I think Nick Hornby missed out on this one. Mix tapes are worse than top ten lists. At least those are mostly spoken. Mix tapes live forever. And they come back to haunt you. Even if you trade, sell, or throw out the CDs from which the scary songs came.
I’m finding this in a big way at the moment. Now that my CD collection and I are reunited, I’m in the process of recreating all my old mix tapes as MP3 playlists. (There can be no deeper geekery.) In the process, I have to ask myself the painful questions. For instance: Why on earth did I precede that achingly lovely Górecki folk song setting with Dave Matthews’ “Jimi Thing”? (Granted it was before his cringe-inducing Alanis Morrisette duet, but still.) What was I thinking putting a twelve minute mind-numbing funk-jazz fusion number from Herbie Hancock featuring extensive electric piano pitch-bend solo on any mix tape? And why, why on God’s green earth did I put not one, but two album tracks from Jesus Jones on a mix tape—and why also two tracks from Ziggy Marley?
I guess it’s true. Reconnecting with one’s past means facing painful truths. I was a tasteless trend monkey. At least the tracks from the Pixies, Gastr Del Sol, Elvis Costello and others that also stud the tapes argue that there was an element of enduring taste as well.
I was going to claim that there is an art to sequencing a playlist, for tape or computer, having to do with maintaining mood, keeping appropriate tonal and rhythmic continuity (or contrast, as appropriate), and both pleasing and surprising the listener. But then I found there’s a web site that makes the argument for me: Art of the Mix. I suspect I’ll have to put up the mixes I’ve created so you can see how bad it really is. Another time. Here’s the list of mixes (in progress).