1958) Gary Oldman
(1962) Rosie O’Donnell
(1962) Matthew Broderick

Today’s Quote Worth Re-quoting: “It’s always that one song that gets to you. You can hide, but the song comes to find you.” ~Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape

One more for the road: In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Day, one of our faves from Billy Joel. No matter what toolbox the universe gives you to work with, we love you, “Just The Way You Are.”

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Curator: Keener13.com
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit