Raise your hand if you ever made a mix tape. Not a playlist or a party CD, a mix tape.
If you raised your hand, then welcome to my generation. For a relatively short period of time, say 20 years or so, cassette tapes were the portable solution for listening to records, and later on, to CDs. With a cassette tape, you could listen to your tunes while jogging (or in my case, lying on the beach), or even in your car, on your way to work. Even better, you could make a special, curated tape of all your favorite songs. And if you were lucky enough to have a double tape deck, you could even make copies for your friends.
In high school, my friends and I composed and swapped tapes weekly. Certain songs were so beloved that they ended up on tape after tape (“Tainted Love,” anyone?). Sometimes there was a dud song, one that ended up being fast-forwarded through so often that it created an audible crinkle on the other side. Then there were the titles. I still remember my “Mirror Image Mix,” made by my friend Eric, featuring “1963” and “Hot, Hot, Hot!” My own “Little Green Bananas” mix tape was duped and distributed to all my friends, so we all could to listen to “Peek A Boo” and “The Great Commandment” whenever we wanted to.
What’s so special about all this? Now we have playlists we can dupe and email to our friends, right? True, true. But what to me is really lost is the craft of the cassette tape cover.
Cassette tapes were a great form factor — not the boring square of CDs, cassettes could be horizontal or vertically designed. The insert that came with the case could be folded out to make a larger image, or to allow for both a playlist and a graphic image. The small size was approachable, too, encouraging experimentation. My earliest cassette art was done with bright magic markers, later I experimented with collage and mixed media. Once at art school, the ante was upped, as my friends delivered tapes with the actual plastic cases modified with foil or even etchings.
Sadly, very few of these works of art have survived over the years, but I did discover these gems the other day. If any of you still have one of my tape lying around, I’d love to see it!