In the mix: The rebirth of the mixtape

You can download any song that takes your fancy. You can store thousands in a box that fits in the palm of your hand... But isn’t something, well, lacking? The heyday of the DIY compilation cassette may be over, but as Tim Walker discovers, a new generation of music lovers is falling for the romance of the C9

Monday 14 July 2008 00:00

TDK, BASF, Maxell: once, these were among the most important words in the teenage lexicon. Generations of young romantics perfected their playlists, customised their cover art, and poured heart and soul into the creation of the perfect compilation cassette tape. It might have been to impress a friend, to while away a car journey, to soundtrack a party, or to win the heart of a fair maiden.

The advent of the iPod and the download seemed certain to consign the cassette to cultural oblivion, but in music, it seems, what goes around comes around. Thanks to a growing band of online fans, the home-made tape is refusing to die.

If you know where to look, you’ll find cyberspace bulging with blogs debating the cult of the compilation, hi-tech social networks with an old-fashioned approach to music-sharing, and nostalgic music-lovers eager to relate fond memories of their favourite mix tape.

It’s such a modest thing, that little plastic cartridge with its spool of delicate magnetic tape.

Yet it can be the catalyst for a courtship, the backing track to many a sleepless night, and 90 minutes of memories that last a lifetime. Like the human relationships to which it was once the soundtrack, a mix tape can quickly and unexpectedly unravel.

The recordable cassette represents the momentmusic was first put in the hands of the masses. For those who couldn’t strum a guitar, a mix tape was the ultimate expression of youthful (self-)obsession. And an underground cassette culture continues to flourish, courtesy of a new online coalition. Each month, the members of the International Mix Tape Project put a home-made cassette in a Jiffy bag and send it to one of their 1,200 fellow participants, in 30 countries on six continents. All it takes is for Ryan Goldman, the project’s founder, to email each member with another member’s name and address and – hey presto – music-sharing the old-school way. Cassette from my Ex is a blog where writers share their mix-tape memories of past flings and stream the resulting soundtrack for everyone to enjoy., meanwhile, uploads a monthly mix-tape of new music, and The Art of the Mix, a 10-year-old community of mix-tape lovers, is a forum for suggested tracks. Such mix-tape blogs and downloads abound. Even if your latest playlist is digital, you can store it on a USB stick in a mocked-up cassette box – also available from online stores. The tape may be technically inferior, but there are good reasons why it holds a more cherished place in music-lovers’ hearts. For one thing, a well-conceived mixtape takes hours of care and attention.

Nowadays, any old Casanova can whip off six CD burns in a night for six different girls. Where does that leave the nerds of the world, who once, at least, had the advantage of elite musical knowledge and a social life barren enough to put in the time and effort required to select, compile and record the tracks for a cassette tape? Then there’s the cover art. Some choose the easy path: a hastily scrawled tracklist with no frills, which plays it cool and says: “Hey, this is a tape I happened to make.”

Some, on the other hand, take the honest approach: calligraphy honed to perfection with the aid of a four-colour Biro, which says: “I love you. Please love me. And if you can’t,at least acknowledge my impeccable taste in music.”

It’s the flaws that make a mix tape unique – the song accidentally curtailed, the DJ’s intro on a track recorded from radio, the felt-tip smudges on the sleeve. You don’t get that with an iPod playlist. Digital is perfect every time. Digital is dull. The Philips audio cassette arrived in Europe in 1963, and in the US a year later, but the format had to wait 15 years to really find its feet.

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In 1979, the Sony Walkman went on sale in Japan. Like the iPod, it swiftly became the ubiquitous music-player that made its format essential. Whoever designed the Walkman’s first UK model must have had some understanding of the mix tape and its significance – it featured a pair of headphone jacks, allowing two people to listen at once.

That era of post-punk, during which cassette culture flourished, presaged today’s music scene. It was an age of garage bands and DIY recordings, and as young fans started to copy and share each other’s music collections, home taping was soon being blamed for killing music. Of course, it was doing the opposite – putting power in the hands of listeners and allowing them to feel like creators, too. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth was an early mix-tape connoisseur.

In 2004, he published Mixtape: The Art of Cassette Culture, a celebration of musicsharing. “Once again,” he wrote, “we’re being told that home taping (in the form of ripping and burning) is killing music. But it’s not: it simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control music-sharing is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.” Among the old, neglected mix-tapes now online are the NME’s iconic C81 and C86 tapes from 1981 and 1986.

Both were mail-order mix-tapes produced by the weekly music newspaper in conjunction with the record label Rough Trade, compilations of the most exciting independent bands in Britain at the time. C86 included tracks by Primal Scream, The Soup Dragons and The Wedding Present. The tape defined a generation of indie kids and became a byword for the jangly guitars and woozy melodies that were its signature sound. Britpop-era NMEreaders may remember the dying days of the covermounted cassette. In 1997, for example, Creation Records released Creation for the Nation, a mix tape featuring a then-rare Oasis demo, as well as tracks by the Super Furry Animals and Teenage Fanclub.

Mix tapes can also have mass appeal. The genres of mix tape are many and varied, though the most common is the courtship tape and its corollary, the break-up tape. There’s the “tape you thought was a courtship tape until she mentioned her boyfriend” tape. There’s the walking tape, the summer tape, the dance party tape. There’s the good old showing-off-yourcollection- to-a-new-mate tape. Driving tapes, now almost defunct owing to the lack of cassette players in new cars, had a series of sub-genres, including the road-rip tape and the commuting tape.

Perhaps your favourite tape was just the one you kept in the ghetto blaster to record the best of the Top 40 each weekend, which was peppered with snippets of Mark Goodier’s mid-Atlantic disc-jockeying. In his 1995 novel High Fidelity, Nick Hornby captured the inner life of the youngish, British male, a guy who defines his life by music and mix tapes. “To me, making a tape is like writing a letter,” says Rob (played by John Cusack in the film adaptation).

“There’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention… and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and... oh, there are loads of rules.” But Rob is a snob.

There are no rules, and that’s the beauty of the thing. A tape is a piece of postmodern art, a personal expression based on appropriation. It’s a way for those who can’t play an instrument to manipulate music and mood. The Rolling Stone journalist Rob Sheffield constructed Love is a Mix Tape, his memoir of love and loss, around the countless mixtapes he and his late wife once made for each other. “The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with – nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape,” he writes. “It does a better job of storing memories than actual brain tissue can do.” And the desire that drove mix-tape culture is still there.

Young people yearn to share music: they set up streamed playlists, they send CDs to each other, they exchange iPods for an evening. It can still be a make-orbreak moment for a burgeoning love affair, or the social cement that binds two new friends together. But, in a world where iTunes rules, it’s nice to know that the cassette still has some good tunes left to play.

Me and my mixtape

Jamie Lidell
I’ve always made mix tapes, but I’d end up spending longer making the artwork than recording the tape. And then I’d write a song name wrong and have to Tippex it out. The TDKwas the classic cassette, but there were also the chrome tapes for when you wanted blow the budget.

I’d often record over bits of songs by accident, leaving a break in the music. Eventually I’d get used to the little gap in the song, so that when I heard it normally it didn’t sound right without the break. That ended up informing my own music-making process – I leave the mistakes in.

I gave a mix tape to my first crush, a girl called Kate. I can’t remember her surname now. Because I was a budding songwriter I used to fill the tapes with a few songs of my own and a few songs by other people. There was a lot of Prince on the tape – Iwas in my Purple Rain phase. But itwas mostly my own material because I didn’t own very many records. My sister had the records and she kept them wrapped up in the cellophane.

Taylor Savvy, who plays guitar and bass in my band, still does mixtapes and mix CDs. He’s a huge collector of weird outsider music, and he’ll just hand you one over breakfast. Mymusic is becoming more poppy at the moment, so it’s a great antidote to get all this strange music from him. I’ve still got a cassette recorder in my flat and I always leave one of his tapes in it.

"A classic Taylor Savvy mix tape"

Nine tracks by Sly & the Family Stone, live from the Fillmore, 5 October 1968
Paul Stanley, "Onstage banter" (recording of Stanley talking on stage)
David Lee Roth, "Running With the Devil" (a cappella version)
Rhymefest, featuring Michael Jackson, "Man In the Mirror"
Sonny & Linda Sharrock, "Black Woman"
Matilda Jackson Parker, "Congress Woman"
Charlie Feathers, "Talking About Loving"
Zega & Evans, "Overture"

Jamie Lidell is a singer-songwriter

Jonathan Lethem
It used to be so much more effortful. Nowadays we're all tuned into the world of iTunes and playlists, but I still remember so viscerally the craft of winding the tapes to exactly the right point, turning the record and the needle to just the right moment on the groove so it would start instantly, and eyeballing an eighth of an inch of tape. It was like I was shoeing horses or something.

In college I made a lot of dance tapes that I was proud of. They would get dubbed and circulated and people would have parties and I would know that they were dancing to my tapes. There was always a crucial tape at the beginning of any relationship and sometimes beautiful, passively aggressive break-up tapes, too.

iPod playlists are weird because they can always be revised and tinkered with. It's never final. I rarely feel the kind of pressure on them as I did with tapes. At my age you feel a lot of vanished intensity towards music. You can't exactly describe when it became less crucial, but you pine for that feeling.

This tape is called Sour Grapes: the theme should be pretty obvious. Not a "real" break-up tape, in that it isn't pointed at anyone or anything that happened to me, but it does strike a sort of break-up note, doesn't it?

"Sour Grapes Mix"

Chet Baker, "I Get Along Without You Very Well"
Bryan Ferry, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
Duke Ellington, "I Don't Mind"
Elliott Smith, "Oh Well, Okay"
The Buzzcocks, "I Don't Mind"
Ray Charles, "You Win Again"
The Secret Machines, "All at Once (It's Not Important)"
The Kinks, "Better Things"
Erma Coffee, "Any Way the Wind Blows"
Buddy Holly, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore"
King Pleasure, "No, Not Much"
Tom Waits, "Better Off Without a Wife" (Live at Ebbets Field, 8 October 1974)
Hot Chocolate, "So You Win Again"
Badfinger, "Take It All"
Bob Dylan, "Most of the Time"
James Brown, "I Don't Mind"
Tywanna Jo Baskette, "Just a Memory"
Loudon Wainwright III, "I'm Alright"
Sly & the Family Stone, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"
Johnny Adams, "I Don't Worry Myself"

Jonathan Lethem is a novelist

Conor McNicholas
I owe my life to a mix tape. I was in sixth form in Bradford, and I was aware that there was a world of music beyond Prince and Sting, but I didn't know where to start. I did, however, have one friend called John Shanks who listened to John Peel a lot, and he offered to make me a tape.

It was indie – The Stone Roses, a bit of Primal Scream I'm sure – and one track set my synapses firing – The Charlatans' "The Only One I Know". This was what I'd been hearing on the radio, this was the music I was looking for, and now here it was for me to play again and again.

When I screwed up my A-levels and entry into Cambridge, I was secretly delighted. I applied to Manchester University – I wanted to be in the same city as the Smiths and the Mondays and to go to the Hacienda. While I was screwing up my degree, I DJed, played in bands, ran a small magazine and met my wife. That tape reset my brain. I lost it while I was at university, which is a pity because I'd treasure it now.

Conor McNicholas is the editor of 'NME'

John Niven
I wonder, do people really still make mix tapes? I'm picturing myself handing Robin, my 12-year-old son, a cassette and realising that I might as well be handing him a fragment of a Bronze Age drinking vessel.

I am far too lazy to have ever actually made a mix tape for anyone else, but I have received a few over the years. The "golden era" for me was the mid- to late-Eighties, when I was a student at Glasgow University. Our friend Ian made me and my flatmates a mix tape for a party. The actual cassette was a black and green Maxell (or maybe BASF?) with a clear plastic strip across the middle. As well as the usual suspects – lashings of Rickenbacker-era Primal Scream and the first Wedding Present single "Go Out and Get 'Em Boy" – there was lots of stuff we'd never heard before: Wire's "Map Ref 41N 93W", "Are You Gonna Be There?" by the Chocolate Watchband, Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop", "Shakin' Street" by the MC5.

Ian was a year or so older than us – at that age a decade in terms of experience – and his tape did exactly what those things should do to you when you're in your late teens: it opened our ears to the music of the generation before us. The Wire track, for instance, had only been released in 1979. But when you're 18 or 19, six or seven years isn't the three seconds it feels like now: it represents half of your cognisant existence. It was like hearing something from another civilisation. The aural equivalent of that Bronze Age drinking vessel.

Actually, maybe I should make Robin a mix tape. Mind you, I'll have to buy him a cassette player first...

"Ultimate C86 C60 mix tape"
Side A

The Wedding Present, "Go Out and Get 'Em Boy"
The Weather Prophets, "Almost Prayed"
June Brides, "I Fall"
McCarthy, "Franz Hals"
The Pastels, "A Million Tears"
Close Lobsters, "Firestation Towers"
Television Personalities, "A Sense of Belonging"
Primal Scream, "Subterranean"
The Jesus and Mary Chain, "In A Hole"
The Go Betweens, "Spring Rain"

Side B

The Loft, "Up the Hill and Down the Slope"
Jasmine Minks, "Cold Heart"
The Bodines, "Therese"
Hurrah!, "Hip Hip"
Felt, "Ballad of the Band"
The Wolfhounds, "Anti-Midas Touch"
1000 Violins, "1000 Violins"
Big Flame, "Every Conversation"
Microdisney, "Birthday Girl"
The Servants, "The Sun a Small Star"

John Niven is an author

Paul Smith
I still make mix tapes today. The thing about cassettes over CDs is the fact that you've listened to the songs the same way the person you give it to will. I can't stick to one genre for too long. I tend to have a lot of emotional sad stuff on mix tapes that I make, but I try not to make anyone suicidal. My friend Pete uses mix tapes to introduce me to stuff I'd never otherwise listen to, like free jazz.

The tape I'm making at the moment is for identical twins who are in the other band I play with. They're called Rachel and Laura, and it was their birthday last week, but I was away, so I'm making mix tapes for them. Each of them will receive different songs from the same record. So it starts with Joni Mitchell from Court and Spark, and they'll both get a different song from that album.

"One of a pair of mix tape twins"
Side A

Joni Mitchell, "Help Me"
Hot Club de Paris, "Hey! Housebrick"
Mink Deville, "Spanish Stroll"
Bryan Ferry, "The In Crowd"
Magazine, "Rhythm of Cruelty"
The National, "Murder me Rachael (Live)"
Leonard Cohen, "I'm Your Man"
Randy Newman, "In Germany Before the War"
Leo Kottke, "Watermelon"
Ralph Towner and Gary Burton, "Drifting Petals"
Neil Young, "Through my Sails"
Laura Nyro and Labelle, "I Met Him on a Sunday"
David Sylvian, "Maria"
Brian Eno/Moebius/Roedelius, "Light Arms"

Side B

Elvis Costello, "New Amsterdam"
Martin Carthy, "The Bedmaking"
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, "Owed t'Alex"
Television, "Glory"
Gravenhurst, "The Velvet Sell"
Cocteau Twins, "Beatrix"
Mark Eitzel, "Western Sky"
Prefab Sprout, "Lions in my Own Garden (Exit Someone)"
XTC, "Rocket From a Bottle"
Broadcast, "Black Cat"
BBC Sound Effects, "Horse Neighing/ Donkey Whining"
The Cramps, "Rock on the Moon"
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls, "Dream Sequence 1"
Joan as Police Woman, "We Don't Own It"
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, "Why I Love Country Music"
Mary Margaret O'Hara, "To Cry About"

Paul Smith is the frontman of Maximo Park

Isobel Campbell
I've learnt so much about the best music in the world from mix tapes. It's where, in my late teens, I first got to hear The Sonics, Neil Young, Dion, Moondog, Charlie Parker and Linda Ronstadt, to name a few. A lot of my mix tapes came from old boyfriends, usually prior to dating.

I would always return the favour – and some of my selections were pretty inspired. I'm lucky enough to know a great DJ, who was also the king of mix tapes and is now the king of compilation CDs. He gives them out every year at his club. Andrew [Symington] has DJ-ed at Divine at Glasgow School of Art for as long as I can remember. It's from those mix tapes that I first heard singers like Mary Love, Della Reese and Irene Reid, or tunes like "Grazing In The Grass".

One of my all-time favourite mix tapes came as part of a Christmas present along with a Bobby Gentry album from another Andrew. On the spine of the mix tape it said "Just so you won't have to sift through my record collection!"

Side A

The Byrds, "Chestnut Mare, Get To You"
The Beach Boys, "Busy Doin' Nothin'", "Feel Flows", "Slip On Through"
Buffalo Springfield, "Burned", "Expecting To Fly", "On The Way Home", "I Am A Child"
Donovan, "Epistle To Dippy"
Canned Heat, "Goin Up Country"
Darlene Love, "Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home"
Jean Knight, "Mr Big Stuff"
Carole King, "It's Too Late"
Linda Ronstadt, "You're No Good"

Side B

Linda Ronstadt, "Different Drum"
Mike Nesmith, "Joanne"
Box Tops, "Soul Deep"
Todd Rundgren, "I Saw The Light"
Rod Stewart, "The First Cut Is The Deepest", "Debris"
Marianne Faithfull, "Sister Morphine"
Crazy Horse, "I Don't Want To Talk About It"
Marianne Faithfull, "Is This What I Get For loving You Baby"
Mazzy Star, "Fade Into You"
R.E.M., "Perfect Circle", "We Walk"

Isobel Campbell is a singer

Lightspeed Champion
I still make mix tapes. I used to put my own songs on there with other people's songs mixed in. If you give someone a tape, they can't skip through the tracks. Usually I stick to a theme, but it'll go AWOL towards the end of Side B. This tape is of French people who are linked by having written each other's songs or performed with them or dated them. I've been obsessed with Alain Gorageur for years.

"Lightspeed's French-themed festival season playlist"

Alain Goraguer, "Mort de Draag"
France Gall, "Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son"
Jean-Claude Vannier, "L'Enfant Assassins des Mouches"
Nina Simone, "Don't Let me be Misunderstood"
Serge Gainsbourg, "69 Annee Erotique"
Dion, "The Majestic"
The Zombies, "Remember You"
Bobby Womack, "Across 110th Street"
The Strokes, "Ask Me Anything"
France Gall, "Baby Pop"

Lightspeed Champion is a singer-songwriter

Billy Bragg
I drive a 15-year-old car because I'm afraid if I buy a new one it won't have a cassette player. My tapes go back to the early Eighties when I worked in a record shop in East Ham. I'd make tapes without having to buy the records. I've got a mate from Peterborough who used to make me reggae CDs, and a mate from Chicago who sends me a CD of Christmas songs each year.

The best mix-tape I ever got was in the Eighties, when Jesse, Bob Dylan's son, was really into English bands. He'd go to my New York shows. Once he handed me a tape and said: "I made you a cassette with some of Dad's records." It was folk music from the British Isles. I'll be at a festival and someone will play one of them and I'll go: "Whoa... What's that?" It was a mixture of old stuff, contemporary stuff and Irish stuff. I don't know who's singing any of the songs, but if I ever meet Bob, I'll ask. Talking about mix tapes with Bob Dylan is one of those things we'd all like to do, isn't it?

Billy Bragg is a singer-songerwriter

Miles Kane
In school, I had a Minidisc player and I used to put my tunes on discs. I still do mixes but I've upgraded to an iPod. Super Furry Animals were the first proper band I liked. I loved "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve. I walked around listening to it, thinking I was dead hard. I remember my mate giving me a tape when I was kid; it was the first time I heard Bowie. It really got me.

"A song mix"

The Coral, "Music at Night"
John Lennon, "Gimme Some Truth"
Oasis, "Hey Now"
Frankie Valli, "Begging"
Jerry and The Pacemakers, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"
The Beatles, "Glass Onion" (Love album)
Matt Monroe, "Dream the Impossible Dream"
Morrissey, "All You Need Is Me"
Motörhead, "Ace of Spades"
Harry Nilsson, "Everybody's Talking"
Neil Diamond, "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon"
The Ronnettes, "I Wonder"

Miles Kane is a musician in The Rascals

Emmy The Great
I call them "crush tapes" and I still make them all the time. It was really important when I was a kid to have a CD player and radio that had a tape deck as well. My first mix-tape was from a boy. I remember it exactly! It had two Smashing Pumpkins B-sides, a Bad Religion song and a Ben Folds song. I listened to it for about three years after I stopped seeing the guy. It's better than going on a date; it's like: "This is the music I listen to and if you don't like it, we're not going to get along."

I try to make the songs flow, as if I'm making an album. I always include a Mountain Goats song and a Diane Clark song. If I heard a brand new song I wouldn't put it on a mix tape because you don't know it well enough yet. You have to put on songs you really know, so you know where it should go next to other stuff. I used to put a lot of effort into making the cover, but now I act like it's just: "Oh by the way, I made this tape for you."

When I was 15, a guy gave me a tape of punk classics. It had a Saturday night side and a Sunday morning side. He put so much effort into it and I remember being so embarrassed, because the tape I gave him was all feminist music like Tori Amos. He never called me!

Jamie T made a bunch of mix tapes and gave them out at gigs. I did think of selling mix tapes at gigs for money and then someone pointed out that it wasn't my music to sell. I'd never put my own music on a tape. That would be such a boy thing to do: "The best song I have is my own song..."

"An Emmy the Great Crush Tape"

Alison Krauss, "Down to the River to Pray"
Deerhunter, "Cryptograms"
Radiohead, "Thinking About You"
Neutral Milk Hotel, "Naomi"
Bobby Rydell, "Dream Lover"
Leonard Cohen, "Take This Waltz"
Evan Dando, "Down About It" (live)
Minutemen, "Maybe Partying Will Help"
Guided By Voices, "Everywhere With Helicopter"
Yo La Tengo, 'Sometimes I Don't Get You'
Okkervil River, 'Girl in Port'
Dirty Projectors, 'Obscure Wisdom'
Lovers, 'I believe In Outer Space'
Beach House, 'Auburn and Ivory'
The Innocence Mission, 'Migration'
Rivers Cuomo, 'Dude We're Finally Landing (demo)
Diane Cluck, 'PSU vs Louisiana Tech'

Emmy the Great is a singer-songwriter

Darren Hayes
I've always said the most accurate indication of romantic compatibility is music. First, you can tell what someone is like in bed by how they dance. Fact. Second, you can find out what someone is like by the music they listen to. Hence the value of exchanging mix tapes.

Flicking through your new friend's vinyl (then CD, now iPod) was the ultimate quick study. The inner monologue browsing through a music collection might go something like: Radiohead? OK, they have some taste – or at least want people to think so. Dirty Pretty Things? This person really cares what people think of them. Best of ELO? Interesting. It looks well played. The mind decides this is a guilty pleasure, one I approve of. We will be friends for life.

All my relationships have begun and ended with a mix tape. The most successful resulted in a box set of five CDs given to me by my now civil partner Richard. He had a collection entitled Dirt Under the Fingernails and it had songs that introduced me to bands like Dogs Die in Hot Cars and St Etienne. It had my favourite Kate Bush track and that elusive ELO song "Mr Blue Sky", which sealed our fate as lovers.

Even my relationship to my audience is in a way a mix-tape exchange. Pre- and post-show music has been a window into my mind. My last big show was at the Royal Albert Hall last year, but more telling was what I played at a tiny club in February. I planned to go away for a while and consider my place in the music industry. This was the tracklisting:

"A mix tape by Darren Hayes"

Depeche Mode, "Goodnight Lovers"
ELO, "Can't Get It Out Of My Head"
Godley and Creme, "Cry"
REM, "Why Not Smile"
John Lennon, "Watching the Wheels"
St Etienne, "Don't Falter"
Gotye, "Heart's a Mess"
Radiohead, "Let Down"
The Gadsdens, "Sailor Song"
Kate Bush, "Hounds of Love"

Darren Hayes is a singer and the former frontman of Savage Garden

Top ten tape tips
By Rob Sheffield, author of ‘Love is a Mix tape’

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.

Interviews by Tim Walker, Grace Harper Brighouse and Larry Ryan

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