1/29/18: I made you a mixtape…

Do you remember cassette tapes?

They’re not making the kind of comeback that vinyl did, for a lot of reasons. Cassettes can get mangled pretty easily; the tape can get stuck in your tape player and then you have to get a pencil and wind it back up and hope the tape doesn’t get even more tangled. I was actually pretty good at reeling in unraveled tape (one of many skills I have that are no longer relevant).

But they were fun. They gave you the kind of control over the music that you don’t get on a CD or LP. You could tape stuff off the radio, or make mixtapes for your friends or latest crush. I don’t know what folks do now to impress potential dates – a Spotify playlist?

Bow Wow Wow put out a single about cassettes back when they were first introduced, about beating out big corporate record companies by recording music off the radio. They neglected to mention that artists don’t get any royalties when you do that, but it is a great song.

I was more a fan of buying the music and then making a cassette of it for my Walkman. And then I’d walk, man, all over town listening to the little audio universe I had created for myself.

I usually bought 90 minute tapes; you could fit an album on each side. You’d punch out the little plastic tabs at the top of the tape so you couldn’t record over it (when you did want to re-record, you put scotch tape over where the tabs used to be).

Generally there’s a little time left over at the end of the album so you can add two or three more songs. I remember on one tape, I put three different versions of “Around and Around” – here’s the Animals’ version, which has a really fun bass line.

 

Another tape had one of my favorite Madness tracks at the end:

 

And of course I made mixtapes. Generally I’d listen to the mix for a couple of months and then tape over it, but there was one I made in college that I loved. I think I still have it. I remember that it opened with Talking Heads:

 

Personally, I’m not done with cassettes. As part of my large unwieldy music collection, I have a milk crate filled with them, whittled down from at least 4 times that number of tapes. I still have a dual-cassette deck, and I have no plans to get rid of it. I even have my old Tascam 4-track recorder – I did a full album and many demos on that machine.

They may be out of date, but cassettes did contribute to a lot of happy hours of listening for me.

 

 

 

Image by stuart.childs
Creative Commons License 2.0

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10/31/16: Scary Halloween Dance Party

I made a playlist on Spotify this week, with some scary creepy music.

The music I picked isn’t usually associated with Halloween (except for “Red Right Hand” and “Goo Goo Muck,” but I picked out some of the darkest, most unsettling songs I could think of.

No “Monster Mash” this year – trust me, I love that song, but that’s for another Halloween playlist.

It’s a dark world inside this music – stabbings, murders, monsters, and whatever it is Lux Interior is going to do to us.

This is a test-drive for the Spotify playlist; please let me know if it doesn’t work, or tries to get money out of you, or steals your car.

Tomorrow we return to happy shiny music that’s just bursting with joy.

09/06/16: Personal motivation and audio cleanliness

Way back in 2011-12, I was unemployed, and it was really rough out there in the job market. Nobody was hiring. For anything.

It was easy to get discouraged, after sending out resume after resume after resume. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, there were songs I would listen to during that time specifically to encourage myself to keep going. This is one of them:

Featuring the late great Bernie Worrell. And note that David Byrne has solved the problem of what a lead singer can do during instrumental parts – just take a couple laps around the stage.

This is from the live movie “Stop Making Sense,” one of the great moments in rock cinema. Why? It’s just a bunch of really good musicians doing a live show and it’s one of those great nights where everything works out perfectly and it’s just magical.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of live albums. I love when things are beautifully recorded in the studio and you can hear what’s going on. Like you hear on any Talking Heads studio album:

And the studio version of “Life During Wartime” is a great track:

But for me, the energy of the live version, along with the additional musicians, just takes the song to a whole new level. And that energy makes the lyrics have that much more impact – it goes from kind of ironically detached in the studio version to serving up the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach in the live one. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s recorded really well.

Of course, I can’t get too precious about pristine studio recordings. First of all, it’s so easy to go too far with that, in which case you wind up with a sound that’s overly sterile (see: The Eighties). Secondly, I’m a big jazz fan, and the stuff I listen to is generally either a live concert, or an album that was entirely recorded in one day.

Here’s “Samba Triste” from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba,” an album that was recorded in its entirety in just one day. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts, and won Getz a Grammy. It also reminds me of autumn, which is coming up way too soon:

 

Image by Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC License 2.0