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The Mixtape: An 80s Pop Culture Staple

Updated on June 9, 2015
Compact Cassette
Compact Cassette | Source

Mixtapes as Pop Culture

There are several things I could choose as my favorite pop culture item, but I picked the mixtape as my favorite. During the bulk of the 80s, after 8-tracks and before the rise in popularity of CDs, there was the mixtape, or mix-tape. As a staple of my generation, they were a cheaper way to listen to your favorite music on your brand new Sony Walkman, or in your boombox. You could create the soundtrack to your life or create mixes and share them with your friends, or even create a special mixed tape to give to the person you were dating. I had so many of these things, and I treasured every one, but unfortunately, most of them are gone now.

My Early Days of Mixtapes

I can remember the summer I turned 11, before I got my "boombox" that Christmas, I first discovered recording with a portable tape deck. I can remember my brothers and I, or my friends and I, saying silly things and recording them on tape. I had seen my dad recording "oldies" shows off the radio onto his cassette deck, so that's where I learned I could record music.

In those days we lived in a house with an intercom system, and I liked piping music from the main unit in the kitchen to each of the bedrooms. If a song came on that I wanted to record, I would have to stand at the speaker in my bedroom, hit the "record" button, and stand there very quietly until the song was over. That didn't fare very well! I do remember the first song I recorded though - "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" by Melissa Manchester... complete with a ringing telephone in the background from somewhere in the house.

Mixtapes on a Boombox

Once I received my boombox, that's when I really got into making my mixtapes. When it came to labeling the song titles, there was one that I look back and laugh at. The song was "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club. Well, to me it sounded like Boy George was saying "Comma Chameleon", so I had written down "Comma Comma Chameleon". Nice.

I must have gotten blank tapes from my parents for a while, until I started earning babysitting money and then I could buy my own. Back then sound quality wasn't that important to me; I don't think I knew any better which tapes had better sound. Now I know that chrome tapes were better sounding, and I remember I had some of those, but on that boombox I don't think there was really that much difference, at least not that I could really notice.

I remember hitting the jackpot once. A friend and I had gone to look at a particular house that was for sale in our neighborhood. The house was unlocked and empty, except for a few boxes in the garage of things they weren't keeping. Being nosy, we came across a box of old cassette tapes, some in not very good condition and some used. We decided to each take a few of the good ones. (Also found was the book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). I was reading a passage from it out loud as we left the garage and started walking back through the house when... oops... we ran into the real estate agent and a couple looking at the house. That was embarrassing to a 14 or 15 year old. No one questioned why we were even there.)

Anyway, with my "new" cassettes, I had to use the tape trick in order to record over what was already on there. Remember that trick of having to put Scotch tape over the tabs on top to record over anything that was on there if the tabs were broken off? I had one tape where I recorded Madonna's "Into the Groove" throughout the entire first side. I guess I was just too lazy to just rewind it and listen to the song again.

Memorex DBS 90 Minute Tapes

My favorite blank cassette was the Memorex DBS 90 minute cassette tape. I loved the looks of those; with their yellow reels and pink and blue shapes on the body, they just looked so, well... 80s.

The End of an Era

Once I went off to college, I had a new stereo system with a double tape deck. It was great because then I could copy my friends' tapes or make copies of mine for them. I also played with "mixing" by taking two songs and making one long song out of them, for example, MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" samples the opening of Rick James' "Superfreak", so I would put the two together.

It wasn't long after that though that CDs really started to gain popularity and I started to wean off of cassettes. I kept two boxes full of cassettes but hadn't listened to them in ages, so they eventually got tossed when I moved... although I did come across my Duran Duran Rio cassette the other day. *sigh* Memories.

Did you make mixtapes? Do you still listen to them?

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    • greggers lm profile image

      greggers lm 4 years ago

      oh yeah, definitely! and then mix-CDs and now playlists. but it's not quite the same as the old tapes, is it?

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 4 years ago

      Yep! I make mix-CDs now - lol!

    • profile image

      jennabeezer 4 years ago

      Oh, yes...and I am digging this lens! I did the whole boombox to the radio thing and recorded Milli Vanilli's "Blame It on the Rain" :). I'm a bit of a pack-rat so I still have a cassette player and lots of old tapes. I play them when I'm doing housework. Great job!

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      I did, but I never knew they had a name until I read this! Boy, that didn't last long did it? Technology was going so fast in the 80s. I was one of those who bought a Beta recorder instead of VHS..good thing DVDs came along quickly.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very cool lens.

    • jericho911 lm profile image

      jericho911 lm 4 years ago

      I made mixtapes several times a week back in the day !

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 4 years ago from Chicago area

      yes, of course I made mixtapes! my favorite were the ones I made with roommates for the parties we threw .... the 3 of us would spend a night taking turns, adding 2 songs at a time in our rooms .... finished products were always soundtracks to amazing parties! I also especially loved the cool mixtapes my music-fanatic cousin made for me in the '80s, with songs/artists you could only get back then on import vinyl. I miss mixtapes!

    • StaceyWrites profile image

      StaceyWrites 4 years ago

      @JenwithMisty: That must have taken forever to make! Ugh, bummer that you never got it back!

    • profile image

      ConvenientCalendar 4 years ago

      The cartoons of the 80s were the best!

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 4 years ago

      Are you sure that you weren't my best friend?? Because I think I could have written this!!! Yep, I put tape over the tabs and the quality didn't matter to me either. I had so many and I loved them all too!! I took one once and made an entire song out of little snippets of hundreds of songs using the double tape deck. I think it took me a few months to make it. Unfortunately, I started going out with a guy from school who thought it was really cool and asked to borrow it and I never saw it again. Bummer. It was really neat.

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      Yes now I just download my songs to my ipod

    • FloridaDino profile image

      FloridaDino 4 years ago

      I am also sadly stuck in the 80's, but ,hey, there are worse places to be! I had mixtapes for all occasions so can vouch for their legendary status!

    • profile image

      MasterDripper 4 years ago

      I used to make tapes all the time from the top 40 countdown but now I listen to 80's music in cds and mp3 downloads...cheers

    • StaceyWrites profile image

      StaceyWrites 4 years ago

      @aka-rms: Thank you for stopping by! I don't even have anything I could play tapes on anymore.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 4 years ago from USA

      Oh yes I did but I no longer have them.