The Mixtape: An 80s Pop Culture Staple
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.