(Above: That’s an awfully cute cassette tape.)
In a post last week I suggested that the summer of 1988 was my last carefree summer. There’s really no way for me to argue with that. The summer between my first (and last) year as a traditional undergraduate student can best be described as being free of any real responsibilities. I had a part-time job at Kroch’s & Brentano’s bookstore at Orland Square Mall. The mall was the center of our social scene at that time, and everyone worked there in some capacity. (Sears employees had the best parties. The bookstore employees, myself excluded, did not.) I didn’t have bills to worry about, other than gas money and beer money. It truly was a “lost summer” in many ways.
1988 also, for me, was very much about music. I was coming off of my first year in college radio, which taught me that I desperately wanted to work as a disk jockey. I was all about music all of the time. That’s not to say that I was discovering new and progressive sounds – far from it. I was entrenched in my ways as a suburban classic rocker and oldies geek, complete with mullet and Hawaiian shirt.
This past weekend was spent cleaning our basement, and I had occasion to find a huge box of cassette tapes. Most of the cassettes that I own are not the pre-recorded variety. They were purchased blank and filled with sounds, mostly radio shows. I’ve done, by conservative estimate, over six thousand radio shows, and needless to say have not saved them all – but there’s an awfully big stack of them remaining. I have a number of old ones that I periodically introduce to radio students as a way of saying “See? I used to be lousy at this. There’s room for you in the field.”
But in the box were a number of mix tapes. There are two kinds of mix tapes: the kind you make and give to someone, and the kind you make for yourself. Naturally, I only have the ones that I kept. I’ll argue that I put more care into the ones that I kept, since in 1988 if you wanted to control the music in the car, a cassette tape was the only way. I spent a lot of time in the car, so the proper soundtrack was critical. Mix tapes were their own art – John Cusack’s character explained this in High Fidelity – about which I have plenty of thoughts. That’s another post for another day.
To bring this all full circle, I’ll start with an unlabeled pastel green “Music Pops” cassette only marked “Music Tape Summer 1988” on the J-card. What was big in the car that summer? Let’s see what surprises are unearthed.
“Tall Cool One” – Robert Plant. This was from Now and Zen. I remember that WXRT had an extended mix with more Zeppelin hooks thrown in (Bill Cochrane’s handiwork?) that I would love to hear again. If you have a copy, please let me know.
“What I Like About You” – Romantics. This got a lot of airplay on my Tuesday night radio show the semester before, entirely by request.
“Talk To Ya Later” – Tubes. Poor planning. This should have been the last song on the tape.
“Summer Nights” – Van Halen. An album track from 5150 that was always on at parties that summer. (We once had a party with one VH cassette on auto-reverse the whole night, and no one seemed to mind.)
“I’m The One” – Van Halen. It must be Twofer Tuesday. Another album track, this time with David Lee Roth on vocals. I was tempting getting a ticket having this on in the car.
“Expressway To Your Heart” – Soul Survivors. Now we’re getting somewhere. Commonly thought to be a one-hit wonder (although “Explosion In Your Soul” is really the same record). Clearly this is here because a) it’s about cars, and b) it’s a metaphor for something, at least as far as a 19-year-old guy understands subtle nuance.
“Girl Watcher” – O’Kaysions. Eventually this song will get its own post. It was the song that anchored a mix tape for my car in high school, and it should be here as well. Unfortunately, my back-timing skills at this point were terrible, and we only hear the first line or two of the song before the tape runs out.
“Kiss Me Deadly” – Lita Ford. We played this a lot at the college station simply for the cover photo of Lita, which listeners cannot see. I probably owe dozens of listeners apologies for that. (The Reel Big Fish version is superior.)
“I Wish I Had a Girl” – Henry Lee Summer. This is still a great song. I also loved the follow-up, “Hey Baby,” which didn’t do as well on the charts or with airplay. We never really find out precisely how the girl walks, but that’s not necessary to enjoy the song. She walks like that. And that is what he wants.
“One More Try” – George Michael. Sweet hell, what just happened? You can’t throw this song into this mix without warning someone beforehand. I’m lucky that I didn’t plow into the back of a garbage truck at some point. Clearly, I was absent the night in radio class where we learned about segues.
“Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd. Of course. At the end of the spring of 1988 I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d be back at Lewis. The last song I played on the radio station that year was this one, because it’s what a self-indulgent teenager does. And now it’s in the car, so that I can mull over the scenario all summer long. (This is also a poor choice for a mix tape because it’s so long.) There’s nothing like staging a huge farewell, only to come back a few months later and pretend that it didn’t happen.
Again, backtiming was an afterthought, since there’s blank tape at the end of this.
-I must have been limited to what I had in the house and readily accessible the afternoon that I recorded this. The summer soundtrack in my mind, if I made it today, wouldn’t look like this. But is that memory playing tricks?
-The future program director in me is unhappy. Artist separation and genre separation are abysmal. This wouldn’t get through a focus group.
-I vaguely remember wanting to do a mixtape called “The Beach Album” for trips to the beach. That may have been a 1989 project. In any case, it doesn’t seem to exist. That album would have had a mellower “return” side after a day in the sun. That’s the only thing I can think of regarding the slingshot tempo on side B.
-There’s not a lot of space between the tracks. I must have been trying to play DJ on this one.
As I find other mixtapes, I’ll listen through them. Musical surprises are the best kind.