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Do You Remember Mix-Tapes?

By Robin Kaye

I was reading a blog recently and the author mentioned finding a box of his cassette tapes, most of which were mix-tapes. My mind immediately went back to my teenage days when conversations revolved around who liked who, how lame Barry Manilow was, and how hot Jim Morrison looked before he died. Now, he died well before I was into him and the Doors, but still, you have to admit he sure looked hot before he died…well, maybe not just before he died, but you know what I mean. Back then, if I was not making mix-tapes, I was listening to the tapes my boyfriend dejour, best friend, or I made.

What about you? Do you remember the hours you spent picking the favorite songs? Wondering what the guy you were crushing on, or a guy you were dating—would think of your hard work. If a guy made me a mix-tape, I knew he was hooked. Why I didn’t think the same rule pertained to me is still a mystery. Making a mix-tape for someone was a big deal. It wasn’t something you made for a casual date. In a way, these mix-tapes, for me at least, were musical love letters.

I remember hanging out in my sister’s bedroom (she had the stereo) sitting cross-legged on her blue carpet among a sea of album covers. I’d spend hours making lists of the perfect songs only to spend almost as much time deciding on the proper order and pacing of the songs. I’d calculate the song times to see if I had a close-to-perfect fit for a 90-minute Memorex, and shuffle the songs around if I didn’t. The taping itself was a stressful time. I’d count 4-second spaces between songs and pray that the sound of me pressing the record button wouldn’t make it onto the tape.

Today kid’s sit in front of the TV playing video games, or listening to their iPods. We’d listen to albums over and over again. I literally wore out albums and even now, at the end of certain songs, I automatically start singing the next song on the album. I spent hours reading the liner notes learning every word to every song. I dissected music like English majors dissect Austen, Shakespeare and Longfellow.

Music has always been the soundtrack of my life. When my parent’s divorced, I have a memory of sitting behind humongous speakers and crying to a song about a couple getting divorced. Every pivotal moment, relationship, and turning point in my life can be tied to a song. When two friends died in a plane crash, Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young was played over and over and over again along with the songs we listened to together while I mourned their loss. Every time I’d move, I’d listen to a mix-tape that would remind me of the home and friends I had just left. When I started dating and working with musicians, I’d listen to their demo tapes. I remember a particularly arduous trip moving from Philadelphia to Florida. I listened to the tape of my ex-boyfriend’s band for almost the entire 16-hour trip.

Mix-tapes were also statements of who we were and how we felt. I made tapes for a parties. One of the most memorable or the least depending upon how you look at it was Tequila Night. The party was renamed Tequila Weekend since everyone brought a bottle and somehow finished it. There were breakup tapes, head banging tapes, depression tapes, and road-trip tapes.

Now, I make playlists on my iPod. Although similar, it is not quite the same. The closest I came was making CDs for a Kiwi friend of mine to introduce him to some of my favorite bands. It wasn’t really a musical love letter. Perhaps it was a musical flirtation.

Were you ever, or are you now a music junkie? Did you make mix-tapes and if you did, do you remember what were on them? Do you have some lying around somewhere collecting dust? Or even now, do you make playlists? If you do, what’s on your favorite? Curious minds want to know.


  1. Interesting post, Robin. I'd never heard of mix-tapes. :) But I loved a lot of different songs I used to dance to at discos. When I hear those songs again, it takes me back to earlier days of colorful lights flashing, loud beats designed to get your body moving, shaking that booty, and lots of bumping and grinding. :)

  2. Thats so funny. I did make mix tapes; for my 21st Birthday Party and for friends. I spent days doing it too. I think I still have them somewhere.

    Nowadays, I have my itunes. There's the writing soundtracks; 1 for each story. There's driving music, party music, mellow out music. Yep, when I think of it, I cant live without my soundtracks.

  3. I've never made mix tapes, but remember how a radio was the soundtrack of my summer. I remember exactly what beach I was on when I heard Tears For Fears 'Everybody Want To Rule The World' over and over!

  4. On behalf of Barry Manilow fans everywhere, I am wounded! LOL! Just saw him in concert earlier this year and LOVED IT! Copa, copa cabaannnnnna!

    I didn't do a lot of mix tapes, but I had a few. Now I do them as song lists on my iPod.

  5. I saw a car the other day with an 8-track tape player. Those were the days.

  6. Oh, man, did this post take me back! A funny thing is, if I hear an "oldies" (try 80's) song on the radio, I sometimes will start singing the song that was next on my mix-tape. Funny how that stays with us.

    I don't make many playlists anymore, mainly b/c I'm so busy writing that I have to have songs I can't sing to on my iPod. My gym has televisions, so I watch the morning programs while working out. But now that you've got me thinking about it, maybe I will -- just as soon as I meet deadline for this next book. LOL

  7. Robin,
    I made mixed tapes. I taped my favorite Video's off MTV to play later. I even remember getting a mixed tape from my airforce boy friend Arvin. It had "Oh, Donna", and "If I were a Carpenter" "Fly me to the Moon" etc. I didn't realize then how romantic that was. Gee, I wonder where all those old tapes went too. HMMM!!!

  8. Hi everyone!

    You're up early and I wasn't. Not only did I sleep in (it was much needed, I assure you) but I got talked into making Cinnamon Date Scones for breakfast. Scones are not really a quick and easy pour-cereal-and-gobble-it-up breakfast food. Although, I must admit, they were particularly yummy.

    Terry - I was a bouncer at a disco and yes, I had dancing mix-tapes too, I'm sure you can relate.

    Heather~ What were on your mix-tapes? Have you noticed that no one has 'fessed up so far?


    I'm with you when it comes to the radio too. When I wasn't listening to my tapes, I had the radio on. Sadly now that I have an iPod, I never listen to the radio...ever.


    Damn, I hate it when you start singing on the blog. Now I have that song in my head. I'm going to put on my Queen playlist - they're the only band that can push Barry Manilow out. I'll be singing Loverboy, for the rest of the day. Ooh love, ooh loverboy, whacha do tonight? Hey boy....


    My mom used to have an 8-track, I remember she had the Four Seasons on tape. My sister and I used to think it was so much fun dancing to What's New Pussycat in our basement.

    Judi~ Again, no one has 'fessed up to what was on the mix-tape. I was counting on you, Judi. Please, tell us.

    Diva Donna- Your boyfriend sounded sweet. And thank you for telling us what was on the tape. I appreciate it.

  9. Hi, Robin! Never made a mix tape, but you're right that music has an unmatched power to take us back in time. Smells do it for me, too--the smell of ammonia and chicken soup in my mother's house every Friday, getting ready for the family Sabbath dinner. Murphy's Soap makes me remember moving into my first house with my husband, washing kitchen cabinets! Odd how these little moments come back. Keep your lovely musical memories!

  10. Oh, Robin! Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. I can still remember the first cassette deck we got that "automatically" turned the tapes!

    I still have the ones of Gordon Lightfoot, ABBA, Neil Diamond, BTO, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, etc., and, of course, my Russians.

    I discovered I MIGHT have been playing the Tchaikovsky tape a bit too often when, while putting the children in the car, dh was whistling a piece that had an echo line. When he paused just before the echo, a little whistle filled it in from the back seat.

    It was our Patty, in her car seat, not yet able to talk, but she could whistle Tchaikovsky!

    She's 28 now, and we still laugh about it.


  11. Man, talk about walking down memory lane AND dating myself! I SO remember doing this. Sitting with the boom box between my legs and the radio on, waiting for the DJ to say what song was up next so I could hit that record button if it was one I loved. LOL! So crazy. Seems impossible now that we did that. Like typing on a typewriter - kids today look at you like you are crazy because they just can't comprehend!

    I am still a classic rock gal. Journey, Foreigner, The Doors, Zeppelin, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, etc. Great music!

    Great, fun post Robin! Thanks.

  12. OK-here's where my age shows through--I am a champion mixed CD maker :) And my favorite thing to do is throw in something totally unexpected like Queen, Michael Jackson, Electric Light Orchestra, Janis Joplin... the list goes on. And what is so great is how timeless some songs can be. And all of my friends are like "I love that song! I never knew they made music like that."

    And I love making playlists for my iPod--it makes the work day so much easier when you have a great soundtracak :)

  13. Miriam~

    You're right about scents bringing back memories. Every time I smell onions and garlic sauteing in olive oil it reminds me of waking up on Saturday mornings when I was little. My mom would always make gravy aka spaghetti sauce on Saturday mornings. I'd stumble into the kitchen and she'd be there in her green and yellow checked apron cooking.

    Gwynlyn~ Your Patty is amazing. I heard of whistling dixie before but whistling Tchaikovsky--that's a first! LOL


    It sounds like we had similar tastes. Mine also included CSN&Y, Janis Joplin, The Dead, The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Queen, The Moody Blues, The Police, James Taylor, Carole King...

    Okay, Danielle - we all know you're a baby. There's no need to make the rest of us feel ancient. Just so you know, I've made mix-CD's too and I have a bazillion playlists - after all, I've got over 15,000 songs on iTunes. I can hit shuffle and it will go on for weeks!

  14. I used to make them all the time. Christmas tapes, tapes to relax by, and tapes that made me want to get up and dance.
    Now I have an MP3 player with a ton of stuff on it and I have playlists on it, and one of the first I made was a "soundtrack" for one of the first books I wrote. Fun stuff!

  15. I remember mix tapes, and now it's my playlists.

    I find certain music to suit each book and music to suit my moods.

    My iPod is very full. :}


  16. shhhh, i still have a bookcase full of tapes. music and comedy...i just can't get rid of them. (^_-)

  17. Robin,

    Sorry, but I'm late to the posting. I remember mixing 8-tracks of clips from the Dr. Demento show. (Hope that doesn't show how old I am.)

  18. Interesting post that takes me waaaay back, Robin! I never had mix tapes, but I remember them. And I did record and send cassette tapes instead of letters back and forth with my best friend after she moved away back in elementary school. I wish I had some of those tapes now; they'd be so fun to listen to. Thanks for taking us back, Robin, I hadn't thought of those in forever.


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