Was I right or wrong? Evaluating a 19-year-old mixtape


In 1997, I made a mixtape. I made a lot of mixtapes, actually, but this one was especially important. It was the tape that would feature all of my very favorite songs. I called, ALL-TIME FAVES

I took this tape seriously. Hey, I even filled out the little white insert. At the time, these were my favorite songs of all time, and I wanted to listen to them again and again from the comfort of my bulky Sony Walkman. 

All these years later, I still have that mixtape, and I’ve decided to review it.  What was my taste in music like back then? Was it good? Bad? Worse than bad? The time has come to judge my 13-year-old self once and for all.

Side A

  1. Violent Femmes – “Blister in the Sun”

This is such a bizarre choice to open the tape, primarily because I don’t remember ever considering this one of my favorite songs. It’s a classic, yes, and it’s a heck of a lot better than a lot of these other songs … but I was never that into it, and I know I didn’t have the actual album back then. You know how I first heard this song? The Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack. “Blister in the Sun” is the very first track.

Is “Blister in the Sun” a great little jam? Of course it is. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an all-time favorite of mine in 1997, and it doesn’t quite make the cut in 2016 either.

  1. Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”

For most of my middle school and high school years, I ranked “November Rain” as my favorite song. Ever. I spent hours learning Slash’s blistering guitar solos, listened to Use Your Illusion 1 repeatedly, and at a time when music videos seemed like they would always be a big deal, “November Rain” boasted one that looked like a big-budget blockbuster.

Now … OK, I still dig “November Rain” quite a bit. I’m not nearly the Guns N’ Roses fan I once was, but I’ll still put on Use Your Illusion 1 or Use Your Illusion 2 from time to time. 

I really disagree with my original placement, though. An 8-minute epic as the second track on side A? What was I thinking?

  1. Aerosmith – “Sweet Emotion”
  2. Aerosmith – “Angel”

Middle school me was obsessed with Aerosmith. Big time. And that mostly started with 1994’s Big Ones, a compilation of the band’s big hits from the 80s and 90s. I knew every word to every song on Big Ones, from the Alicia Silverstone trilogy (“Cryin’,” “Amazing,” “Crazy”) to the more random selections, like “Deuces are Wild” from The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience.

My obsession grew when I asked my guitar teacher at the time to teach me the “Livin’ on the Edge” riff. He was happy to help, but the next week, he brought me a recording of the first three Aerosmith albums. “Listen to this, kid,” he was saying. So I did. And it blew my impressionable young mind.

Aerosmith, Get Your Wings, and Toys in the Attic are three of the better classic rock albums of all time, and if all you know from that point in the band’s career is “Dream On,” “Walk this Way” and “Sweet Emotion,” I recommend giving the full albums a shot. They’re outstanding.

So that explains these two; I was so infatuated with Aerosmith at the time that I just had to include two different songs, one from each era. And you know what? I made two pretty good choices! “Angel” is a bit over-the-top, but so is everything Aerosmith did from that time period. I loved it then, and I honestly still love it now.

(Sidenote: Laugh all you want, but seeing these guys live in 2001 with my two best friends from high school was a night I’ll never forget. They absolutely killed it, even though they were touring behind that weird Just Push Play album.)

  1. Van Halen – “Right Now”

Ugh. Just … ugh. Look, I grew up listening to midwest classic rock radio, so it’s pretty much in my blood to like Sammy Hagar. And I still do! I also really like Van Halen.

But “Right Now”? Yuck. This is bad. This is very bad.

  1. The Eagles – “Take it to the Limit”

I’m actually sort of proud of this one. Not because I love the Eagles or anything, but because this is actually one of the few Eagles songs I still really like. I always rush to change the station if I ever hear “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Witchy Woman,” “Hotel California” or almost any other Eagles hit on the radio. My two exceptions are “Take it Easy” and “Take it to the Limit.”

I’d rather have no Eagles tunes on any mixtape … but if I have to listen to one, this is about as good as it gets. Way to go, Randy Meisner!

Side B

  1. Bryan Adams – “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You”

This is even worse than “Right Now.” And I chose it to kick off the B side?! 13-year-old me, you officially dropped the ball with this one.

I haven’t thought of this song in years, but listening right now, I still know pretty much every word. I guess it’s just stuck in my brain forever, which is disappointing, depressing and nauseating all at once.

On the plus side, it reminds me of when Morgan Freeman killed that witch with his sword in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That was pretty sweet.

  1. Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’”

Boom! OK, “Free Fallin’” is too obvious of a choice, but considering my age at the time, I have no problem with it. Petty is one of the first classic rock artists I ever got super into, along with Aerosmith and the Beatles.

If you were to ask me my favorite Petty song now, I might go with “Refugee,” “Louisiana Rain,” “Rebels,” “Yer So Bad,” “Zombie Zoo,” “Wildflowers,” or “Echo,” but “Free Fallin’” is about as flawless as 80s pop songs get.

  1. Bon Jovi – “This Ain’t a Love Song”

So, yeah, I really liked Bon Jovi back in the day. That was a thing. Yikes …

But it wasn’t the huge hits that I loved back then; no, I was all about those mid-career ballads. For some reason, young me just couldn’t get enough of “Bed of Roses” from 1992’s Keep the Faith, “Always” from the band’s Cross Road compilation, or “This Ain’t a Love Song” from 1995’s These Days.

Over time, this strange interest passed. I don’t think I’ve listened to Bon Jovi on purpose for several years. But listening to this mix has reminded me that, at one point, “This Ain’t a Love Song” was apparently my jam. Again: yikes …

  1. Alice Cooper – “School’s Out”
  2. Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”

Woohoo! Ending with two classics. Again, these are two obvious choices, but I was a 13 and listening to classic rock radio pretty much around the clock. And I don’t still consider either one of these songs as all-time favorites, but young me could have done a heck of a whole lot worse than “School’s Out” and “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.”

“School’s Out” especially is still a flat-out classic, from that shrieking opening guitar part to the legendary “can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” line right before the chorus kicks in.

Overall, I think I give 13-year-old me a solid C. Some spotty sequencing choices and a lack of variety, but at least I included some songs that have stood the test of time.

Nineteen years from now, maybe I should listen again and see how my opinions have changed.

Listen to the songs thanks to Spotify …

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