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The Mix Tape Is Dead

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long live the “mix CD”.

annoyed? so am i. i was a mix tape FREAK in college and shortly thereafter. one of the 1,432 ways i directly, intimately relate to High Fidelity. even the name, “mix tape”, sounds more melodious than “mix CD”. just sorta irks me. the one benefit i can see out of a mix CD is that you’re no longer shackled to the contents of your own collection when making a tape for that special someone (assuming they’re special…i can’t imagine going through the effort, even the paltry effort of a CD, for someone who doesn’t truly matter to you)…thanks to those Napster-wannabes, all you need a decent connection and a basic lack of morality and boom, any song you can think of, you can get (and usually get the German version to boot).

i got my first mix CD senior year of college (Fall, 1997 for those of you playing at home). it was a total novelty. i think our campus had one burner which costs roughly $18,000 and burned at 6k/sec. anyways, that was a totally sweet gesture, which involved this girl schlepping about 20 CDs across campus to make this for me. now, assuming you’ve bought a computer in the last 18 months, you’ve got a burner already, and been augmenting your CD collection quite nicely.

of course, yours truly has a slightly more ancient computer, which gives me a dirty look every time i try to run more than 3 or 4 apps at once. it gives me this, “oh bugger, do i REALLY have to run Snood?” (apparantly my computer is also British. go figure.)

a mix tape took TIME. hours upon hours of song selection, ordering, re-ordering, factoring in time constraints, giving yourself that self-high five when the last song of side 1 ended 3 seconds before the tape did, jumping around and singing “i’m free” at the top of your lungs.

ok, well maybe only i did that. why are you looking at me that way?

also, there was storytelling involved. you could take the listener on two separate journeys, each with its own particular peaks and canyons, surprises and motifs, complementary but independent. with a CD, you’ve pretty much got your one storyline, which makes really good segues really tough to come by.

but since i didn’t have much else to do tonite, and since the apartment is about as clean as i can stand it (which means the health board won’t automatically condemn it if they peek in), i thought i’d give a CD mix a try. not to burn, since i am one computer away from being able to do that, but more of an intellectual exercise.

the rules for this CD:

1) no one artists can be represented more than once

2) no live tracks allowed

3) tracks can come from my own collection or those tracks on my hard drive

4) this CD is primarily for my own consumption, assuming a “desert island mix” type of scenario.

#4 is a key factor to consider in the making of a good compilation. i can’t imagine i’d put very many of the following songs onto a CD for another person, since my mixes were very rarely about introducing the person to music i felt they NEEDED TO HEAR OR THEY JUST AIN’T WIDDIT but rather stuff i thought they’d enjoy…consequently, “Love Shack” ended up on quite a few mix tapes. i’m not proud. (someday soon i’ll throw on my “mix CD to guarantee i’ll reveal government secrets if subjected to”)

OK, so without further ado, here goes, revealing more of the rules as we get to them songs that exemplify the rules:

1) Can’t Get You Out of My Head by Kylie Minogue
I heard this song about 6 weeks ago in my car and was instantly hooked. The first track of a compilation should always be an upbeat track, usually ridiculously catchy and get the blood flowing. Starting off a tape with Yanni is the best way to let the other 16 or so tracks go unheard.

Album: Fever

2) Clint Eastwood by Gorrilaz
Another insanely catchy track, they’ve got sunshine in a bag, which is I think against the laws of physics, but who needs anything but the science of shakin’ booty at track 2.
Album: Gorillaz

3) Walking Away by Craig David
Neo-soul seems to be the new rage, with the India.Arie/Alicia Keys stuff all over the place, but this my by my favorite of that genre, and is a great track 3 since it’s not a downbeat track but definitely cools things off a bit. Also has one helluva chorus. Good times.
Album: Born to Do It

4) Listening Wind by Talking Heads
I go in and out of liking Talking Heads, and now i’m definitely “in”. My favorite track from the “Remain in Light” record, it keeps the rhythmic qualities of the first three songs, but takes it down even more, and has completely haunting vocals.
Album: Remain in Light

5) Shape of my Heart by Sting
Possibly my favorite guitar riff, this simple acoustic intro/hook is just mesmerizing, and we hit the lowest part of the bell curve in terms of energy. this also keeps the gorgeous lyrical quality of songs 3 and 4. i’ve used this song in two plays i’ve directed, and it never fails to hit the precise emotional chords i have wanted.
Album: Ten Summoner’s Tales

6) Origin of Love from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Currently my favorite song from the best musical I never saw, “Origin” is a great song 6 since it keeps the quiet energy of track 5 and kicks it WAY up and the track goes on. the lyrics are based on Plato’s “Symposium”. if you’ve never heard this song, i really, really pity you. as cathartic as they come.
Album: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Original Cast Recording

7) The Middle by Jimmy Eat World
Ok, so we don’t want the rest of the mix to be a downer, “Origin” got us back some power chords so let’s run with them, and get back the energy from songs 1 and 2 with this power pop masterpiece. It’s female empowerment, it’s catchy hooks, it’s less than three minutes long. (the more terminally hip of us would put The Strokes here, i imagine, but i was never accused of being even remotely hip, so there.)
Album: Jimmy Eat World

8) Rest in Peace from the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” musical episode
I love just about every song from this episode, but this is the one I find myself consistently humming under my breath. So, my favorite song from my favorite show, it’s on the compilation. A great rocker with some “pained lover” lyrics which used to be a prerequisite for me listening to any song between summer 1999 and fall 2001.
Album: N/a

9) Ultraviolet by U2
Exemplifies both rule 5 “damnit mcgee, U2 is your favorite band so put them on your compilation” and rule six “right about now you wind back down cuz side 1 is about to end”. also part and parcel of rule 7 “if it’s a popular band, don’t put on a REALLY well known song cuz then you’re a poser”. you can get away with rule 7 on a one hit wonder (see: nickelback) but not your U2 (i include “shape of my heart” since it doesn’t have the “every breath you take” worldwide fervor). anyways, this was and always will be my favorite track of “achtung baby” and it’s a great song 9 fit.
Album: Actung Baby

10) Out of this World by Bush
A month from now this song probably won’t be on this CD, but for now it stays, for that “i don’t know why i love this song but why fight it”. it’s a good thing i don’t do heroin cuz then i’d never stop thanks to reason like we’ve just seen. anyways, track 10 should be moody, atmospheric, and leaving the listener anxious to flip the tape over and delve into side 2. only BLOODY HELL there’s no side two. track 10 is severely damaged by the shirt to the CD world. alack, alas. anyways, moving on.
Album: Golden State

11) I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) by Stevie Wonder
Stevie must have written this song with Jim Steinman, given the ridiculously long title. But it’s such a great song, and is basically here as a refuting of the sentiments of track 10 (remember than “storytelling” bunk i write about earlier? yea, wasn’t kidding. i am this much of a tool.) and a little 70’s never hurt, leading us into
Album: Talking Book

12) Loving Cup by The Rolling Stones
“Exile on Main Street” and “Sticky Fingers” are in constant rotation in my room, but usually as background music. Know those records? The ones you love to sorta kinda hear somewhere but don’t really LISTEN to? that’s what these are for me. EXCEPT this track. love the piano, love the drum roll into the first chorus, love the lyrics, love the Stones period.
Album: Exile on Main Street

13) It’s Ice by Phish
this is where the “no live tracks” rule hurts, but I stuck by it, mostly cuz I wanna get a good mix of songs, and while I would love to include the “Mike’s Song>I am Hydrogen>Weekapaug Groove>Run Like an Antelope” from 11/27/98, Set II, Worcester Centrum (see “tool” bit above), I had to go for a studio track. pretty slim pickins with Phish, but this is a standout track with a nice healthy jam in the middle that has both guitar and organ solos. also has some spacious, mellow sections, which leads me to
Album: Rift

14) La Ciegna Just Smiled by Ryan Adams
If “It’s Ice” is about a nightmare, “La Ciegna” is about a man who can’t even fall asleep. best lyrics i have heard in about 5 years, and they work SO well with the chord changes it never ceases to amaze me. his lyric about “i’m too scared to know how i feel about you now” seems trite in print, but seems like a complete revelation on record.
Album: Gold

15) Street Spirit by Radiohead
If ryan Adams is a guy drinking coffee in an all night diner, Radiohead is the series of drug-addled people lining the neon-lit streets two blocks away. this segue is basically a david fincher-esque pan from one to the other. again, this is a rule #7 and on many tapes would be a killer final track, but not on this one.
Album: The Bends

16) Everloving by Moby
“street spirit” has a a great crescendo, that has a vocal which acts as a 6th instrument basically…sort of a wordless coda. so i’ll keep it going, but make it much more internal, quiet, and compelling with this, my single favorite track from “Play” which for a good while was my favorite record of all time. the crescendo on this track is as close as I get to God.
Album: Play

17) Thunderstorm by Matthew Sweet
My top candidate for “how come this guy doesn’t sell 20 million records a week”, matthew sweet just makes this best power pop ever. period. thanks for coming. this song is the last track on his most recent album, and is actually more like 5 songs stitched together, a la the end of “abbey road”, only more coherent and melodic, if you can believe that. also, since this is a largely a mix of affirmation that delves but doesn’t succumb to darkness, we gotta have a song about a guy who finds ultimate redemption within himself as our coda.
Album: “In Reverse”

what do you think of this list? drop me a line, or comment below.

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  • Ashley

    Hey- I love your mix. I really love Ryan Adams’s song, “La Ciegna Just Smiled”. I was wondering if you knew what “la ciegna” means- I can’t find it an any dictionary or anywhere. Is it referring to someone or somewhere? Just wondering if you knew. Thanks. 🙂

  • Greg

    Wow, that’s really a great mix. Can anyone tell me who wrote the article? It doesn’t appear to be signed.

  • The Theory

    >>even the name, “mix tape”, sounds more melodious than “mix CD”.

    how about “mix disc”?


  • Greg

    Wow, that’s really a great mix. Can anyone tell me who wrote the article? It doesn’t appear to be signed.

  • That is a great mix. I like it.