Mix tapes – the lost art of trying to pull someone at school with a Memorex C90

It’s a terrifying 30 years since the Sony Walkman was introduced and music became portable in a way that didn’t alienate everyone within a 500m radius.

I didn’t have a Walkman 30 years ago, obviously, because they were ruinously expensive and I was only little – I simply didn’t have the strength to carry one.

They started to creep into my consciousness when I was at high school and a fellow student, one of the ones who always had the right coat, bag, shoes and highlights, brought a giant yellow Walkman on a school trip.

It was passed around the coach with the kind of reverence you might expect if you whipped out the Turin Shroud at a convent.

Despite being the size of the Yellow Pages and boasting the kind of sound quality that made listening to music underwater seem crystal clear, it represented an exciting, high-tech future.

Cliff Richard could make anything look cool (nb: leotard-wearing models did not come with standard Sony Walkmans)

Cliff Richard could make anything look cool (nb: leotard-wearing models did not come with standard Sony Walkmans)

Having only just persuaded my parents to buy one of those tinny made-for-teenagers ‘ghetto blasters’, I knew it would be a while before I could tap them up for a Walkman, or rather a Walkman equivalent available from my Mum’s home catalogue.

As archaic as it was, my own tape player had released me from the tyranny of my father, who was somewhat of a stereo Nazi, owning a set of hugely expensive ‘separates’ which made me the only person I knew who had to master a tuner and graphic equalisers before being able to put Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ on the turntable.

Everyone else’s Mum and Dad had a nice, simple Hinari or a Binatone stereo that could have been operated by an earthworm. Mine required tutorials from What Stereo? magazine before you felt confident enough to even switch it on.

On the plus side, my Dad’s technical fascism did mean that I made the most professional mix-tapes this side of the Western hemisphere.

He even taught me how to produce ‘quality silence’, a lost art these days, especially in cinema or theatre audiences when I’m in the auditorium.

In the good old days, if you made someone a mix-tape, it represented a fair chunk of your entire Sunday given over to faffing around with the record player and hovering over the pause button on the tape deck.

(I think, by the way, that that’s a contender for the most biddified, grey-haired, mobility-scooter riding sentence I’ve ever written.)

I would spend hour-upon-hour carefully working out an intricate play list that would fit on each side of a Memorex C90 without cutting Morrissey off midway through ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ or, more likely, Aha off during ‘Take On Me’.

Helped me to seduce older boys with cars and jobs. Although ye Gods, look at this picture. How many shades of wrong? And lets face it, teenage boys are pretty simple to seduce - I doubt I needed Aha: a pulse was enough.

Helped me to seduce older boys with cars and jobs. Although ye Gods, look at this picture. How many shades of wrong? And let's face it, teenage boys are pretty simple to seduce - I doubt I needed Aha: a pulse was enough.

It could easily take eight hours to make one 90-minute tape. An hour of which would be spent making ‘quality silence’ (also known as ‘sulking’ if my Dad was still lurking around trying to be ‘helpful’).

Each tape was compiled with the recipient in mind or, less nobly, as a blatant attempt to persuade the recipient to want to get off with me – those tapes cost good money, and I was keen to see some form of return. Teenage boys being teenage boys, I wasn’t often disappointed.

Hours would evaporate as you tried to cut out the recording ‘click’ between songs, struggled not to put two songs by the same artist in a row, resisted the urge to kill any parent unwittingly walking into the front room and jogging the needle on the record player and then struggled to fit all the track names on the tape insert in felt-tip pen.

After all that effort, keen to get the mix-tape to the recipient, I’d then bike it round, by which I mean I got on my bicycle and pedalled to their house rather than called on an in-house courier (even though I lived in a Grade  II listed house with a balcony AND window boxes, I wasn’t that posh).

These days, I can burn a CD in about three minutes (is it illegal? If it is, when I say that I burn CDs, I refer to music made by my family. On, er, spoons) and email it to someone immediately. It’s taken some of the magic away, frankly.

Equally, I can now have up to 10,000 songs on my iPod and if I shake it, it randomly chooses a new track for me to listen to.

Try that with the Walkman and you’d have been listening to a decidedly old record: your parents giving you the ‘you never look after anything properly’ speech for the gazillionth time before grounding you indefinitely.

NB: I still have some of my Dad’s stereo equipment, even though he went to the big hi-fi shop in the world back in 1992. And it still works, which kind of annoyingly proves his point about quality. Any of you fancy a mix-tape?

**** It’s been many a long week since last I graced WordPress. Lots of work, a lovely dose of swine flu (I didn’t throw a party for others to catch it), the odd weekend away (empahsis on ‘odd’), general apathy and ennui have kept me from posting. I will be visiting you all later to see what you’ve been up to. You’d better have been good while I’ve been away or I’ll know not to leave you home alone again. And don’t think I won’t be checking the phone bill. And the liquor cabinet ****


44 Responses to “Mix tapes – the lost art of trying to pull someone at school with a Memorex C90”

  1. August 15, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    If Sony were to make a Walkman fir 8-track players, then my 8-yrack collection would be worth something. Viva la Abba!

  2. August 15, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Welcome back to the world of the living. Glad to see the swine flu didn’t completely take you over. You’ve been missed. Well not by me but I am sure someone will come in here and say they missed you..haha

  3. August 15, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I didn’t really have swine flu. I just locked myself in the sex dungeon at work by accident and had to wait a really long time to be rescued.
    I hate it when that happens.

  4. August 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Welcome back!

    I still have a collection of mix tapes. Many of them have obscure b-sides or live bootlegs that I have yet to track down on CD/MP3. And they all have lovingly handcrafted covers.

  5. 10 Tropically Tied
    August 15, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    “ennui have kept me from posting” what eskimos stopped you from posting? How odd!!!

    • August 15, 2009 at 7:17 pm

      The cold makes them selfish. They have hidden my keyboard, but I’ve found it under a pile of skins.
      The WiFi connection here is weak, but I think I have time to reply before they come home and force me to make seal casserole. Again. Sigh.

  6. August 15, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Ever gone into a shop and seen those cans on ‘special offer’ – reduced price because label has come off and no bugger knows what’s inside?

    I have the cassette equivalent !!!

    I was always a bit lazy about putting a label on my made-up tapes. Didn’t really matter ‘cos I knew what they were from the info I put on the cassette case. Everything was OK till Mrs D started ‘tidying’ up after me and randomly sticking cassettes left lying around into any empty case she found. Trying to find a particular tape I wanted to listen to after she had ‘tidied’ was a case of trial and error until the right one was found.

    P.S. that link you asked for in MH is http://lifewithmrsd.wordpress.com/

    • August 15, 2009 at 10:54 pm

      Duncan, you are a blogging master – three on the go! I can barely manage one…have been over to have a gander and will comment when I am less inebriated.
      My mix tapes are all in the attic – found one that I made for a youth hostelling trip. Oh yes, I knew how to live the high life all right.

  7. August 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Welcome to the world of “When I was a child…” It can’t be avoided, but you do it well.

    I still have record albums under the bed in the spare room that I can’t bear to part with.

    Welcome back!

    • August 15, 2009 at 10:55 pm

      Thank you!

      I have lots of vinyl, too. It is staring repressively at me while I type – I had a grand plan to find out whether any of it is worth anything (I was a very anal teen and refused to take off plastic wrappers etc or play limited editions. How sad is that? I bought records I NEVER PLAYED). Obviously, the plan fell at the first hurdle (ie being bothered to do it. Ho hum.

  8. 17 MM
    August 15, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    You made mix-tapes? For boys? Where have you been all my life?

    Do you compile mental ‘best of’ lists as well? Did you deliberately walk around school carrying an LP as an affectation too (fingers careful not to obscure the cover)? The only time a girl ever said anything to me at school without being made to by a teacher was when I brought my Give ‘Em Enough Rope LP in to lend to someone. I tried it again with London Calling but zilch. Nada. Radio silence for the next three years.

    Between Wired for Sound Cliff (is that where the ‘bag’ rumour comes from?) and that vid-yo of The Police on the Tokyo Underground it’s amazing that there was any left-over Walkman cool for the rest of us.

    • August 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

      Oh I am so with you.

      I went one step further: I went around school wearing a cape and carrying a basket. I was rocking a ‘little red riding hood’ look which was, I believe, far ahead of its time. So far ahead, indeed, that the time in question is yet to come. I also had a bag covered in band badges to the point where it was so heavy I couldn’t carry it around. It was featured in a magazine article when I was 15 when a photographer spotted it. I nonchalantly carried the article around for weeks. Oh God.

      Had you carried London Calling around in my school, I’d have jumped you, baby.

  9. August 16, 2009 at 5:18 am

    I’ve got some Taco on vinyl. Which may be the dirtiest phrase I’ve ever entendred (it’s a word now, dammit).

    I remember making mix tapes for friends. I made a tape full of the Pixies for a buddy of mine who had never heard of them. The average Pixies track runs about 3 minutes, so I think I was able to get 34 songs onto a C90, which has to be some sort of a record (Guiness, not vinyl, lest you believe I have mixed one too many metaphors).

    I also remember piecing together a cassette for my cousin that I wittily titled “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Could have had something to do with all the Thrill Kill Kult on it.

    Welcome back, WIB. Great post on a great topic.

    • August 16, 2009 at 10:48 am

      Nice to see you CLT. Entendred is an awesome word – I will lobby the OED to have it included forthwith. If they put ‘staycation’ in, there is no earthly reason why they can’t include ‘entendred’.

  10. August 16, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Glad you’re back WIB, we missed you. I still have albums and tapes around the house.

    • August 16, 2009 at 10:51 am

      I missed you too, FJ. Perhaps we should all have a mixtape marathon and create playlists for each other.
      Although I’m not quite sure what I’d do for Don. The Stars and Stripes would appear, though. And ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’.

  11. August 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Nothing worse than an unraveled tape cassette!

    Winding them back with the tip of a pencil was a complete and utter pain.

    And then when you did eventually manage to fix it, you were too afraid to put it back in the tape recorder in case it unraveled and got caught in those little wheels and tore!

    Ahhhh, memories……

    • August 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm

      And do you remember fixing broken tapes with sticky tape? Hours of fiddling around trying to cut the smallest piece of tape imaginable…when you finally succeeded, there would be a section the tape that’d be totally blank while the machine dealt with the amateurish mending.

      Then again, I remember when CDs came out everyone said they were indestructible and you could eat your dinner off them and still play them.

      That didn’t work. Oh no. Tears before bedtime (but at least I’d had a good meal).

  12. August 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Funny how that ‘general apathy and ennui’ seems to make its rounds like a virus as well! I think several of us have caught it over the past few weeks.

    As for mix tapes and such, gawd what a pain they were. I totally hear Jesusbudda! Nothing worse than jamming a somewhat old and sticky tape into the car’s tape player, only to watch it being vomitted back out with tape spewing all over the console.

    And while I’m showing my age here…who remembers quadrophonic 8-track?

  13. August 16, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    “In the good old days, if you made someone a mix-tape, it represented a fair chunk of your entire Sunday given over to faffing around with the record player and hovering over the pause button on the tape deck.”

    My goodness…

    I’m not sure which good old days you might be referring to, WIB, but back in my day if you wanted to pitch some musical woo, you bought yourself a ukulele and learned how to play an assortment of contemporary classics like Galway Bay, Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba and Peg O’ My Heart. Putting together 90 minutes of courting music could take a young man the better part of 2 years. You just hoped that your gal didn’t move away or die of consumption in the interim.

    Wonderful to have you back,


    • August 16, 2009 at 3:19 pm

      Don, had I known that you were learning an entire hour and a half of music in order to woo me, I would have fought consumption in hand-to-hand battle in order to be well enough to hear it.

      My chaperone would have had to beat me off you with a big stick.

      WIB x

  14. 31 brucehood
    August 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    All is right again in the world! I am just so pleased to see your post after such a miserable summer. I can now face autumn with renewed vigour.

  15. August 16, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Welcome back, dear Lady in Black.

    The last mix tape (on cassette) someone made for me was in 1996. The person who made it for me subsequently broke my heart and then, much much later, was rumoured to be thinking of naming his firstborn child after me (I have a very unusual name).

    At the time, I made a copy of that mix tape for a friend, who recently moved continents and returned it to me. So this past week, I’ve been driving around in the Tarago, three kids in tow, listening to Pavement, Ween and Lou Reed at full blast, thinking about my misspent 20s and how glad I am that I never ended up with that particular individual even if he *did* make a mean mix tape.

    • August 16, 2009 at 10:09 pm

      In my experience, the men who made the best mixtapes were always cads.
      I wonder if the first-born got your name? There are only two people in the UK with my name, so I must sadly assume that -seeing as the other one is in her 80s – none of my exes have named their first-born after me. WHY? WHY? What is so damn wrong with me? (sobs. Reaches for vodka)

  16. August 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I admire musicians. Especially ones that play the spoons! I cant play musical instruments very well, myself, so i always admire those that can!

    I wish i had a walkingman. But i cant afford the tapes!


  17. August 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    About damned time you came back! If it happens again, there may be a harsh punishment.

    You mention there is something “wrong” in the Aha picture. I don’t see it. Care to explain?

  18. August 17, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Quote: Woman in Black: “And do you remember fixing broken tapes with sticky tape? ”

    – No. I wasn’t THAT sad and cheap!!!!!

  19. September 2, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Did you know that the first ipod was the size of a microwave oven and only held three songs?

  20. October 2, 2009 at 11:07 am

    It looks cool as always.

    Think about it. It was most advance stuff in that time. Now time is passing and passing it still looks cool. This is what we called innovation.

    I can not imagine what would be the future. Can not wait to see what technology we can have with affordable price. Like Walkman

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