1. Start with a Buddy Holly song. Every mix tape that starts with a Buddy Holly song gets a smile going 10 seconds after you press play.
2. Pick a song with the name of the person you're making the tape for – depending on the name. All Marthas love The Beatles' "Martha My Dear," but all Beths hate Kiss's "Beth" – and what Roxanne really wants to hear "Roxanne" again?
3. It's useful to ponder what kind of mood you're trying to create. If it's an angry break-up tape, you must include the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love". If it's a sad break-up tape, you must include Frank Sinatra's "The Night We Called It a Day". If it's a make-out tape, try Al Green's "One of These Good Old Days". If it's a road-trip tape, you're going to throw in The Clash's "Janie Jones", the music gods' gift to automotive technology.
4.Twenty-minute avant-jazz freakouts? Some other time.
5. Try to put the Aretha Franklin song at the end of Side One – no matter who the next singer is, they're going to sound sickly and timid trying to follow the Queen of Soul.
6. Mix it up stylistically. If you were in the mood to hear the same kind of music for 45 minutes at a time, you'd just put on an actual album.
7. Think of a different silly title for each side of the tape, such as Hall Side and Oates Side, or Pork Side and Beans Side.
8. Cut out scrapbook pictures of old movie stars and use them as a cover for the tape case. (I'm partial to Ava Gardner in The Hucksters.)
9. When in doubt, James Brown. You're never not glad to hear him, especially after a few too many Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley ballads.
10. If you're a male, and you happen to be making this tape for a female in whom you have some sentimental or carnal interest, think twice about including Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" or AC/DC's "Let Me Put My Love Into You". Trust me on this one.