“You need music, I don’t know why. It’s probably one of those Joe Campbell questions, why we need ritual. We need magic, and bliss, and power, myth, and celebration and religion in our lives, and music is a good way to encapsulate a lot of it.”
The Mix Tape
Taking songs off of an album and putting them onto a cassette tape was an art form. There were rules, some obvious like not letting the end of the tape leave a song unfinished and others not so obvious like wanting one song to lead well into the next.
Most mixers, if we can call them that, owned the entire album of the artist and had played the entire album many times. The songs chosen were well-known songs to the mixer with a desire to share those songs with a friend.
It wasn’t really complicated or tedious holding the tape on record/pause while lining up the needle on the next song. Usually the tapes were not made from a list but inspired by the prior song; what could follow a song like that? It could be many elements that find the transition like a bass line or horn section or simply the beat or the loudness.
Mix tapes had themes. Love songs to a new girlfriend could be pretty rough, especially of the mixer was pretending to express how he felt. That tape might have taken hours and hours to make but only listened to once. But there are many themes; work tapes, road trip tapes, jazz and blues or rock and punk or even single artist tapes spanning a career.
One might play with the silence between. That level of control was possible with tapes and not possible since. To finish a song and let a tape play with nothing so to introduce another song that starts very quiet wanted a bit of timing.
The fun part was getting “from here to there”. Starting a tape with Paul Simon and ninety minutes later it finishes with searing heavy metal as an aural logical progression was really fun. Or, maybe, a road trip tape that has to end with Bruce Springsteen singing Born to Run because no one follows The Boss.
The mixer had to know each song very well and would listen to the tape many times and often edit or start over. This steeped experience was great. And there was always this tiny hope of being an ambassador and hearing the question; do you have more like that one song I just heard?
Best of all, you might find an old mix tape in a box. You might play it again after many years and remember where you were at a time in your life. Dropping a playlist on itunes to a friend simply is not the same, not one bit.