Girls’ Studies: Oh, How I Miss the Mix Tape
Our focus in my girls’ studies class this week has been music. The assignment is to make a “mix tape” of songs that were important to my girlhood. I’m supposed to highlight and explain three of the songs, but I thought an explanation of each one was in order. I’ve linked them to YouTube videos for your listening/viewing pleasure.
Here’s my mix tape.
My sister and I dressed up as carrots and sang this at a school (or church?) talent show when we were very young.
My sisters and I love this song because we first listened to it with our dad. He had picked us up for a Saturday visit after our parents’ divorce, and we listened to this song in his little Toyota pickup. I remember that day very clearly. We buckled up and Dad started the truck. Music would immediately blast whenever we got into his vehicles over the years, sometimes the radio but usually a tape of his, something new and hip. This day, the mountain spring clear voice of John Denver filled the cab, the song strangely appropriate to our situation and our father’s. The three of us would sing along.
Country roads, take me home
to the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain Mama
Take me home, country roads
Over and over we’d croon, the meaning of the words slightly penetrating my six-year-old brain, slightly making me feel uncomfortable, yet the parallel not quite clear. Dad sang too, his voice always neutral and relaxed, as if the music just meant fun, not the story of his life.
I love the beat and lyrics of this song, and I’m not sure that my sisters and I realized the significance of “I know you can’t control yourself any longer” to our own situation. We used to turn this song on when my mom and step dad would leave. We would dance and jump and just go crazy sweating and moving to this song. We used to remove the couch cushions and jump off of the couches in crazy poses and just have wild fun. We weren’t allowed this sort of movement and freedom when our parents were home, so we were really letting loose.
We also sang this song an endless amount of times in my dad’s car. He bought the soundtrack tape for us, and when we visited, we would spend all of our time in the car belting out the words to this song and the others on the soundtrack. My dad knows every single word to The Little Mermaid soundtrack because of his three daughters.
This was the first classical piece of music that I learned. It was way too hard for me at the time, but I really wanted to learn it, and it prompted me to practice more and to become a better pianist. By learning this one, I proved to my teacher that I could handle classical music rather than the baby songs in the piano level books.
We used to sing this song with my mom. She loved the music video and in some ways fancied herself an “uptown girl.” I don’t think that was true, but we all like to fantasize, right? She has always been attracted to handy-man types, so I think this video speaks to that.
It really is a fun video, with the greasy men singing into tools and dancing while working on the cars. And Christie Brinkley’s entrance is cute too, especially given that Joel and Brinkley ended up married after making the video. The line dancing toward the end is a nice touch, too.
I absolutely love all of Michael Jackson’s music, and I have always been a huge fan of his. Any of his songs could be on this mix tape (like “Heal the World,” “Black or White,” “Beat It,” “Gone Too Soon,” “Remember the Time,” etc.), but this one stands out because it was the first one I fell in love with after my dad showed us the music video. Who didn’t love “Thriller”? It scared me, in a delicious way, that I couldn’t avert my eyes from.
I also adore Mariah Carey, and I own all of her albums and I never stopped listening to her through junior high and high school. Her music spoke to me through the lyrics. I was also impressed that she wrote most of her own music. She exemplified for me true talent.
This song was important to me because of the piano accompaniment and the longing that the lyrics convey for the past. Because of some of the upheavals of my young childhood, I longed for things to return to the way they were. I wanted to “recapture” what I had as a young girl in California, rather than be in the small town where I lived with a mom and step dad who fought all of the time. I still sometimes wish for the past, but I fully realize that the challenges I faced in my girlhood have made me who I am today, that I guess that person is okay.
I remember telling a boyfriend once that Mariah Carey was my favorite artist and he almost puked. He “hated” her. We broke up.
Amy Grant’s album was the first I ever owned on CD. One Christmas, my dad sent a CD player and some CDs, including Amy Grant, Mariah Carey, and Michael Jackson. The CD player was a new-fangled thing back then, and we spent most of Christmas Day and the week afterwards blasting the music and dancing around the living room. “Every Heartbeat” was important to me because of this, but also because we had seen the music video previously that summer while on vacation with my dad. He took us and some extended family to a beach house in Aptos Bay and we saw Grant’s video of this song there. Because my sisters and I loved it and couldn’t stop singing it (neither could the rest of America), my dad remembered and got us the CD. He’s always thoughtful like that.
I think the connection for me between Amy Grant and Mariah Carey was their hair. I always wanted naturally curly hair like theirs. I still don’t have it, but I fake it with a curling iron and perms. They were my style icons when it came to hair and grooming, and I tried to emulate their looks. Perhaps those are outdated now? Maybe it’s time to move on!
I ran cross-country in high school. I worked really hard to become one of the top female runners at my school, and I used classical music to motivate me when running. This style of music was a big part of my girlhood because of my training as a classical pianist, but this particular piece wasn’t special because of that. I actually never played “Liebestraum” in high school. I used it to motivate me before running by listening to it over and over on the bus ride to running meets. Back then, we had Discmans (not ipods) and those didn’t mix well with running. So, when the race began, I would replay Liszt’s music in my head while running, and it kept me on pace and moving. It also entertained me while running. Now we don’t have to use our imaginations for this sort of thing.
My family roots are in California, and when we moved to Utah, I was sad to leave my life behind. We often listened to The Beach Boys at our house, and my mom told us that we would always be “California Girls” because we had been born there and our family was still there. I told this to a friend just after we had moved. She looked at me and said, “Nope. You’re not a California girl anymore because you live in Utah now.” I was crushed. Part of my identity as a girl was being from California and she ruined that for me.
A boyfriend of mine would often play songs for me that he wanted me to gain meaning from. This was one of them, and I think he was trying to say that he knew we would eventually break up. He ended up leaving for a two-year mission for our church, and I stayed behind to continue dating. This really bothered him, but I was young and I needed to have fun. We broke up. Duh.
The Cranberries became really important to me in high school, as they did for most high-schoolers in the 1990s. I have all of their albums and most of the lyrics memorized. Once, my step sister and I sang the harmonies of their songs together while washing dishes at my step-grandparents cabin in Idaho, and my step-grandmother told us how beautiful it was. That was one of the few times I remember her saying something kind to me, so I hold on to that memory. I loved singing the strange yodeling-like sounds with my friends while riding around town with the windows down. Their music was strange to adults but revolutionary for kids.
Sadly, I don’t think I understood their political statements through the music. As I age, I hear their songs and realize how passionate they were about stopping war and about recognizing world conflicts, like the one in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the time. This stuff didn’t mean anything to me until I began working as an editor with a team of international security analysts. I learned so much about the world in that job. Ultimately, I learned to be aware of it.
Ace of Base was a fad of the 1990s as well. I listened to their album incessantly, until I got sick of it, which was quickly, but I also learned to polka to this song! We had youth activities at my church for the young men and young women. One of our activities was learning to dance, and I danced with my best friend Heather’s little brother, Matt. We made a good team and we learned the polka to “The Sign.” I recently heard this song again on the radio and it took me right back to that church activity and the fun Matt and I had together learning to dance like grownups. For me, this song symbolizes that rite of passage.
This was also a fad song, but I loved it. I would never miss a chance to get on the dance floor when this one came on. I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics, but I just thought it was fun and had a catchy tune. I realize now that The Spice Girls were trying to be “feminist” but I’m not quite sure how successful that was.
Well, this turned out to be a long (narcissistic) post and fun walk down memory lane. It isn’t lost on me that a few of my songs actually have the word “girl” in the title.
What are some of the songs you would include on a mix tape of your youth?