It was a black tape recorder, the type that had six buttons at the bottom and one place for you to insert the tape. It had a handle; I remember this as I had to hold tight to it while my other hand gripped the staircase so I wouldn’t trip over the hem of my nightgown. The microphone attachment dragged behind me, a sure giveaway to my parents as I attempted to quietly descend the stairs. It was early, these mornings; I’ve always been an early riser.
I’d sneak downstairs, not because I wasn’t allowed to, but because I didn’t want to awaken my parents. I had a task at hand; a very important one, at that. I had to practice.
Sitting on the rust-colored carpeting in my living room, I’d line up everything just so. The second, silver, fancy tape recorder positioned just under the bench, its short cord taut as it was plugged into the only freestanding outlet in the room. Black tape recorder beside it, microphone firmly gripped in my right hand. The tape was queued up perfectly. When all was ready, I’d hit “play” and “record” concurrently. It was time.
The first notes of “Greatest Love of All” started playing, and I began what became a Saturday morning ritual; creating a makeshift karaoke machine (recorded on tape, no less**) where I would belt out Whitney Houston songs. Loudly! Off-key! But with passion and fervor…God, I loved me some Whitney. I was convinced that I had a future on the stage, and damnit, I was diligent in practicing.
I was also awful. It only got more abysmal through puberty, and to this day while I can still cover a pretty impressive high C note, I’m for all intents and purposes painfully tone deaf.
So, I shifted focus. If I couldn’t SING the songs, at least I could know what songs were good. I started making mixtapes. I’d first sit, listening to the radio for hours, tapedeck in hand, praying that the DJ wouldn’t talk over the beginning of the song. Years later, I got a stereo with TWO tapedecks, so I could record an actual mix from my beloved tape singles. (Like ‘More Than Words’ by Extreme. AKA, the song I listened to approx. 30 times while getting my first kiss. Hi, Jon McConnell.) When I went to college, I’d make these mixes and send to my friends in other schools. And these days, I spend a little time each month compiling all of the songs I’ve listened to the most and turning them into a mix; started yearly, and is now (always belatedly) monthly.
While it may not be Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits, I’m at least sparing you my offkey warble and hopefully introducing you to some new music.
For your listening pleasure, here’s all the mixes***, now in one place.
Best of 2007
Best of 2008
Best of 2008: B-Sides
Best of 2009
Best of 2010
**If the evidence of this ignominy somehow surfaces for my wedding, I’m disowning both of my parents.
*** As always, these mixes are to give you a sample of some of the music I love. They are NOT a replacement for purchasing the music, be it CD, Vinyl, or tapes. (Do they still make those?) Your – and my – favorite artists make their living from creating and selling their music; please support them by your purchase.