I’ve been on a books about music kick lately. Which means I’ve also been thinking a lot about music lately. Most recently, I’ve been thinking about mixtapes and why playlists just can’t compare. (Speaking of which, have you read Love is a Mixtape yet? If not, stop reading this and go read that). Mixtapes were something magical. They were lovingly crafted and curated just for you. But so are playlists and mix CDs.
Or almost anyway. To me the thing that sets apart the mixtape is the sheer amount of time they took to put together. You had 90 minutes to work with, 45 per side. That meant you needed to know how long each song took. And decide each side based on those lengths. You had to queue each song, and get the start and end of the song exactly right, or you threw off your time. And then there was trying to get a song off the radio, where you had to hope the DJ played it the same way as the time before, and hope they didn’t talk over then end.
Not only did you have to worry about time, but you had to make sure the songs flowed together. There was no way to shuffle songs, so they would be listened to in the same order every time the tape was played. There was also the painstaking process of labeling the thing. Tiny little lines, on that weird laminated paper that you couldn’t use pencil on. No mistakes.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of the new found love of cassettes people are having. They sound awful and get worse quickly. Like most things I find myself nostalgic for, it’s more about the ritual and the time. Anymore it seems like we can’t do just one thing anymore. We’re watching TV and live tweeting the show. We’re at a concert filming for YouTube. Sometimes, I miss doing just one thing.
While I know I can’t recreate the mixtape with a playlist, I tried anyway. (I would love to make actual tapes and give them away, but I’m pretty sure that’s copyright infringement, and I don’t want the RIAA breaking down my door.) I’ve put together a virtual mix tape for you on Spotify. Listen to these without shuffle. And yes, you need to switch from side A to side B. Because where’s the metaphor if you don’t?