Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The '80s Tape

Once upon a time, there was a black TDK cassette. It looked something like this:

Sometime in 1984, my mother used this cassette to tape several songs off Top 40 radio. My mother and I didn't always get along too well, but with this tape, I must admit that she created a masterpiece. She was not a person who intellectualized music the way that I do. But here, she possessed the instincts of a natural.

Although by accident rather than design, the tape became a perfect slice, an expert capsule of what pop music in 1984 was all about. Most of the major artists of that time were represented in some fashion. Almost every song was a winner. Even the duds were mostly tolerable. Huge hits sat next to relatively lower-charting gems. Songs that I still hear on the radio to this day were nestled against songs that, for years, I had only heard on that tape.

The '80s Tape had some idiosyncratic features. In a painfully hilarious way, the tape captured the passive-aggressive nature of my parents' relationship. Initially, I believe my father had used it to tape some of his favorite songs off his LP copy of Toto's monster album Toto IV. I guess he only wanted to listen to the four big hit singles (which were "Rosanna," "Make Believe," "I Won't Hold You Back," and "Africa") and didn't feel like lifting the needle. Or he wanted to hear the songs in the car. At any rate, my mother apparently took the tape and recorded her own songs over it. But she did a sloppy job. So on Side One of the tape, "Rosanna" played in totality, and then about a minute of the way through "Make Believe," there was a loud click, and then the tape began playing the last minute or so of David Bowie's "Let's Dance," before slipping into some DJ banter.

My father later grabbed the tape and must have realized, with horror, what my mother had done. Undeterred, he simply taped the four Toto songs onto the start of Side Two, my mother's songs be damned. So the tape as I knew it featured the four Toto songs at the start of Side Two, complete with silence in between, so it was obviously not the radio, and then when "Africa" faded into the ghostly Saharan night, suddenly there was another loud click, and you heard the last minute or so of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)." And the rest of Side Two consisted of my mother's songs.

Certain songs were missing their opening seconds. And little bits of opening seconds were sandwiched in between completed songs. I specifically remember the introductory piano notes of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock And Roll" left dangling uncompleted between two cuts. One song was even recorded twice, for some bizarre reason. But all these little quirks were part of the '80s Tape's charm.

Despite the battle for supremacy, both mother and father agreed to listen to the tape in the car, and it became a staple of our family drives. I can't say how long, precisely, it reigned, but at some point, it must have fallen out of favor, perhaps to make way for the new Madonna or Gloria Estefan album.

Almost ten years later, in 1994, I was rummaging around in the house when I stumbled upon a black TDK cassette. "What is this?" I thought to myself. I plopped it into the stereo, and instantly I knew. "Ah, The '80s Tape." The memories came flooding back, and flooding back hard. The tape seemed to be particularly evocative of night time drives through San Francisco, for reasons that remain mysterious to me. I have no specific memory of driving through San Francisco at night listening to the tape. Perhaps a couple such drives took place. Doesn't matter. The tape, to this day, still reminds me of that vibe. It's a good vibe. As a child, the city seemed vast and glorious and impossibly mysterious. I liked the city more than the trailer park in Half Moon Bay, I can tell you that.

So when I rediscovered the '80s Tape in 1994, all those associations came back with it. I listened to that tape the entirety of my freshman year of high school. I went to the library and tried to find out the names of all the songs on the tape, and the artists who recorded them. This was before the internet, folks. Finally, I got sick of the tape again and discovered alternative rock. Not really. But I moved on to other albums. I did keep The '80s Tape around, however. I believe I still have it to this day. It's sitting in a corner of my room with all the other cassettes I never listen to anymore but don't have the nerve to throw out.

And yet, although the tape itself has been retired, the music lives on. One night in college, I downloaded each of its songs and reconstructed the running order on my computer. It was strange to hear the tracks without the awkward endings and occasional radio static. But the overall spirit remained.

And now, for the benefit of the readers of Cosmic American Blog, I am about to perform a similar reconstruction, this time through the powers of YouTube. A few words before I do.

I am going to post about six videos per post, free of commentary. Whenever possible, I am going to post the official music video. When no such video is available, I am going to post an audio-only version or a reasonably representative live version. As mentioned, both sides of the tape began with Toto's "Rosanna." I am only going to feature it once here. Likewise, Michael McDonald and James Ingram's "Yah Mo B There" was recorded by my mother twice. Maybe she really liked "Yah Mo B There"; maybe she'd forgotten that she'd already recorded it. However, I am only going to include it once. You will notice that a couple of tracks actually date from the late '70s. I'm not exactly sure how Top 40 stations chose their playlists back in the day, but apparently they were willing to stretch a few years back. More analysis to follow. But first, without further ado: The '80s Tape.


Peter Matthew Reed said...

You could make a YouTube playlist, so we can just select the playlist and have it play all the way through.

Little Earl said...

Why in the world, Peter, would I want to do that?

Actually, could you tell me more about how to do that?

Even if I do figure out how to make a "playlist" though, I am still inclined to embed the videos like I usually do, because I want you to savor each song individually, and I don't want to blow you away with too much '80s Tape all at once.

Peter Matthew Reed said...

Well, to make a Youtube playlist, I think you need to get an account on Youtube, which is free.
Why you would do it is that you probably aren't going to write 3-4 minutes worth of copy for each song, so I will have to wait for each song to end before scrolling back to start the next song. I think you'll have a better conversion rate if you just have one button to click and then the playlist starts - obviously it doesn't have to be the whole 80s tape at once. Just one side at a time or whatever.

Little Earl said...

Peter you are totally trying to kill my attempt at suspense.

Also, I think I do have a YouTube account. But what would I do? Make a playlist, and then post it with a link? That's not a post, that's a link.

Maybe once I finish posting all the embedded videos, I'll make a YouTube playlist. But by that point, you could make one yourself. Or I might as well just give you an mp3 mix of the '80s Tape, if you really like it that much. I mean, it IS the '80s Tape, but I can do better.