When all words fail, she speaks / Her mix tape’s a masterpiece
– Ben Folds, “Kate”
The precursor to this blog was mix tapes. In high school I made mix tapes every day to get us through the 45 minute bus ride to school. For friends I made mix tapes of songs I thought they should know. After I graduated college and started a job, I made mix tapes to get through the work day. As I didn’t have my own office for several years, I aimed to make compilations that would have broad appeal, so my coworkers could enjoy them as well. It’s hard to please everyone. Try as I might, I could not get Karla to enjoy the tunes I included. She thought Whitesnake were the greatest group in creation, so how could I expect her to like music that was good?
In his book Love is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield writes that there is always a reason to make a mix tape. He provides the following categories:
The Party Tape
I Want You
We’re Doing It? Awesome!
You Like Music, I Like Music, I Can Tell We’re Going to be Friends
You Broke My Heart and Made Me Cray and Here Are Twenty or Thirty Songs About It
The Road Trip
No Hard Feelings, Babe
I Hate This Fucking Job
The Radio Tape
The Walking Tape
And the drug tape, the commute tape, the dishes tape, the shower tape, the collection of good songs from bad albums you never want to play again, the greatest hots of your significant other’s record pile, the night before you break up.
I love mix tapes. I love to categorize music. Not by genre. I miss the old days of top 40 radio when Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters were played on the same station. I love to find connections between songs that nobody else would have thought to put together.
There’s an art to making a good mix tape. I have my rules – open with an uptempo song, don’t clump all the best known songs together, mix in lesser-known tracks with the more famous ones.
This blog is my mix tape outlet for the 2000s. Here I usually focus the playlists on single artists (meaning playlists of one artist, not unmarried artists, though maybe I’ll make a mix tape of the latter). The art of a single-artist mix tape differs from that of a various artists collection. For that matter, the methodology varies from artist to artist.
When I created a Buddy Holly playlist last week, it wasn’t difficult to decide what songs to include. The man had a short career, so it was pretty obvious which twenty songs would comprise the compilation. The Michael Jackson playlist I created just over a week before than was more challenging. The man had so many hits and other great tracks that were not hits. In that case, I figured whoever would be listening knows Thriller inside and out, so I focused on his other releases. I chose songs that were hits but since forgotten, songs that were not hits but have held up great over time, and mixed them with the best-known songs from his teenage and pre-teen years. I approach each artist differently.
Part of the challenge of creating a good mix is I don’t know exactly who my audience is for the blog. For example, being today is Ben Folds’ birthday, I made a Ben Folds mix. Who is going to listen to it? Is it the Ben Folds fan? Is it the person who knows Folds from his only crossover hit, “Brick?” Is it the person who has never heard of Folds, but gives the playlist I listen because they trust my recommendation?
I don’t know, so I created a playlist in which my favorite Folds album tracks hang out with many of the fun cover versions he has released digitally between albums. I usually don’t include so many covers in a playlist of a singer/songwriter. In Folds’ case, he approaches covers in different ways. Some are faithful to the original, as when he performs Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” of Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” Some are radically different than the original versions, a la his covers of the Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” or Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Though covers, the ones in the latter category reveal his artistry as much as his originals do.
In honor of Ben Folds’ 49th birthday, here is a Ben Folds mix tape.
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