So you’ve met someone. And you like her. Or him. It’s an old school, stomach-twisting crush. As an adult, you’re not really sure how to reach out. Isn’t it a little awkward to ask for the number of the cute bartender in your neighborhood just because you have a good rapport? Does anyone send flowers anymore, or does that mean you want to be engaged?
The classic, low-pressure move in this situation is the mix tape. Which I think is a misnomer in most cases. Probably you’d be working with a mix CD. Or a digital playlist. I’ll say mix tape because of some romantic ideal I’m still holding that there’s a mystical aphrodisiac power in an actual, physical cassette.
A mix tape is a thoughtful, yet noncommittal gift. It says, “Hey, let’s hang out sometime, but it won’t be that weird if we don’t!” Which, granted, is not the most romantic of messages, but it’s a start! Even with something as friendly and low-pressure as a mix tape, though, there are certain pitfalls to avoid. Here’s a guide to sidestepping the most common mix tape faux pas:
1. No Songs with “Love” in the Title
At least in reference to a person. “I Love Rock and Roll” would be okay. But “Somebody To Love,” nope. And Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is instant mix tape death. Also, anything about marriage. “Happy Together” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” are a little too wedding-y. Yes, I know it’s great to have a crush. But don’t squash it with over-amorous overtures. You might as well just stand outside his/her window and play the whole thing on a boom box if you’re going to go there.
2. Nothing Everyone Already Knows
It’s fine to slip in a few songs that sound familiar. Just avoid what I’d call “Karaoke Standards.” No “Livin’ on a Prayer.” No “Don’t Stop Believing.” Your new crush will think you have all the originality of a Monster Ballads compilation advertised at 2 AM on the Cartoon Network. If you’re going to slip in a classic, make it something a little further off the beaten path. If you must include some Journey, go with “Lights.” Avoid “Wheel in the Sky.” I think that’s about Jesus. I can’t say that with one hundred percent certainty, but I’m not going to listen to it to be sure.
3. Nothing Too Dark
A friend told me he once unwittingly included “Possum Kingdom” by the Toadies on a CD for a girl he was dating. You know, that one song that climaxes with several shrieks of “DOOOOOO YOU WANNA DIE?” Big mistake. Keep it light. You’re angling for a date, not a new member of your suicide cult. I don’t care how much you love Metallica. If you include “Enter Sandman,” your chances of getting lucky will be off to never-never land.
4. Don’t Go Overly Sexual
I don’t care how much you like this new person. It sends a very specific message if you decide to include “I’m A Slave 4U” on the playlist. I’d also leave off anything by 2 Live Crew and any song recorded during Jay-Z’s short but enthusiastic “ecstasy and threesome” phase. I mean, unless you’re just trying to send the message that you’re down for whatever, whenever. Then throw all those sex jams on there. And bookend it with the “Whatever, Whenever” by Shakira. And write out the tracklist on a thong.
5. This is NOT An Advertisement For How Cool You Are
Seriously. You’re making a playlist for someone else to enjoy, not for them to see how indie you are. Maybe she’s not going to be into those unreleased Frank Zappa demos or Animal Collective b-sides. Perhaps he doesn’t care about what band Win Butler was in before the Arcade Fire. We get it. You’re hip. Unless you think the song actually sounds really good, no one cares about what time signature it’s in. Seriously. Throw some Prince on there and keep it funky.
This is not a set of hard and fast rules. If you are a goth making a mix tape for another goth, perhaps Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” is a blast of welcome nostalgia and not a creepy sign to run for the hills. If you work on the docks in your hometown, by all means, load it up with the Bon Jovi. If you both have horrible taste in everything, throw a Daughtry track on there.
Obviously, cater to your own tastes, and most importantly the tastes of the person you’re making the mix tape for. These simple rules will just help you avoid a minefield of wildly inappropriate songs.
Now get out there, and start making out!