Hereâ€™s two approaches to putting together mixed tapes. The first is sort of a by-the-gut approach which ends up being a love opera. The second approach, designed by a former DJ is a sophisticateâ€™s dream.
I remember the first mixed tape I ever did and it really was on tape; a reel-to-reel portable Panasonic player. It was the fall of 1966. My girl friend and I put it together over several nights in the basement of her parentâ€™s house. We recorded from a small 45 record player. This was pre-patch cords and it was time consuming and you had to be absolutely quiet or it would be picked up on the mic. The process went like this: cue the record then hit the two record buttons. Mess around a little bit, rewind the tape to see if you got the song, fast forward, hit stop and then start the process all over again.
This was right before I went off to MSU. I had gotten this little portable battery operated tape recorder for graduation with the idea I would tape my lectures. Wow, was that a crazy idea. I recorded one lecture and that was the end of that experiment. I mean who wants to listen to a Calculus instructor who could only speak Chinese.
I still remember most of the songs we recorded (thanks to Oldies Radio and Ipods) and I know we started with â€œHold Me Thrill Me Kiss Meâ€ by Mel Carter. It was our song. Others I distinctly remember were The Wee Fiveâ€™s â€œYou Were On My Mindâ€, â€œThen He Kissed Meâ€, â€œMoon Riverâ€, Theme from a Summer Placeâ€, â€œWild Thingâ€, â€œDowntownâ€, â€œPretty Womanâ€ and the classic songs from the Beach Boys; The Shirelles, and The Beatles. The list was endless, but the summer wasnâ€™t.
We had a huge selection of 45s to choose from. Some were my girl friendsâ€™ and some were from a classmate who had been buying 45s since his freshman year. He had so many records he often ended up being a DJ at school dances. We mustâ€™ve recorded 90 songs or more on three little reels. I think it was something like 90 minutes of uninterrupted music. My lips were permanently chapped.
When I got to college, I remember I had the only music player on my dorm floor other than a radio and a 12 string guitar. And this included my next door neighbor who was a member of the Buckinghams of â€œKind of a Drag Fameâ€. The tape recorder with those little three and a quarter inch reels went through a lot of D batteries and my roommates and I would often wake up with the sound of click-click-click as the tape ran out. It got a lot of use until after Christmas break when one roommate returned with a stereo.
I may not have recorded the first mixed tape, but no one had more fun in the process or the listening. My ears still perk up when I hear one of those songs on an oldies station and they always bring back pleasant memories of my â€œbasementâ€ tapes.
I also asked a good friend and MSU grad Scott Westerman for his tips on creating mixed tapes. Scott has claims on the world record or at least the MSU record of creating mixed tapes for girlfriends. Westerman later put his idle time to good use and spent many pleasant days as a DJ.
Hereâ€™s Scottâ€™s approach:
I made a ton of love tapes back in my DJ days. Back when cassettes were the prime medium, it was often the first gift a guy would give a girl.
The goal was to put the pieces together in a seamless mix that sounded like a symphony. I’d try to find songs that segued in the same key or tempo, like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” into “Your Song”, into Brewer and Shipley’s “Witchi Tai To”. I had some obscure faves like The Ann Arbor group, the Arbors, who sang a terrific version of “I Can’t Quit Her”, and Batdorf and Rodney’s “Somewhere In the Night” (covered not nearly as well by Barry Manilow). Stonebolt’s “I Will Still Love You” and Art Garfunkel’s “Traveling Boy” were often on my list. Earth Wind and Fire’s “After the Love is Gone” and Chris Rea’s “Fool if you Think its Over” worked well, too.
There were some great, longer story songs that sometimes made the cut. Loggins and Mesinna’s “Pretty Princess” and Eric Clapton’s “Let It Grow” are a couple of examples.
A primary driver for love tapes was always what you knew about your audience. If she was a Gino Vanelli fan, you’d open with “I Just Wanna Stop”. If it was Little River Band, “Lady” was a must add.
And your mix didn’t have to be totally slow stuff. John Denver’s “Eagle and the Hawk” worked great.
The key was putting together a mix that took your listener’s emotions on a roller coaster ride with a soft landing at the end.
If you got a phone call within 24 hours of handing off the tape, you know you had done well.
Scott Westerman is the Director of the MSU Alumni Association and is the keeper of the flame at www.keener13.com which is his blog about the legendary WKNR in Detroit– maybe the best rock station in the world.
Happy Valentineâ€™s Day
from â€œhis name was Billâ€