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.

mix tape image

Here’s my mix tape.

Carrot Stew

My sister and I dressed up as carrots and sang this at a school (or church?) talent show when we were very young.

Country Roads by John Denver

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.

Conga by Gloria Estefan

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.

Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid

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.

Fur Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven

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.

Uptown Girl by Billy Joel

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.

Thriller by Michael Jackson

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.

Vanishing by Mariah Carey

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.

Every Heartbeat by Amy Grant

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!

Liebestraum by Franz Liszt

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.

California Girls by The Beach Boys

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.

Love Bites by Def Leopard

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.

Zombie by The Cranberries

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.

The Sign by Ace of Base

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.

Wannabe by The Spice Girls

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? 

45 thoughts on “Girls’ Studies: Oh, How I Miss the Mix Tape

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  1. What a great collection! There is nothing to beat a mix tape. Spotify playlists just don’t cut it. In the early days after meeting my now husband, he made me a mix tape which opened with The Beach Boys ‘God only knows what I’d be without you’ and I treasure it still, 15 years and 2 kids later!

  2. I have many a mix tape in my head…I shall have to write it down one day. Lol My husband made a mixed tape (cd) for me about 3 yrs ago…it’s quite different from the first one he gave me back when we were teens…lol…kind of depressing, actually. I can only listen to maybe 2 songs w/out skipping. Mix tapes r so funny like that, huh?

  3. This post really brought me back! Riding around in our white Cadillac in the summer and signing Wannabe!

  4. What a fun post! I’d written a similar post on books but I hadn’t thought about music, which actually played an even bigger part of my life while I was growing up. Two songs quickly come to mind: 1) Bad Girls by Donna Summer, one of the very first songs I was exposed to thanks to my dad, of all people (! He loved Donna Summer.) – and this was my secret little anthem (I didn’t know it was about prostitution) in my fantasies of not being a goody goody and 2) Control, by Janet Jackson. I liked the lyrics:

    When I was 17 I did what people told me, uhh!
    Did what my father said, and let my mother mold me
    But that was long ago

    I’m in
    Never gonna stop
    To get what I want
    I like to have a lot
    Now I’m all grown up

    By coincidence I think this was the hit song when I was graduating from high school.

    1. I guess it makes sense that the music that is important to us is also contemporaneous. I commented on a classmate’s post about her music, and I didn’t know most of it because she’s a little younger than I am!

      I love that you have fantasies about being a bad girl, but you just aren’t. Me too. We should start a frustrated good girls club and just let loose a little!

  5. Fun! I love a mixed tape! Music definitely is a memory keeper and can instantly transport you back. On my mixed tape I’d have to put “Friends” by Michael W Smith, “Baby, Baby” by Amy Grant, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams, “I’m Every Woman” the Whitney Houston version, “I’m Your Lady” by Celine Dion, “Mr. Radio” by Trisha Yearwood, “I Drove All Night” by Cyndi Lauper, “Bobby MaGee” by Janice Joplin, “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, “Into the Mystic” & “Moondance” by Van Morrison – whom I discovered by accident as I was looking up Jim Morrison, having no idea who he was and having no idea I’d got it wrong and yet Van Morrison is now a favorite. I realize I could hijack your comments section and go on all day. Music was a big deal and still is. I wasn’t allowed to listen to music in my young life, then I was tentatively allowed to listen only to contemporary Christian artists which still had to be approved by my Mom in my later teen years, and finally as an adult I blew my own mind by listening to all the music I possibly could, trying to make up all that I perceived I’d missed. Funny how the restrictions in my youth ultimately gave me a wide berth of musical tastes as an adult. What a fun assignment! I hope you cranked it up and danced like crazy putting this together for us. Thanks!

    1. Denise, what a great list! I can’t even imagine not having popular music as a child, but I’m glad you are making up for it and discovering all sorts of great music.

  6. Great post Em! I loved getting to know your music memories. I can relate to your entire list, minus one. I had no idea you were such a Mariah Carey fan. I won’t give you my opinion on her because I don’t want us to break up. =)

    1. Oh no! You don’t love Mariah?!? This might change things. Ha ha. Just kidding. I fully realize that she’s not for everybody, but in high school, I had no such realization. 🙂

  7. Emily, my three best friends and I would ride around and sing “Country Roads,” so it brings back so many memories. Last summer, we got together before our HS reunion for lunch and the waitress was amazed that we and our wives could talk for three hours. The carrots reminded my of Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” so I hoped you remembered to wear your clothes were. A key soundtrack to me appears in my monthly posts on various artists, which are all over the place. Music places milestones in our lives and certain songs are time machines. Thanks for sharing your list. BTG

    1. You are right on about songs being time machines! Just a few weeks ago, I turned on Mariah Carey for the first time in a decade. So many memories came back, and I said to my husband, “I just figured out how to build a time machine to the 90s!”

  8. This list is so funny — I haven’t thought about some of these songs in years! The first CD I ever bought myself was So Much for the Afterglow (Everclear), so I guess one of those songs come to mind.

  9. If I made a mix tape of my life, I would include “…Baby One More Time…” by Britney Spears, because she was one of my favorite singers when I was younger. Another would be “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, because I started listening to a lot of classic rock when I was in high school. I’m happy you included The Cranberries on your mix tape! They are one of my favorite bands. I would include their songs “Animal Instinct” and “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee,” because those have always been a couple of my favorites.

      1. I actually hadn’t listened to them for a while, but a few days ago I listened to their album, “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” and it was a breath of fresh air. The Cranberries are timeless.

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  11. I love your playlist! I especially love that you have California girls on there! I am originally from San Diego and when I moved to Utah I would listen to that song all the time to remind myself that despite that fact that I lived in Utah, I was really a California girl at heart 🙂

  12. Emily, you have done it again! I’ve always loved music and find both the content and concept of what you’ve done in this post refreshing. Your blog is often a welcome respite from the vicissitudes of life. Thanks again. 🙂

  13. The 1st Music Concert I went to at 15 years old was Def Leopard. I was a huge Debbie Gibson and Bon Jovi fan too. Boy does that date me a bit – ha! I got into ABBA in my late-teens, early 20’s. My group of girlfriends would take turns buying tapes, so we could all share by making mixed tapes. I had a record player for a long time and saved up for a boom box, which I still have and use today. The tapes are long gone and the CD’s are collecting dust now too. Great Post – Brings back some great memories of growing up, hanging with my girls and massive crushes on musicians:)

    1. So fun! And yes, massive crushes to be sure. We read about this a few weeks ago in the class. And you reminded me of Debbie Gibson! Of course she belongs on a mix tape!

  14. This was so fun to read! I’m glad I finally found the time. I share a few songs with you: John Denver, Amy grant, Michael Jackson, and my absolute favourite- Billy Joel. Piano Man would be my top pick from him (back then). I knew all the words and would shout them out. A few more off the top of my head would be The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, Top of the World by The Carpenters, and Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams. Also some Cyndi Lauper. I’m sure there are many more. Now I want to write them down! 🙂

    1. Do it! Write them down. This was such a fun walk down memory lane. I was surprised at how many memories I remembered because of music and how much music I had forgotten until I was forced to think about it.

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