Sista Mix-A-Lot

Remember mixtapes? It’s strange to think that just a decade ago cassette tapes and by extension mixtapes were a big part of my life, and other music-obsessed teens’ social and cultural lives. When I was a kid, I’d tape myself and my sisters singing and play-acting, or myself and my cousin singing songs we’d written ourselves, such as the classic ‘Working at the Grocer’s’. We’d entertain/torment our parents by making them listen back to our shrieking and giggling, convinced that we were super talented young girls.

One summer, when I was about seven, I went through a phase of making ‘radio shows’ in my bedroom. I’d sing little advert breaks about Kit Kats and washing up powders and once tried to shoehorn the word ‘coy’ into a jingle as I thought it sounded great.  My dad had a huge hi-fi system (or at least it seemed huge to me when I was little) with a double tape-deck which boasted hi-speed dubbing. This gave us hours of entertainment as it meant we could record our voices and then play them back at double speed, making us sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Once I discovered that you could put sellotape over the holes on the top of  ‘proper’ cassettes (i.e actual albums as opposed to blank cassettes), no tape – regardless of how precious – was safe. I had started recording songs off the radio and being able to record onto old tapes that I thought no one had a use for became a hobby of mine. When I was eight, I won a tape on 96FM, the Cork radio station (for the record, this is one of about three things I’ve ever won in my life). It was ‘Entreat’, a live Cure album recorded in Paris.

I gave the prize to my dad, but two years later I found it again in a pile of old tapes. What did I do? Only stick some sellotape on it and record Culture Beat’s ‘Mr Vain’ onto Side B…

Recording songs off the radio was a particularly fun pursuit, and one which I think helped me become more aware of what music was out there, and what music I had been missing. When I was in my cousins’ house one day I heard a song blasting from my elder cousin Mark’s bedroom; as soon as the announcer started speaking, he was cut off and another song played. ‘What’s that?’ I inquired, curious about how my cousin had managed to get the DJ to shut up and put another song on so quickly. ‘Oh that’s the top 40, I taped it off the radio’, he told me. I couldn’t wait to get home and do the same. Why hadn’t I thought of it sooner, I asked myself.

I bet I’m not the only one who, when they hear a favourite song from an old mixtape (such as Belle & Sebastian’s ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’) instantly hears the next song on that mixtape in their head (The Frames, ‘Revelate’, all taped from Dave Fanning’s 2FM show), and even the snippets of ads, jingles or links that you didn’t manage to tape over.

There was a ‘home taping is killing music’ movement back in the 1980s, but the ironic thing is that home taping only encouraged my friends and I to save for the must-have new albums. If it wasn’t for home taping music, how many of us would have record collections today?

In my teens, mixtapes were the way to woo an admirer and impress others with your musical taste. I was a bit late catching up on grunge so it was a way of grounding myself in the back catalogue of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins et al, and discovering Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith.

We all have those tapes that remind us of certain times; I’ll never forget that first summer holiday away with friends, in the sweltering hot Zakynthos sun and stormy night times listening to the Good Will Hunting soundtrack on my trusty Sony Walkman (the brand has recently been discontinued, sadly). It kept me company on school trips and even those car journeys where my younger siblings’ yapping was too much for my 13 year old ears.

When CDs became de rigeur, I kept up with making mix cds; when MP3s came in I recorded data CDs with about 10 albums on them. But it was never quite the same as making a mixtape. I still have a few tapes that I brought with me from Cork which I must listen to soon and try to remember those days when music was harder to come by and you didn’t have 15 albums waiting on your desktop to listen to. There was something special about those times, wasn’t there?

So why the trip down memory lane? Well, mixtapes haven’t died – they’ve just been transferred to a more modern format. Nowadays people make MP3 mixtapes and The Quarter Inch Collective has been inviting people to create them for their site.

I submitted mine last week, with the theme ‘Hey, Who Really Cares?’ – it’s not the same as listening to a tape, but I hope you enjoy listening to this.

And I’d love to hear your tape memories – what were your favourite mixtapes?

When did you stop recording off the radio – or have you ever stopped?

Download Hey Who Really Cares? here

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6 thoughts on “Sista Mix-A-Lot

  1. I’m still taping off the radio! I have moved with the times and no longer use cassettes but it’s not the same. I still have loads of cassettes though – I’m slowly going through them converting them to MP3 to see what’s there. PS I’d love to see what’s on your early Fanning tapes 😉 The worst part is the ones that got away – stuff I had but recorded over because I had no blank tapes to hand. I also have a dozen mixtapes that i created over the years for friends. Initially I never kept copies but eventually figured out that it made sense to have a copy and like you say the running order is now engraved into my gray matter. So what do you think, how about a swap?

    1. Thanks so much for the comment! Must follow your lead with converting old tapes.
      I must have a look and see if I still have some of the Fanning tapes left!
      Totally know what you mean about the ‘ones that got away’.
      Hmm a tape swap, now there’s an idea!!

  2. I love the fact that nowadays you can stream or download almost any song at will but I do sometimes get nostalgic for those mixtape days. I remember listening to Z100 (New York radio station) in the mornings before school and I’d have a blank tape ready to record some of my favourite songs when they were played. I’d be so excited that I had the song recorded on my tape for me to play over and over again. You’d watch out for the DJ talking over the song at the end and try to stop the recording before he started talking. Z100 used to do parody songs like (I know you’re probably not going to like this) “She’s Big And Round” (a parody of “I Get Around” by The Beach Boys). I remember taping that one morning and I couldn’t wait to get home to hear it again on tape. I also recorded songs off Nick Rocks, a Nickelodeon show that showed music videos. I was jumping for joy when I taped (don’t laugh) “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship only to find that there was something wrong with the tape and it didn’t record the whole song. Anyhoo, even though we a band today can put a song online and someone halfway across the world can listen to it 2 seconds later, we have lost a little of the “preciousness” (stop thinking of Gollum) of music that we had in those mixtape days and that’s what I feel nostalgic for.

    1. I love reading other people’s memories, it’s fantastic that even though people were continents apart, the memories were the same.
      I too feel that nostalgia – I love how easy it is to access music and how much amazing music I have discovered in recent years but it feels so different to even five or ten years ago. Then again, everything is seen through rose tinted glasses.
      That is funny about z100 doing parodies, ha!

  3. Great post.
    I can relate to pretty much every detail of it, that selotape trick changed my life! There was a a certain rush I got from hearing the track I’d been waiting for and being in the right place to tape it…but making sure not to catch any of that f**king DJ! ha
    I must admit I love the access the internet gives me to new music these days, instead of getting a new album every 3 weeks I can get 3 new albums every week, but back in those days I think I was more attached to songs/albums. I’d spend ages waiting to get a song on tape and once I had it I listened to it non-stop, now when I get a new album I’m already thinking bout what the next one is going to be.
    I think those sligtly younger than us will equate us with oldies who talk about how great type-writers were compared to these fecking new laptop thingys, but I agree that there was a certain charm to the cassette and it is sad to hear the walkman has finally come to an end.
    That double speed thing just did not get old, I still remember making a fake radio station with my brothers when were about 6/9 called “Gnearly fm”.
    While I had some good cassettes: Prodigy, Nirvana etc. most of the songs I associate with blank tapes are fairly shameful, here’s a selection for your entertainment:

    some fitting nostalgia…

  4. sounds like a great new thing to do in out new no money life, 2 quidish for a tape, 80c for a tape. price of paint but way more fun

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