Mixtapes and Heartbreak

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TDK with love

Hands up if you've ever made or received a mixtape. Keep your hand up if it was for or from someone you fancied. Keep it up if it worked.

If you've still got your hand up (figuratively, at least) then I guarantee that you'll be able to name at least one song from that mixtape, if not the entire tracklisting.

If you don't know what a mixtape is then you're obviously too young for this blog?—?please put this blog down and return to squeezing Spotify on your Facebook.

Say it with music

Dear Sweetheart...

The mixtape is a greatly under-rated 20th century ice-breaker and courtship ritual. I say 20th century as, like the pager, it is soon to become another relic of the digital age. The Oxford English Dictionary has already removed 'cassette player' from the concise version (not 'cassette tape' as widely publicised). Also, if you have kids, consider whether they will ever know the connection between a tape and a pencil.

Essayist Geoffrey O'Brien has called the personal mixtape 'the most widely practiced American art form'. Putting aside whether you think flinging a few songs together onto a TDK canvas is art or not, it's certainly true that, at its best, it's a creative process which produces a unique and lasting 'thing'. It's also true that mixtapes were hugely popular in their heyday?—?thankfully the barriers to entry are reassuringly low, almost American. Art or not, there are certainly good mixtapes and bad mixtapes, and Nick Hornby makes a decent stab at defining the rules in High Fidelity:

'To me, making a tape is like writing a letter?—?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 (I started with 'Got to Get You Off My Mind', but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two) 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.'
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

Whichever rules you play by, songs are lovingly chosen to show how sensitive, cool and attractive?—?and with hindsight, slightly obsessive?—?the DJ / conductor of love is. The tracks written out carefully (in pencil to avoid typos), with artist info too and a title: 'For Nicky'. Everything written but the obvious - 'please go out with me'. Borrowing words from your more confident heros: Mick Jagger (Let's spend the night together), Bob Dylan (Lay Lady Lay) and Alex Turner (I bet you look good on the dancefloor) to help sustain the narrative.

Not all mixtapes are serenades but I suspect a large proportion are more motivated by romance than altruism. Many, many years ago, a young man's essential courting pack included a lute and a hand-inked poem on flowered paper?—?I speak from bitter, bitter experience. Not so many years ago, the amateur DJ replaced the amateur minstrel and the lovemixtape succeeded the love sonnet.

Shuffle me not

Feelings, Tape #2

Lovemixtapes are hand-crafted, made to order. Song choice and order is agonised over, transitions between tracks are tested before signing off and the mind struggles with the intended and unintended meanings of particular songs. This is one playlist that cannot be set to shuffle; some things are best not left to chance. Shuffle me, shuffle me not, shuffle me...

When heartbreak ridge finally does appear in the relationship horizon, at least there's always a memory crystallised, a sonic record of the love and the loss. Successful or not, every man remembers every mixtape he ever made for a girl. Standout individual tracks might be shared and re-used across different tapes but each mixtape is resolutely unique. A corner of your heart that's forever hers.

A friend of mine has the slightly disturbing habit of making heartbreak mixtapes. He says the only mixtapes he's made for girls have been created after they split up. All the little songs that define their relationship are tagged, bagged and compiled into a pseudo-chronological record. I don't know if he ever actually gives them out or not...that would be a little strange, like reading a musical review of your relationship in a magazine.

Sex, tapes and rock 'n' roll

Greg's Mixtape

It would be interesting to hear the other side of the tape: from those who receive rather than create mixtapes. Without edging into sexual politics, the act of making a mixtape is normally attributed to the more anally-retentive male, with the fortunate female recipient consigned, in a 50s style, to listen and not speak back. It would be wonderful to hear that this was misleading and actually there were just as many female mixtapers out there.

Or maybe there exists a perfect couple whose courtship was carried out to the tune of a handmade TDK soundtrack passed back and forth via successive mixtapes. Answers on a postcard please, or at least in comments at the bottom of this post?—?bonus points for the comment that admits to the most unromantic song in a mixtape, composed or received.

From mixtapes to mood music, from the boom-boom cattle markets of our teenage and twenty-something years to the 'back to mine' moments that demand the seduction playlist, it's a wonder that anyone managed to come together without music in the old days...perhaps Larkin wasn't wholly kidding:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterly ban
And the Beatles' first LP. 

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Annus Mirabilis, Philip Larkin

Larkin was more into his Jazz anyway, claiming 'Few things in life have given me more pleasure in life than listening to jazz', but his personal 'Year of Wonder' successfully links the 3 R's (rock, roll and reproduction) to the emergence of the contraceptive pill and the relaxation of British attitudes to sexual expression. Great music can stimulate great conversation; sometimes great mixtapes can even stimulate great non-conversations...


By Oliver Howell

Picture Credits

'Mixtape Series' by Natalie Kosnar (via lostateminor
'Mix Tape Poster' by Kate Bingaman Burt (via Eva Harvey)
'Greg's Mixtape' by aharuty.tumblr.com


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Hours for hours in front of the the stereo composing with proud feelings, hoping she wants to listen to it with your system, having a dump cold booty before moving again to feed the hungry stomack. The most unromantic I did: "The watcher and the tower" by but "Foreign affair" rescued him and myself. Thanks for the memories.


Great article Oliver!

I made one or two myself, but they were clearly unsuccessful and I can't even remember what was on them now!

However, I do have some friends who got married about 6 years ago and gave every guest a CD-R with a mix of their favourite music, from Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately" to a Whitesnake track (although I can't remember which one). I suspect that everyone at the wedding probably put it on in the car on the way home, although how many have it as a favourite "playlist" now is a whole different question...


Thanks, rowlandhills - the wedding mix is a nice touch. Hope they were able to resist the urge to put the obvious wedding-related tracks on (think Billy Idol and Dolly Parton...)

Thanks, Sing a long - it's never nice to 'dump cold booty' so I appreciate you stopping by.

I had one that an ex made for me; I kept it for years. I thought he wanted me back ... but when I told him I'd cried over it he said he was drunk when he made it and couldn't remember what was on it ... which wasn't what I was hoping to hear! He married someone else. And yes, it still hurts a wee bit.

I have had a few given to me over the years by my hubs. One of my favorite went missing shortly after a former babysitter came to town asking advice on a relationship she felt was slipping away. We were in the car and my most recent mixed tape was playing and I suggested she make one to let her guy know how she felt about him. She left town and took my tape with her! Funny thing is she said one of the problems they'd been having was that he couldn't trust her!

I made a mixtape for one girlfriend, it even worked, despite (or because of) having unromantic songs like Negativ Nein by EinstŁrzende Neubauten on it.

We were a couple for 7 years and have a lovely daughter together.


I was always making mix tapes. Pretty much always gave a girlfriend a tape when we first started going out. I used to make tapes to take on holiday, to take on road trips or to just sit in the garden. They were like mini soundtracks.

In all the time I owned (a really nice) cassette deck I don't think I recorded anything other than the records I already owned. I also had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the short songs in my collection that could fit on the small gap left at the end of a tape when you'd nearly finished it.

My first mixtapes were taped off the Radio 1 Sunday charts and were made purely for my own pleasure. I didnít even really consider that anyone else would want to listen to them but it was always a thrill if you were permitted to play your tape in the car with Mum & Dad. This was usually a short-lived venture.
I did receive a few mixtapes as a teenagerÖ from boys too! But forgive my naivety in thinking they were purely to broaden my musical horizons. Never did I think that there was a romantic motive behind them and never did anyone benefit in such a way!
As an adult, I often think about making a mixtape for a friendís birthday, especially one consisting of tracks from a significant era in our friendship. One friend would definitely love to hear the soundtrack to our early computer game playing days...it was 1992, I had an Amstrad computer and we were addicted to playing Dizzy. Atlantic 252ís limited playlist seemed to consist of about 10 songs, and each of those songs can still evoke memories of the long hours we stayed in my room, tanked up on mugs of tea and bourbon creams, helping Dizzy save the Yolkfolk. The tracklist would be the one below. Not because I like the songs but because they remind me of her.
1. Dizzy, The Wonderstuff & Vic Reeves
2. Please donít go, KWS
3. Save the best for last, Vanessa Williams
4. Tears in heaven, Eric Clapton
5. Just another day, Jon Secada
6. The Best Things In Life Are Free , Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
7. One , U2
8. Hazard , Richard Marx
9. Rhythm Is a Dancer , Snap
10. Would I Lie to You? , Charles and Eddie

I made lots of mix tapes growing up, but for someone special it would be a mix CD. Does that still count? haha..But I do remember the songs on them. The first girl didn't stick around, the 2nd....did :)

By the way Andie - nice mix!


Great idea!


Make a mixtape and share it with someone you like

They were like mini soundtracks.

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