Valentine’s Day is this Tuesday. Have you decided what to get for that special someone? Back in the day, I would spread the Valentine’s love with the gift of music. For several consecutive years starting in the mid-to-late ’90s, my pal Lindsay and I would make Valentine’s Day music mixes for our friends. They started out as cassette tapes and evolved — in step with developing home recording technology — into CDs. But Lindsay moved to Atlanta, thus abandoning both me and this annual project. With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, I find myself waxing nostalgic for those pre-digital mix tape days.
We brought different skills to the partnership, I handled the music and Lindsay created the graphics for the cassette J-card or CD cover or whatever the format called for at the time. Lindsay is a terrific graphic designer, so his artwork was always superior to the actual songs I selected. Since this was all pre-iTunes, I had to own the actual CDs that included the songs which made up the mix. This resulted in some, um, eclectic tracks.
We didn’t go the obvious route by including mere love songs; it was much more high concept than that. The first year’s theme was Flowers & Candy. We thought it was so clever to send a mix of songs about the very items that are commonly given on Valentine’s Day. I think Janet Jackson said it best when she crooned: “You sent me some roses/But roses do die/You gave me some candy/It melted, nice try.” Roses die and candy melts, but cassette tapes last forever! The mix included Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” Sammy Davis Jr.’s “The Candy Man,” R.EM.’s “The Flowers of Guatemala” and “Cut Flowers” by the Smithereens. Eclectic, indeed.
Year two featured songs containing the words “gold” or “diamond” in their title, playing off the whole jewelry-as-gift thing The tape was called “Precious” and it was just that. Highlights included Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” and Sean Colvin’s “Diamond in the Rough.”
The following year I was beyond proud to be the first one on the block with a CD burner. Au revoir mix tapes, bonjour mix CDs! The disc was themed RED and the songs included UB40’s “Red, Red Wine” and Maria McKee’s “If Love is a Red Dress Hang me in Rags.” Lindsay wouldn’t let me put on “Lady in Red” by Chris Deburgh but applauded my inclusion of “Red Light” from the original Fame soundtrack. We understood each other.
Our swan song was a CD entitled “Boys and Girls” that included one word name titles: “Alison” by Elvis Costello, “Daniel” by Elton John, “Joey” by Concrete Blonde… you get the idea. My favorite track on “Boys and Girls” was a one hit wonder from the ’70s about cannibalism called “Timothy” by The Buoys. Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like the consumption of human flesh.
Before Lindsay moved to Atlanta, I was thinking about creating a perfume themed mix, but I could never beyond Madonna’s “Candy Perfume Girl,” The Pretenders’ “Hollywood Perfume,” and Animotion’s “Obsession.” Alas, our Valentine’s Day Mix tradition came to a close.
My friend Liz — one of the recipients of these labors of love year after year — once told me, “you know that no one actually listens to those Valentine’s Day mixes you and Lindsay send out, don’t you?” Ouch. While that may have been true, it doesn’t tarnish my nostalgia for those days . Thank goodness for my friend Tricia who STILL calls me to this day to say, “I’m randomly listening to that Boys & Girls Valentine’s Disc you and Lindsay made all those years ago. “Timothy” just came on. Genius.”
Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.
At Last (Etta James)
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis Presley)
I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston)
Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers)