How crazy is it that, as I write this, there is a new song by the Beatles and a new album by the Rolling Stones? Who in their right mind could have imagined that over 60 years later, the survivors of these two iconic bands would still be delivering new music and playing live? And the music is great!
I have endlessly confessed my love of the Beatles in this column. Not so much for the Stones, but I love them almost as much. With these records and Christmas on my mind, it made me think about how these bands were a part of my favorite Christmas gift.
It all started with my first stereo system. It was a record player (we didn’t call them turntables then) and two speakers that folded up into something like a briefcase. I vividly remember playing 45s on that thing, specifically “Revolution” by the Beatles. The record player used to play multiple 45s that you stacked on top of each other so they would interchange after each song. Oh how I used to love to put a bunch of them on, shut my bedroom door, grab my tennis racket and put on a concert for the imaginary full house in front of me. Of course, when my sister Diane or mom would open the door, I would drop the racket and dive on the bed as if nothing was going on. I’m pretty sure they knew.
Another song I played the hell out of was “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles. I had a special audience for that song. I may have been in my room, but in my head, I was on my Little League baseball field singing to my teammates…“Don’t Let Me Down!” Yup, that was me.
A few years later, my future sister-in-law Karen gave me her stereo console which had a record player AND an eight-track player/recorder. That started a tradition that continues to this day. Once I learned how to do it,
I started making my own mix tapes on the eight-track. Then whenever I went for a ride with my mom or Diane (my dad not so much), they would let me play my homemade tape. Jeez, I can remember we used to buy the blank tapes at a place called Gem Electronics. They were 90 minutes long, and of course, my first few were Beatles and Stones tapes. It was pretty tedious because you would record one song, pull the tape out, then record another, pull the tape out and so on and so on. The 90-minute tape would usually take about three hours. I didn’t care. I loved it. (I dare anyone to come forward and say they were doing this at the age of 10).
Shortly after (I think it was around 1972), Santa brought what may be my all-time favorite Christmas gift: a Panasonic stand alone eight-track tape deck. It actually had a pause button, so I didn’t have to keep pulling the tapes out. I was in Heaven. I branched out to making tapes with all different artists on them. I also started buying stick-on labels for them and started a tape series called “Various Artists Vol…”
I was so proud one day when I was in the car with my dad and my Uncle Tony. As usual, they were talking as if I wasn’t there, and my uncle asked, “When is he gonna get a girlfriend?” My dad answered by saying, “He’s only interested in these various artist tapes.” He knew what I called them! That made me so happy that I didn’t get offended by my uncle’s reference to my lack of female companionship.
From that point on, every Friday night, I would make a mixtape. Even when I finally had a girlfriend, she would always have to wait until the mixtape was finished. I can still hear her calling on the phone and asking, “Are you done?” (Now that I think about it, she said that pretty often in other situations as well.)
In 1979, I got into a horrible auto accident (maybe a hint to my destiny). Once the lawsuit was settled, I was awarded $10,000. What did I do with it? Why of course, I bought a new stereo system. Only this time, I crossed over to cassette tapes (I must have kept the Maxell tape company in business for the next decade or so). Seriously, I made hundreds of cassettes for girls, friends, family members, you name it. If you needed a mixtape, I was the man to see. Still, I mostly made them for myself.
Once cassettes became obsolete, I turned to something called Digital Audio Tape (DAT). DATs were like mini cassettes but recorded the music digitally and the sound quality was 1,000 times better. It also allowed you to make tapes anywhere from three to six hours. To this day, I am the only person (other than musicians) I know who had a DAT machine. But of course, I didn’t just have one DAT. I had a portable DAT and a DAT player in my car. My old friend Mike Zippo (from Zippo’s Car Stereo) used to shake his head whenever I changed cars.
But then everything changed.
The advent of MP3s and things like Napster and iTunes made any recording hardware more or less unnecessary. I threw away most of my eight-tracks and cassettes and sold off all my DATs on eBay. But that hasn’t stopped me from making my mixes. Now, I just do it digitally.
Every Friday night, you still can find me in my basement making my mixes. And I still make a Various Artists mix once every couple of months. According to my computer, since 2008 alone, I have made 524 Various Artist mixes. With each mix being an average of four hours, that’s 2,096 hours! And that’s just the last 15 years of THAT title. If I do a little math and go back to my very first mix, I’m looking at over 8,000 hours!!!
Other than work and sleep, I can’t say I’ve spent more time in my life doing anything else. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t change a minute.
I hope you all received at least one Christmas gift in your life like that eight-track machine.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Want more? Check out the December 2023 issue of New Jersey Automotive!