There are some very cool aspects to owning a “classic” car.
Yes, I know, it’s a red 1991 Dodge Shadow convertible. It’s deemed a “classic” thanks
to its age, and not necessarily for its curb appeal. But I love that little car. And more importantly,
I love the fact that it has…yes…
…a cassette player.
To understand the impact of this means you have to understand me. I’m from the Golden Era
of The Mixtape.
As a teen, I would spend hours building the perfect mixtape. I was the consummate Executive
Producer for each of these masterpieces-in-the-making, carefully compiling songs, planning and
arranging their running-order. I could not bring myself to just throwing any old random bunch of
songs together on a tape, try as I might.
Oh no, my mixtapes were themed. They were “concept albums” of the highest order. They could
be upbeat, they could be moody, they could be based on ideas or places or experiences or instrumentation.
But they were never random. And as Executive Producer of these mixtapes, I could be merciless in finalizing
my tracklists. I could go into planning and making a new mixtape based on two or three songs that I
wanted to put onto a tape, but by the end of it, some or all of those very same original songs wouldn’t
even have made it to the final cut.
“Sorry, The Fixx and Rush, but Strange Advance and Saga are what we’re looking for on this album.
We’ll keep you on file.”
I did it then, and I do it now. I just can’t bring myself can’t break the pattern. I still make mixtapes with the
same uber-critical approach: The first song…Side One, Track One…sets the tone. Strong out of the gate.
This is the song that will establish the tone, the theme for the entire album. Track Two, Track Three…uptempo,
continuing to build the theme… And then, Track Four: The Downshift. Something to slow the pace. This one’s usually
the thematically-strongest song on the album. The rest of Side One continues to paint in the background of those first
four songs, more often than not, wrapping up the first half of the mixtape with something very down-tempo and quiet.
Side Two, Track One. Oh, where to go and what to do with this one? This track is almost as important as those first few
songs on the mixtape. There’s something about that *click* of a cassette switching over to Side Two – it’s like the turning of a
page to begin a new chapter in the story. Pretty hefty weight of responsibility you’ve got there, Side Two, Track One…
I like to go with a song that re-establishes the theme of the entire album. Maybe not the most accessible track on the album,
and probably not one the record label would choose as the mixtape’s single. But it’s going to be the most true representation
of what this concept album is trying to say.
From there, the mixtape album continues it’s ebb and flow, with natural rises and falls in tempo, all holding true to the theme.
And, no “filler”! Uh uh, no weaker songs buried amongst the gems on my mixtapes…every one of those twelve songs has earned
the right to be there!
And then, The Closer. Something to wrap it all up, to summarize and give resolution to everything the album was trying to say.
And, because it’s a cassette, The Closer has to be something that’s going to make sense when the tape clicks back over to the other side,
and starts all over again.
There’s nothing better than making these olde-school collections, a carefully-crafted mix of songs “borrowed” from favourite
artists. I would hope they would understand and appreciate the process and high critical standard required for
their songs to make it to that tape’s twelve-song final cut!
Yep, it’s a ruthless, thankless job, being the Executive Producer. But it’s all worth it when, on a cloudless summer day,
I’m bombing around town, with the top down, listening to these links to summers’ past: the mixtape.
Again, my apologies to The Fixx and Rush. Maybe next time…