Mixtape Memories: Songs from Summer ‘86March 17, 2021
Graphics by Melissa Nguyen
Stuck in quarantine and with little else to do, I put on my best Marie Kondo and decided to sort through the old boxes lurking in the back of the spare bedroom cupboard. After chucking out a pile of old concert tickets and rotting NMEs, I came across an old cassette tape. The handwritten label declared it: Mix Tape – ‘86.
I opened the case wondering if the tape inside would play. I found my little-used cassette deck, placed the tape in the slot and pressed the button to rewind it to the start.
While I waited, I pulled a folded paper with the track list from the case. Scanning the document, I smiled as I remembered making the tape, agonising over the track selection, and changing the play order over and over until I felt that it was the right mix of old and new, cool and gauche. Silly when you think about it, but it was the done thing.
It was late November 1986, school was out forever, and I was about to travel to Surfer’s Paradise for Schoolies. With my Robert Palmer T-shirt in my travel bag and the case of West Coast Wine Coolers waiting by the door, all I had left to do was prepare my Mix Tape.
Those pieces of plastic could be the difference between popular acclaim and social death. With a maximum of 45 minutes a side (roughly 20 tracks), I had to choose my playlist carefully.
Mix tape rule no. 1 – no long silences or songs cutting out at the end of a side.
My friends had charged me with the task of preparing a mix tape with songs to remind us of our high school days and nights. They were (and still are) a marvellous group of friends. At school we were a group of misfits with little more than that and some music in common. With Rob and I (the Mods), Suzy and David (the Gothics), Alison and Pete (the Swampies) and Sukey and James (the ‘easy-listening’ intellectuals), there was many music choices to make.
Mix tape rule no. 2 – only one song per artist
I decided to make the first side about our school days, with tributes to sports carnivals, camping trips, dances and sleepovers.
- Centerfold J. Geils Band
it was a favourite at our sports carnivals
- Don’t leave me this way The Communards.
an aerobics class favourite
- Rock Lobster B-52s
- I melt with you Modern English
how could we forget those sleepovers watching Valley Girl
- I see red Split Enz
because this was the first concert we all went to as group
- Relax Frankie goes to Hollywood
to honour those Frankie Says T-shirts and fluoro socks.
- Glittering Prize Simple Minds
how we loved Jim Kerr
- Sleeping Beauty The Divinyls
Chrissy Amphlet was bitchen
- Venus Bananarama
we loved hearing Suzy sing this one in a squeaky voice
- Like a Virgin Madonna
because we all were at the time
The second side was for the songs which captured our teenage years and honoured our musical difference and similarities. These were the songs of our generation.
- Shout to the top The Style Council
Joh Bjelke-Petersen was in power in Queensland, and this was our little rebellion
- Don’t you want me The Human League
The first track we head when we snuck into The Move nightclub at aged 15
- If you leave Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
a club favourite. You should have seen David dancing to this one
- This Charming Man The Smiths
Now, this was a tough choice, with so many Smiths tracks on regular rotation at our parties
- Montego Bay The Allnighters
I had to include some ska, and this was about as much as my friends would tolerate
- Love will tear us apart Joy Division
this broke all our young hearts.
- Modern Love David Bowie
a great to sing along to
- Kiss Prince and the Revolution
this was so funky and sexy! (Well, we thought so)
- Out of Mind, Out of Sight Models
they were all so handsome and had great hair!
- Too many times Mental as Anything
An old party favourite
The machine clicked off, interrupting my reminiscences. I leaned forward and pressed the play button. The cassette deck whirred. After a few moments, the muffled sound of J. Geils Band flowed through the speakers.
A metallic clicking, followed by a squiggly scrunching noise emanated from the machine.
I pushed “Stop” and attempted to rip the cassette out. But it was too late. My mixtape memories were now nothing more than plastic with streams of brown ribbon.
Listen to Sarah’s mixtape ’86: