in Experiences, Music

A Review of My First College Mixtape

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In 1993, I was a college freshman who did what every music-loving student did in the archaic, non-streaming, pre-iTunes era – raided the CD collections of my dorm friends and spent hours manually recording songs I liked but didn’t own on to a series of mixtapes.

I recently found a bunch of those tapes and thanks to the magic of Spotify was able to recreate them as playlists to see how they’ve held up over the years.

The first mixtape I ever made in college was “creatively” titled College Park Rock (Go Terps!) and what follows is my present-day review of the songs I chose to put on that tape 23 years ago.

If you’d like to listen along while you read, I’ve included the full Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post.

And…we’re off!

The Joker by Steve Miller Band

I was probably the one millionth college kid to put this on a mixtape, but cliches are cliches for a reason. In this case, that reason is this is a great song that’s stood the test of time. It was a couple decades old when I first discovered it, it’s been a couple decades since then, and it still sounds good. And a solid opening track, even if it’s not the most inventive.

Grade: A-

No Rain by Blind Melon

Oh god, the bee girl song. I’m actually surprised this song made it on to a mixtape of mine because I vaguely remember hating it when it came out and became a big hit. I can only assume that this mix was made during a window where I was succeptible to peer music pressure, the song had just come out, and I assumed I “should” like and that it would grow on me. It didn’t, though ironically I probably like the song more now than I did back then.

Grade: C-

Mrs. Robinson by The Lemonheads

I’ve always loved cover songs so it probably makes sense that I went with this version of the Simon and Garfunkel original. In retrospect, there’s something very 90s-feeling about this song. I’m also pretty sure this song led me to go investigate the Lemonheads further and on closer inspection I decided I wasn’t a fan. Also, this song sounded better to me then than it does to me now.

Grade: C

Stand by R.E.M.

I haven’t heard this song in a LONG time. I’ve missed it. At the time, I probably liked this song as much for the fact that it was used as the theme song for the Chris Elliott sitcom Get a Life as I did for the song itself. To this day, it’s impossible to hear this song and not picture Elliott riding his bike. I should have hated everything about R.E.M. when I was in college except for the fact that they made really good music.

Grade: A

Higher Ground by Red Hot Chili Peppers

For those of you keeping stats, 40% of this mixtape so far has been cover songs. Although in this case, I’m not even sure I realized at the time that this was a cover of a Stevie Wonder classic. Regardless, the Peppers made it their own and I think it reflects pretty well on me that I was listening to this back in the day. So far, I’m encouraged by my taste on this mixtape.

Grade: A-

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

I didn’t really have a drug phase in college. I did, however, have a “hang out with lots of people who were knee deep in their drug phase” phase during college. Without a doubt, this song’s inclusion on this mixtape originated with that phase. I know it’s a classic song, but I’m not sure I’ve listened to it since that phase ended for me.

Grade: B-

Come Undone by Duran Duran

Remember that weird moment in the 90s when Duran Duran reappeared on the pop scene after vanishing for several years following their 80s glory years? Well, this was that moment and it turns out I was caught up in it.

Grade: C

R.O.C.K. In The USA by John Mellencamp

John Mellencamp is underrated. There, I said it. This Mellencamp song however, is not underrated. It’s not his best, but I refuse to be ashamed of its inclusion on this mixtape because I’m an American. (Still, it’s no Jack & Diane.)

Grade: C+

Love Walks In by Van Halen

Remember the era when Van Halen couldn’t decide what it loved more: synthesizers, power ballads, or Sammy Hagar? That’s when this is from. I won’t trash this song, but I will say it’s not currently in heavy rotation on my Spotify account. That said, I fully expect to hear it on an episode of The Goldbergs any day now.

Grade: C

Shout by Tears For Fears

It feels like there are a couple songs on this tape that I liked when I was a little kid and maybe put on this tape because they were nostalgic for me, even when I was only 18 years old? This song originally came out in 1985, seven years before this mixtape was made so it would fit squarely in that demo. Now it sounds kind of annoying – the thrill is gone.

Grade: C-

Rooster by Alice in Chains

The thing I remember about Alice in Chains was that the people in my life who liked them, REALLY liked them. Those people consisted mainly of a high school girlfriend and a redneck guy I’d meet a year after making this tape. For my part, I just thought they were talented enough to stand out from the rest of the grunge pack and still do.

Grade: A-

D’yer Maker by Led Zeppelin

It’s time to get the Led out! Or…listen to Zeppelin’s go reggae. I’m still not sure whether it’s cool to like this song or not, but I still do so I’m going to ride with it. Plus, it was the closing song on Side A of this mixtape and feels like a nice way to wind down before having to go to the trouble of actually flipping the tape.

Grade: B

Only The Good Die Young by Billy Joel

I don’t remember which of my friends I taped this song from, but I’d bet good money it was a New Yorker. At the time, I wasn’t a huge Billy Joel fan but that would come in the years that followed. At the time, this was probably my favorite Billy Joel song and while I don’t think it still holds that place in my heart, it’s definitely up there.

Grade: A

Cryin’ by Aerosmith.

Two words: Alicia Silverstone.

Grade: B for song, A+ for 1993’s Alicia Silverstone

Every Breath You Take by The Police

This mixtape was made four years before Puff Daddy would flip this song into I’ll Be Missing You to pay tribute to Biggie’s death so its inclusion was untainted at the time. It’s a classic song, but now it’s impossible to hear it and not think about Puffy’s weak rap skills over top of it. That knocks down its grade a bit.

Grade: B

Too Much Information by Duran Duran

Before finding this tape, I would have bet good money that no more than one total Duran Duran song ever made it on to a mixtape in the history of my mixtape making. I barely remember this song and since I only wrote song titles on each mixtape cover and not artists, I had to do some digging to even figure out what this was. Needless to say, this song hasn’t stuck with me over the years for good reason.

Grade: D

Down In A Hole by Alice in Chains

Listening to these songs reminds me that Alice in Chains was probably a lot better than I gave them credit for back in the day. It also makes me wonder what could have been had Layne Staley not died in 2002. Their music holds up.

Grade: A-

Sowing The Seeds Of Love by Tears for Fears

Turns out I’m not a Tears for Fears fan. This song sounds like something that would be on a soundtrack for a Cirque du Soleil show (and that’s not a compliment in case you weren’t sure).

Grade: C-

Rape Me by Nirvana

What I remember about Nirvana in the early 90s is that I liked Pearl Jam better. I know that’s not a popular stance, and Nirvana did a whole lot in a short period of time and the band was amazing and all that, but I still kinda think that if Eddie Vedder had killed himself and Kurt Cobain was the one around battling Ticketmaster into his 40s then the conventional wisdom might have been opposite. Regardless, this was (and still is) a pretty great song.

Grade: A-

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

The transition from Rape Me to this song is about as abrupt a stylistic shift as you’ll find on one of my mixtapes and if nothing else I guess it speaks to how eclectic my tastes were even back when I was starting college. Or, it was getting toward the end of the tape and I needed some filler songs to round it out. Tough to say, but this song is still a bit of a guilty pleasure so I don’t regret it.

Grade: B

Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

Another classic freshman-in-college selection. There’s nothing groundbreaking about putting this song on a mixtape, but it is a rite of passage. If you didn’t put Stairway to Heaven on a mixtape early in your college experience I have to question what you were doing with your life.

Grade: A (Come on, it’s Stairway – I kinda have to do this.)

Ordinary World by Duran Duran

Seriously? I put THREE Duran Duran songs on this tape? I think I’ve blown my own mind. I can only assume I was kidnapped by a cabal of soccer moms for a couple weeks during freshman year and brainwashed.

Grade: C

Tell Her About It by Billy Joel

To close out the mixtape, Billy Joel makes his third appearance. But I don’t feel any of the aforementioned Duran-shame because I stand by Billy Joel. You may not like this song, but I bet it still leaves you feeling good and that’s a pretty nice way to end a tape. Even as an 18-year-old I realized that apparently.

Grade: B+

LISTEN TO THE FULL COLLEGE PARK ROCK PLAYLIST:

 

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