Tuesday, July 24, 2012


When we were kids growing up in the 70s, my brothers and I heard our first-ever mixtape. It was one that my Dad made and played in the car on a consistent basis on pretty much every trip we made—to the beach, to Vermont on ski trips, to upstate New York or central New Jersey to visit family friends, and even on long, long rides from Connecticut to Florida.

My Dad called it "Assorted Cuts," and he originally made it on his massive reel-to-reel player before transferring it to a 90-minute Memorex cassette tape that he'd be able to use in his brand new car cassette player. And yes, he probably had a version copied onto an 8-track tape as well.  

I can still vividly picture the dark blue Memorex tape with the words "Asstd. Cuts" not written on the label, but rather pasted on front one of those old-fashioned raised label makers. Without a question this was not a tape my Dad had any intention of taping over.

It was a collection of roughly 20 songs, many of which I recall in order. Side 1 began with the Eagles "Take it to the Limit," followed by Olivia Newton John warbling "Have You Never Been Mellow," Cat Stevens' bizarrely soul-free version of "Another Saturday Night," and then to my Dad's all-time favorite song, Kris Kristofferson's weary version of his epic "Me and Bobby McGee." Next came Steeleye Span's "Blackjack Davey." And if you've ever heard it, well, I am impressed. Because I have never met anyone who has.

But the mix, I have come to realize, contained music that planted a lot of seeds for me. It had three Beatles songs that my Dad spread throughout the 90-minute duration ("Hey Jude," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Let It Be") that I have no doubt are the first three Beatles songs I ever heard. The tape was my introduction to Kristofferson (who remains a favorite today) as well as Ms. Newton John (who doesn't), and it contained a staggering four Elton John tunes (yes, it had the standards "Rocket Man" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," but also had the monumental "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and the deep, deep cut of "A Bullet in the Gun of Robert Ford"). The tape had tracks from Carole King and Mary Travers sidled up against a screeching track from Janis Joplin "(Cry Baby," which my Mom couldn't stand and always wanted to fast forward.) 

It was an eclectic mix, to say for sure. That my Dad is a near equal devotee to ABBA as he is to Queen says something about him. Good, I think. Something very good. Even though anyone—anyone—who listens to ABBA has at least a small something inherently wrong with him/her. But I digress.

But that little mixtape was really the first-ever primer I had into pop music. Good and bad. I would give anything today to find it and listen to it, straight through, one more time, and hear those songs now as I heard them then. While staring out a car window and watching snow-peaked mountains get closer and closer, or I-95 highway signs clip by one after the other on a long, long journey south. To provide a backdrop to my travels, wherever I'm headed, that is as familiar to me as family. 

I've made a million mixes in the years since I first remember hearing my Dad's "Assorted Cuts" tape. A million of 'em. With songs as disparate as the ones he had, to tell the truth, only no longer limited to the confines of one 90-minute spool of tape. I've made tons of them. With 20 or 50 or 70 or even 90 songs on them, songs that come in nearly random order that surprised and delight me when I hear them a few years later, as I did on a recent trip to Florida when I sat listening to a 70-song mix I made in 2008 called "2008 Vacation Mix." I've made them, I've listened to them over and over again, and I've anxiously awaited whatever song comes next.

I've made a ton of them and I'll make a ton more. I love the work of art that is the music album, one artist putting a collection of songs together under one encompassing skin; I hope it's not a dying artform. But I also love making funny and interesting song mixes and having them spool out of the speakers, one surprise at a time.

But no mix will ever mean more to be, for better or for worse, than that "Asstd. Cuts" Memorex tape my Dad made all those years ago. For my brothers and me, it was the soundtrack to our childhood.

(Oh, and in case you care, here's "Blackjack Davey." And hell, it's not bad, I'd say.)


  1. Great article. Great mix tape. and Great song by Steeleye Span. I LOVED making mix tapes and RECEIVING them from friends to discover new music. I can remember hearing Bob Mould, The Bears, Television, Stiff Little Fingers and XTC for the first time, buried treasure on several mix tapes from a friend willing to share. And somewhere in a shoebox I STILL HAVE a mix tape of a certain outtake from Elvis that you made me many years ago...

  2. I didn't know Black Jack Davy, but I love Maddy Prior's voice. The best of English folk rock.