I had this project, you see. After several years of operating motor vehicles equipped with outdated technology in the dashboard stereo, I finally graduated to a car that had a CD player and an input jack for an iPod. To commemorate, I went to my stockpile of cassettes, planning to give each a fresh listen before consigning them to a Converse box in Valhalla. Naturally, I inflicted random ruminations on the tapes and the songs they held on any digital wanderer who haplessly stumbled into my chunk of cyber real estate. I believe “Smells Like a Mix Tape” was the oldest mix tape in the collection. When I posted this one, my friend Phil commented, “Wow, if you sold that mix-tape on like, The Buzz Bin, I would have totally bought it on a late night MTV infomercial.” It remains of one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Through the magic of modern technology, I replicated the mix on YouTube. Sorry about the Spin Doctors song. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Smells Like A Mix Tape

Circa 1993

I think this was made in the waning days of my college career when I felt a sudden urgency to commit all of the secret wonders of the radio station’s library to cassette tapes that I could bundle into my knapsack and tote with me out into the real world. Many of these selections were from the fabled “C Stacks” of the station, where the most obscure albums went only to be found again by the truest believers with the longest memories. The cover seen in the photo was made a couple years later, in an early abuse of my day job during the time I was working four different gigs after moving to Madison.

XTC, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”
JACK RUBIES, “Be With You”
This is one of the great lost singles of late eighties college radio. It’s a bright, wondrous piece of perfect pop precision. The Jack Rubies didn’t exactly build a hefty discography and none of the rest of it stands up to this great song.
THE CHILLS, “Male Monster From The Id”
TONI HALLIDAY, “Time Turns Around”
Halliday’s Hearts and Handshakes was an album I put into rotation at the college radio station my first summer helping to call the shots there. While 90FM was always a little less exclusionary in the stocking of the music library than most fellow residents of the left side of the dial, this was still pretty high gloss pop to occupy shelf space there. But I found this song so irresistible that I couldn’t relegate the album to the same file cabinet drawer that housed our copy of unused Madonna album (which caused the office to reek of patchouli oil all summer). Then, a couple years later, Halliday was lead singer of the new band Curve, which was a brief but significant sensation, adding retroactive respectability to that initial music programming choice.
TOM TOM CLUB, “You Sexy Thing”
SARAH McLACHLAN, “Into the Fire”
JOHN KILZER, “Red Blue Jeans”
Making this tape was an exercise in nostalgia, but this compounded the rearview gazing. This song reached back before my college years when it was featured prominently on the old WMAD-FM in Madison.Hungry for new music, I used to hone in on anything they played that wasn’t from a well-established artist. Sometimes that was a rewarding practice, sometimes it was sorta disastrous. This song wasn’t the worst they played, but, in retrospect, it’s not very good.
When skippering the understaffed radio station in the summer months was at its most trying, this song, with it’s bellowed chorus of “God I hate July!” was a bitterly enjoyed favorite.
THE BALANCING ACT, “She Doesn’t Work Here”
PAUL WESTERBERG, “Dyslexic Heart”
TOM PETTY, “American Girl”

THE CONNELLS, “Stone Cold Yesterday”
One of those solid but unremarkable bands with albums that were equally parts admirable and instantly forgettable. This churning single was a major exception to that assessment.
THE LEMONHEADS, “It’s A Shame About Ray”
SOUL ASYLUM, “Cartoon”
All that animosity now felt over the band Soul Asylum is entirely understandable. I, too, never need to hear “Runaway Train” ever again. Hang Time is a great record, though.
SPIN DOCTORS, “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong”
BRUCE COCKBURN, “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”
THE SAINTS, “Grain of Sand”
Australia’s The Saints have their place in punk history secure thanks to 1976’s “(I’m) Stranded,” but I hadn’t heard that song by this point in time. In fact, it was probably another ten years after this point that I ever heard it. My introduction was this anthemic number about a smothering sense of personal insignificance. As a kid who was deeply committed to Springsteen’s arena-shaking bold earnestness, this sort of thing was a perfect gateway tune.
SOUP DRAGONS, “Divine Thing”
‘TIL TUESDAY, “(Believed You Were) Lucky”
PETER GABRIEL, “Solsbury Hill”
While I love the original in certain contexts, this is the recording from the 1983 album Plays Live, the only version that matters.

2 thoughts on “From the Archive — Smells Like a Mix Tape

  1. So so delighted to see Balancing Act on here. I sometimes think that my brother and I are the only people who remembered that they existed. I had the pleasure of seeing them live once. Will definitely be ‘spinning’ this on the YouTube link later today.

  2. Listening to The Saints track right now. My intro to that band was All Fools Day so discovering their roots later was like discovering a completely new band

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