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Mixtape Flashback

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Last week I was dancing to my friend Nora’s mix at Dance Dance Party Party and had to marvel that I’ve been listening to her music for over 20 years. I’ve known Nora since second grade, and once we were old enough to appreciate and make mix tapes, her tapes were especially influential because she had something I didn’t: older siblings. I’ll never regret the fun I had dancing to Milli Vanilli or singing to En Vogue, all the B-96-style pop that was cool as we came of age, but thanks to Nora plumbing her siblings’ tapes and CDs, I also learned about groups like R.E.M. and the B-52’s and enhanced my musical horizons.

After DDPP I went home to my tape stash, which I keep in a Marshall Field’s box in my basement. Sadly I don’t have all the tapes Nora gave me anymore (or if I do, I haven’t found them yet) but I was able to dig up one, although the liner notes were long gone. For fun, I listened to the tape (it’s been a really long time since my stereo played a tape, and it needed a little bit of warming up and dust-blowing to get used to it) and wrote up the list of songs and sent them to Nora, who shared her memories of the songs she chose (we estimated this tape was made around 1996 or so.)

Incidentally, Nora is a better friend than I am because she kept the tapes I made for her (see: the images at the bottom of this post). Looking back over these relics, I know technological progress is always good but I’m sad that teens and young adults of today don’t have a cheap way of expressing care and love that was found in dedicating a couple of hours of choosing songs (especially how you opt to begin side A and side B!), pressing play, record and stop, writing out the songs and maybe decorating the notes. It was a very specific pop culture labor of love that just isn’t the same with creating a CD or handing someone a flash drive. I enjoyed reviving these tapes and may do another one of these or more in the future if I can find other old friends willing to go down this walk down musical memory lane with me.

Take it away, Nora!


The Cranberries: “Linger”

The Cranberries will always make me remember my first “boom box.” I got it for Christmas when I was a freshman in high school. It was slightly smaller than a Buick, and had the coveted double tape deck/cd player/radio combo that was essential for premium mix tape creation. The wiring in our 100 year old house was a little suspect, and the outlet closest to the only place said stereo fit in my tiny bedroom wasn’t able to power the musical beast. I was devastated, but my dad called my uncle, and together they somehow managed a work around that finally allowed me to play the CD I had gotten with the boom box: The Cranberries.

10,000 Maniacs: “Candy Everybody Wants”
This is a big musical risk here, opting for the lesser known “Candy Everybody Wants.” Every other mix tape made by a high school girl this year contained “These Are Days,” but I was always looking to branch all the way out to the second or third most popular track on a CD.

The Pretenders: “2,000 Miles”
Oh man, this song. I remember listening to it over and over, thinking about how I had never been as sad about missing anyone as Chrissie Hynde was in that song. There were several songs on Isle of View that I would listen to on repeat (especially “Hymn to Her” and “Kid”) but this was at the top. That repetitive hook or riff or whatever the musical term is for the 12 notes that lilt through the entire song was enough to keep me hitting the back button on my boom box that, for all its size, didn’t have a ‘repeat’ function.

The Police: “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”
When I got to grad school, about 10 years after this mix was made, a more advanced student in the program commented on the fact that I knew all of the music that she grew up with, even though we were about a decade apart, age-wise. I immediately credited my older siblings’ musical influence. This song is an example of that, for sure.

Indigo Girls*: “Hammer and a Nail”
Hammer and a Nail was practically the fight song of my all-girls Catholic high school. It was played at many a mass or service-minded assembly, and I think I even remember our Latin teacher and two students performing it at a Variety show. I entered high school ahead of the Indigo Girls curve compared to the rest of the Class of ’97, as I had two older sisters who had already begun my indoctrination. The musical duo were casually referred to as “The Girls” around our house, so familiar were we with their acoustic guitar and tight harmonies. They may have been the first exposure I had to openly gay performers or public figures, I can’t really remember. I DO remember when my dad made this realization, remarking over dinner one night, “Did you know....that ‘the Girls’ are not into ‘the Boys??’” That’s a line we still quote in our family with alarming regularity.

Toad the Wet Sprocket: “All I Want”
This was definitely from my 6-years-older sister Meg, who sent me a mixtape for my 13th birthday (“Teenage Tunes,” artfully rendered in red and black sharpie on the cassette label/liner notes) that had 90 minutes of COLLEGE MUSIC on it. It’s amazing that I didn’t destroy that cassette, given how much airtime it got in my room. She sent me several mixtapes throughout her college career and beyond, but that one stands out among them. I remember looking at the songs/artists when I unwrapped it and thinking, “Toad the what now?” The weird name made me wonder if Meg might be stretching my musical maturity just a little too much, and if this music might just be too bizarre for the Nora that still enjoyed rocking out to Salt n Pepa and Boys 2 Men with her 8th grade friends. The song was approachable and catchy, though, and my anxiety was unwarranted.

Peter Gabriel: “Mercy Street”

The Farm: “All Together Now”
I think I can draw a line directly from my sister Ann to the inclusion of this song on the mix for you. I remember listening to this song while she drove our big Dodge Ram Van. I believe it was on a mix tape from her friend Laura, demonstrating the incredible inefficiencies of our music sharing back in the late 90’s. I’m sure that copied that mix tape for myself and then copied this song from my copy onto the tape for you. Today I think you can wave your phone at someone and send them an entire music library.

Journey: “Faithfully”
Bodeans: “Closer to Free”

These Days: “Wedding Song”**
I really do like this song! I’m sure you’ll have more to say about it than I will, though.**

Peter Gabriel: “Secret World”
My older sisters and their friends took me to my first concert in 7th or 8th grade, and I can still remember Peter Gabriel’s slow build of “Secret World,” and just being blown away by the theatrics of it all. It doesn’t really translate on a mixtape, but that’s what I was trying to share with this one. I love the memory of that concert. I had gone expecting to listen to some music that I was sort of familiar with, but being most excited about being included with my sisters and their friends. I ended up probably forgetting who I was even there with at some points during the night, as I got so caught up in the show.


The Farm: “Groovy Train”
This song brings me back to my high school cafeteria, which was transformed four times a year into a “social” which allowed throngs of teenagers (in what I seem to remember was about a 3:1 girl:guy ratio) to dance sweatily to a DJ for a few hours on a Friday night.INXS: “Beautiful Girl”
I love that this song is on here, since it’s the song that for some reason jumped out of my iTunes as the perfect song to kick off my most recent DDPP appearance. This is another one that came from my sister in college.

Talking Heads: “And She Was”
Sting: “Why Should I Cry For You”

Grateful Dead: “Uncle John’s Band”
I have no idea who in my life introduced me to this song, because it’s really the only Dead song I remember knowing. But it appealed to me immediately because of the harmonies. If there’s anything I love more than singing along with the radio in the car, it’s singing along to the harmonies on the radio in the car. This song is full of them.

The Beatles: “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”
This was almost definitely a result of one of my favorite TV shows in Junior High, “Life Goes On.” You were savvy enough to know and love the Beatles outside of their connection to current pop culture trends, but not me. I learned about the song because I liked the show, and it only registered later that it was by the Beatles, and that they had had other success aside from being selected to create the theme song for this awesome show about the Thatcher family. I miss that family. I hope Corky’s doing okay.

James Taylor: “Fire and Rain”
Van Morrison: “Into the Mystic”
Samples: “Taking Us Home”Everything But the Girl: “Apron Strings”
Retreats were a big part of attending a Catholic high school, and they often included a lot of music selected by student speakers. I really can’t remember what retreat context this song would have had, but I’m almost positive that I heard it for the first time while sitting on the floor at Techny Retreat Center in Northbrook, probably while journaling about the most recent friend drama occurring in my life. There was certainly plenty of that to go around in that female only environment.

The Lemonheads: “Frank Mills”
The Lemonheads are another band that Meg introduced me to. I remember buying the CD after she included their remake of Mrs. Robinson on a mix for me. I liked this song, but, to be honest, I probably included it on this mix because it was so short. Timing was so crucial on these 90 or 120 minute cassettes!Modern English: “I Melt With You”
The Cranberries: Dreams

*[Ed. note]: I’d just like to say that the first pop concert I ever attended was the Indigo Girls with Nora at the Arie Crown Theater in 1994.**[Ed. note]: Yes. So for the life of me I couldn’t figure out who wrote this song--typing the lyrics into Google didn’t help, neither did Shazam, neither did playing the song to Nora over the phone. I eventually downloaded a recording program on my phone, recorded it from the tape playing over my stereo, uploaded it to Google and then shared the file on Facebook. Nora’s sister’s husband finally realized it came from a small but popular in its time Iowa City band. It’s a good song! And that video is a ‘90’s time capsule if there ever was one.

Here are some of the tapes I made for Nora way back when:


Talk to me about your old mixtapes in the comments or on Twitter.

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