5 Ways Mix Tapes Were The Ultimate Love Note
(Disclaimer: We said “mix tapes”, not “mixed tapes.” “Mixed tapes” just sounded dorky. Sorry.)
Do you remember your crush giving you your first mix tape?
You scrutinized every inch of it — from the type of cassette to the way the songs were written on the case. Could the “ i ” in Don’t Stop Believin’ be a little heart? Did the tape smell like the person who gave it to you?
The legibility of the handwriting. The order of the songs. The bands selected — a mix tape was a little personal riddle. Solving it meant discovering how affectionate someone felt toward you.
And solving it took work. It wasn’t a lazy “Like” or “Friend” — it required some blood. Fast forward, rewind and pause to jump between songs or listen to a verse again. Buttons, clicking, flipping the tape over — it was a manual, tangible process.
Following the process meant decoding emotions — it was fun and there is still no better way to show someone you’re into them.
Did your beau try to cram the name of every band and song onto the label? Or, did they use the little index card that came with the tape?
What if they did both?
They were trying to make sure you knew something. If they put lyrics in, they really wanted you to know something.
Because of their song list, you saw their actual handwriting! This would now be considered quaint and revealing. A boy with legible handwriting who used a non-smudge marker. A girl with a unique font.
Or, maybe it was illegible (or had no markings at all — ohh! a mystery!)
The penmanship told you how much they wanted you to understand.
The details told you the effort they put into the tape and, in your mind, would put into a relationship.
When courteous people made a mix tape, they would leave a little quiet period between the songs.
People who stopped/started recordings in a vain attempt to make it sound like a store-bought tape were being hasty. This made it harder to find beginnings or ends of songs you liked and diminished the listening experience.
If they didn’t understand this basic courtesy, what else were they capable of?
The order of the songs was also telling.
Were all of the best songs first while the rest of the tape just strung along? Guess who’s next. The beginning of that relationship would be great and things will fizzle out eventually. You’ll spend years wanting to “restart the tape.”
Abandon early — that ship was going to sink.
What was the last song on the tape? I used to love her (but I had to kill her)?
Ominous. Even if you think it’s funny, it’s a threat.
A good mix tape was metered, as a relationship is. Highs and lows, some songs familiar, others new. The maker of a balanced tape knew how to let things simmer, how to keep you engaged and excited and leave you wanting more.
Lyrics versus melody
Left brain or right?
Take Wicked Games by Chris Isaak. The feeling of the song has nothing to do with what he’s saying. You could replace the lyrics with taxidermy instructions and the song wouldn’t lose its sensuousness.
It’s all about that melody and how it’s delivered. The video didn’t hurt either, but that’s a different post.
Contrast this with Nine Inch Nail’s Closer.
You didn’t include this song on a mix tape because you thought the recipient would like the harmony. You included it because you wanted them to hear, quite plainly, what you’d like to do with them.
Like an animal.
When right brained person made a tape and gave it to a left brained person, lefty would start analyzing it. They would have questions.
Righty would answer with “I dunno — I never really thought about it, I just liked the song.”
One tape and you would have known something very important, very early:
The relationship wasn’t doomed, it would just require the agony of constant communication. Might be better to bail.
Hit songs and B-sides.
Giving someone a mix tape of all hits was the equivalent of giving a scented candle for Christmas.
It’s easy, cheap and lazy. There was nothing personal about that gift. Guess what kind of work they’ll put into a relationship if they were chintzy with the mix tape…
What about no hit songs? This was like an emo kid, worried about not looking depressed and so puts on black nail polish to take out the trash.
Someone’s trying too hard.
Or, the all popular bands but all B-Sides mix tape trick — this person was manipulative and should be avoided. They either wanted themselves to look more sophisticated than they are or they are secretly lazy, trying to see what fruit they can score with minimal effort.
There was never a good reason to do this — making a tape of obscure songs by popular bands can only be done for evil.
Some popular hits are popular because they’re simply good songs. Smooth Criminal is a badass song no matter how refined your musical palate is. It was then, it is now.
The manipulative creator forgot this fact when making the trick mixed tape.
The artisan tape-giver knew to include some hits over others — not too popular or unpopular. Not too many hits and far enough away from each other on the tape to avoid sounding like they recorded the radio.
A good mix tape was a work of craftsmanship.
Songs and bands you’ve never heard before.
For some reason, your love interest really thought you’d enjoy hearing Bigmouth Strikes Again. (Who would know they loved The Smiths if it weren’t for mix tapes?)
They put it on your tape and made themselves a little vulnerable.
They enjoyed the song and hoped you would too. If you liked it, great — they’ve exposed you to something new that you can enjoy together.
If you didn’t like it, oh well. There are a bunch of other songs on it that you probably will.
Either way, they’ve disclosed something to you about themselves and there’s a win in that.
And if they took that risk and then found out that you already enjoyed that song — well, that…
that was love.…