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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Great American Road Trip Mix Tape #4

Side A: Flip over to Side B:

The mix tape, an everyman's soundtrack for life condensed into an hour and a half on one side. When I first got a dual tape deck boom box capable of recording from tape to tape, I went nuts. Up until that point I had to wait by the radio for my favorite song, the record button at the ready. Most early mix tapes in my collection still have the sounds of DJ's long gone book ending those 80's tunes that filled my youth with Dance Hall Days and Endless Summer Nights. I would tuck my Walkman's belt clip securely over my Bugle Boy jeans, grab my ten speed and hit the streets delivering papers around my neighborhood while blasting a collection of my favorite songs into my now deafened ears.

At the age of 17, my parents entrusted me with my first vehicle, a 1984 Pontiac Firebird with bucket seats, pop up headlights, and a broken tape deck. I was devastated. My biggest dream was to pull out of my parents' driveway and hit the road with my mix tape blasting through the neighborhood. I managed to rig my walkman with an adapter that would play through the tape deck without needing the use of the capstan spindles, which wouldn't turn. Using a hand strap from an old duffle bag, I attached the walkman to my leg and I was off and running like Doug Masters from Iron Eagle.

As CD's became widely accepted I began pilfering my brother's collection looking for songs to weave into the tapestry of tunes that carried on this wayward son down the highways of southwestern Pennsylvania into the heart of the local mall. With the availability of recordable compact discs still beyond the horizon, I opted to keep the mix tape alive and spinning with my TDK 90 minute masterpieces. Not convinced that the concept of cassette tapes becoming extinct was a possibility, I honed my two finger recording skills to be able to maximize the entire 90 minutes. This was essential as to not recreate the "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida incident of 1993" in which I miscalculated the space available on side one causing the drum solo to be spread over two sides. Even with the advent of automatic-reversing, there was still an eight second pause in between sides that dropped me out of my driving zone.

Planning the perfect mix tape is an art form that has gone the way of the dodo, just like the skill of handwriting has when it comes to email and word processing programs. The object is to capture a feeling or set the mood for whatever the venue may be when the mix tape is played. Depending on the occasion you may want a big punch for an opening or in the case of a more subtle setting you might want to open slow building up the tension towards a powerful conclusion. In order to be the Michelangelo of the Memorex you have to be aware of important aspects when creating this magnetic piece of art.

Who is it for?
What is the theme?
Will you be able to play it repeatedly without getting tired of it?

That's why the mix tape is such an art form. With mp3's and CDs it's too easy to create a mixture of songs that will have you, or more importantly the person you make it for skipping over songs that don't fit in with other songs. With tapes it's more creative to plan out the song list. You have to be precise in choosing your set. Making snap decisions will cause you to have a huge gap wasted on side one, while you sit there and rack your brain over cutting a great tune because it won't fit on side two. The mix tape should only be attempted by professionals. There have been accounts where entire villages have been decimated over a poorly planned mix tape. I will never get those haunting images out of my head. Who can forget CNN showing the aftermath, complete with a smoldering Buffalo Bills Super Bowl XXVII shirt amongst the rubble. Those poor people, all the victims of a senseless misunderstanding over how to follow up opening a mix tape with AC/DC's “Thunderstruck.” Also, do be extremely careful to not misuse “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Those two songs should be reserved for long highway trips where you have no stops. It's also a bad idea to put them on the same side, let alone on the same tape. You don't want to waste precious song space with two epic tunes that total around 13 and a half minutes. Keep it simple.

In case you are wondering about that last paragraph, I will explain. You never ever open with “Thunderstruck.” There is no way to correctly follow it up without losing momentum by the fifth song. I suggest saving it for the last song on Side A. If you want to open your mix tape with a great starter song that will allow you to move smoothly into the rest of the list, I opt for a shortened version of Mark Mancina's opening track from the movie Twister. What?!? You've never used orchestral tracks from movie soundtracks on a mix tape? It's the greatest thing since Dolby Noise Reduction. I've been throwing movie tracks onto mix tapes for years. Some of the greats like Williams, Zimmer, and Silvestri are great for a highway drive. After all, what guy in the 80's didn't drive around in his Celica or Camaro pretending to be Sonny Crocket driving his replica Ferrari Daytona, complete with Ray Bans at midnight, loafers without socks, and fuchsia blazer over black tee shirt? There he is, crusing down the main street of town, blasting Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" followed up by Jan Hammer’s “Crockett's Theme.” Now I ask you, how cool is that?

So, there you have it. I suggest you go home and practice putting together a kick ass mix tape. Don’t try to be a hero and go out there 14 inch speakers a blazing. Start small. Work on just one side and test it. These kinds of trials have made the difference between rocking down the highway with a skull exploding mix tape or being stuck at a red light next to a mean looking biker while blasting the Macarena in your AC Delco. Trust me, it won’t be pretty.

Mongo's suggestions for a great mix tape. in no particular order. These are only his opinions and come with no gaurantee. Results may vary.

"Rapture" by Seed
This song was completely unknown to me until a friend from California put it on a mix tape that she sent to me in 94. One of the coolest songs IMO.

"Astrocreep 2000" by White Zombie
My buddy Ray kicked off a great mix tape with this adrenaline charged tune as we rolled out of Pittsburgh and hit the highway.

"Banditos" by The Refreshments
A truly wonderful song from a truly underrated band. Great for fast escapes or quick trips.

"Trademark" by Eric Johnson
Subtle instrumental great for Side B opens or long rides through the plains or dessert.

"Dreamline" by Rush
Great opener from Rush's Roll the Bones album. Good highway tune.

"Couple Days Off" by Huey Lewis and the News
While it may seem passe and cheesy to put HLATN on a mix tape, it's still a great song. I suggest only using on Labor Day or Three Day weekend drives.

"Where's My Thing, Pt 4: Gangster of Boats Trilogy" by Rush
Strictly instrumental and strictly a freeway, weaving through traffic anthem.

"Cliffs of Dover" by Eric Johnson
Side B opener and great instrumental choice. Beat our "Where's My Thing" for the 1991 Grammy.

"Foreplay/Longtime" by Boston
At nearly eight minutes in length, this binary hit could get you in trouble if not used correctly, leave it for Side B to bring back the love.

"Eastbound and Down" by Jerry Reed
Get in your Trans Am, put on your cowboy, and turn on your CB. Great open for long trips on the Super Slab.

"Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler
Strictly for chases or rescues. Don't get stuck in traffic or you'll waste it.

"Humans Being" by Van Halen
The last known track by Van Halen to include Sammy Haggar. Another gem from Twister

"Heaven or the Highway Out of Town" by The Refreshments
Another great pick from them. A good closer for Side B. For the daring, I suggest their "Blue Collar Suicide" as a Side A opener

"Crockett's Theme" by Jan Hammer
City driving at night should be reserved for this synth hit from the Miami Vice soundtrack

"Africa" by Toto
Another good night tune, especially at dusk heading into the city.

"Stone in Love" by Journey
Good Side B opener. Resist using on Side A for fear of the "Thunderstruck" effect.

"Man in Motion" by John Parr
80's movie magic found in this St. Elmo's Fire hit.

"The Price of Love" by Roger Daltrey
The Who frontman mad quite a few soundtrack appearances. This is a good Side B opener.

"Quicksilver Lightning" by Roger Daltrey
Another from the man. If planned out correctly, could be a Side A opener.

"Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger
Keep the momentum alive by using this track somewhere in the middle of Side A.

"Scratch-N-Sniff" by Stevie Ray Vaughn
The late great guitarist gives your Side B a much needed boost

"Be Good to Yourself" by Journey
Another great closer to Side B. A complimentary Side A opener is their "Only the Young" offering from Vision Quest

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