There can be nothing more personal than the perfect Valentine's Day mix tape. So we asked several creative people -- actors, writers, directors and musicians -- to write about a tape they made for someone special, or a song that proved especially lasting.
Many years ago, a man I was just getting to know gave me a most wonderful tape. I think I fell in love with him upon hearing the very first song on the A side. It was ``A Heart Needs A Home'' by Richard and Linda Thompson, one of the most romantic songs I had ever heard. It's more than a song; it's a vow, a pledge, an amazing soaring piece of emotional work from deep in the heart. Songs that filled the rest of the eclectic and warmly ironic 60-minute Sony tape were ``The Day Before You Came'' by Abba (surely the only love song in the history of pop to mention the author Marilyn French in the lyrics!). And the thrillingly flirty ``No Matter What'' by Badfinger. And a slow laconic very funny version of Van Halen's ``Jump'' by Aztec Camera and ``Keep A Lovin' Me'' by the adorably young Everly Brothers, recorded in 1956. And everyone's easy fave, ``Save It For Later'' by the English Beat. The songs this guy gave me on this tape said everything I had ever wished and dreamed someone would say to me. It was such a brilliant, witty and gorgeous collection of songs, and it did what mix tapes are meant to do -- it cast a magic spell of connection, which will never cease to be there between him and me.
Allison Anders directed such music-infused films as ``Sugar Town,'' ``Grace of My Heart'' and her latest, ``Things Behind The Sun.''
``Will To Love'' by Neil Young. A friend of mine introduced me to this song, and it has since appeared on many of my mixed tapes, particularly crush tapes. This song is stunning. It's beautiful both sound-wise and lyrically. The stream-of-consciousness feel and warm crackle pop sounds make for a sparse yet very warm atmosphere. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to melt when you heard it. Other mentions would be ``Blow You a Kiss in the Wind'' by Redd Kross and ``Days'' by the Kinks.
Tiffany Anders' latest album is ``Happy Cry Funny Gift''(Up). She is Allison's daughter.
I'd start my tape with something by Jonatha Brooke. Her new album, ``Steady Pull,'' was released Tuesday. I'd start out with the title track, which is a funky R&B type of thing. Then, because my tastes are hopelessly '70s, I'd segue back in time to perhaps ``You Got the Love'' by Rufus and Chaka Khan. To save face, I would then try to get a little more current, perhaps ``Stephen's Last Night in Town'' by the Ben Folds Five, which is an exuberant klezmer-ish number featuring the Klezmatics. In a similar rhythmic vein, and yet a contrast in sensibility, I would then put Natalie Cole's totally rocking version of the gospel song ``Reverend Lee,'' followed (bear with me) by another Jonatha Brooke song, the live version of ``At the Still Point.'' Completely infectious.
But mixed tapes are supposed to be sort of depressing, right? The kind of thing you sit in your room, preferably a dorm room covered with tapestries and posters from Jim Jarmusch movies, and listen to while smoking Camel Lights. So I'd revert to the '70s and include ``Same Situation,'' which is this short, rich Joni Mitchell gem off ``Court and Spark.'' Then maybe ``River'' off ``Blue,'' just so there can be one familiar little tune. I'd follow Joni's ``River'' with Dianne Reeves' absolutely gorgeous version of the same song. And because I'm too lazy to change CDs, I'd then put in Reeves' version of Leonard Cohen's ``Suzanne.'' And since we're doing covers, I'd then perhaps include Rickie Lee Jones' version of ``Walk Away Renee,'' which is really strange and dissonant.
So now that we've descended into the depths of self-pity, there's a great song called ``Digs'' from a 1998 album by Tom Freund called ``North American Long Weekend.'' It's kind of bluesy/funky Tom Waits-y. The line is: ``If you don EXTCHARt like the digs you can find someplace else,'' which leads right into the last track of my mixed tape, David Poe's ``Apartment.'' This is a wry, haunting, mellow bossa-nova-sounding song about the inability of the human heart to accept another person into our personal space.
Meghan Daum's ``My Misspent Youth: Essays'' (Open City) will be published next month.
``Let's Get It On'' might be a bit presumptuous to begin it with. But I would use a lot of Al Green. There are a couple of Ron Sexsmith songs that would be great. Teenage Fanclub is really good when the relationship has been established for a while. But the best Valentine's Day tape would at least build toward ``Let's Get It On'' at the end.
Nick Hornby is the author of ``High Fidelity.''
Has there ever been a Valentine's Day mixed tape in my life? Maybe not, but I can imagine what would be on one of mine. I'd feel compelled to face head-on the holiday's commercialism: ``Flowers'' by the Clean or ``Flower'' by Sonic Youth; ``Oh, Candy'' by Cheap Trick and ``Chocolate Drop'' by Howlin' Wolf (not ``I Want Candy'' by either Bow Wow Wow or the Strangeloves -- too familiar). But I wouldn't neglect love songs either. How about ``Things to You'' by NRBQ. Terry Adams' heartbreakingly simple piano solo leads right into my favorite verse, ``Words don't always come out like I plan,'' which somehow gains poignancy with the so-awkward-it-must-be-sincere next line, ``This I think that you will understand.''
Ira Kaplan is in the band Yo La Tengo, whose latest album is ``And Then Nothing Turned Itself Out.''
Here's the mix tape I made for my girlfriend (titled ``Couples on the Run'') on or about our first date in 1994, with a few modern additions, because I can't resist:
Van Morrison, ``Sweet Thing''
Mazzy Star, ``Fade Into You''
Miles Davis, ``My Funny Valentine''
Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey, ``I Know You Will''
The Pogues, ``Ghost of a Smile''
Al Green, ``What a Wonderful Thing Love Is''
Beach Boys, ``God Only Knows''
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, ``Full Grown Woman''
Bob Dylan, ``Shelter From the Storm''
Sebadoh, ``Brand New Love''
Nina Simone, ``Wild Is the Wind''
Bruce Springsteen, ``Rosalita''
P.J. Harvey, ``Rub Till It Bleeds''
Magnetic Fields, ``The Book of Love''
Marvin Gaye, ``Sexual Healing''
Rick Moody's latest book is ``Demonology''(Little Brown).
The first place I go is Mary Margaret O'Hara. She really only has one album, but every song is an A-plus Valentine sure winner. She means every word and sings it right in your ear. ``Ships'' by Nick Cave goes almost too far, but if you're asking someone to be your Valentine, don't mince words. Another heartbreaker is Gram Parsons singing ``Wild Horses.'' I'd start and end each side with ``My Funny Valentine'' -- Side A with the Elvis Costello version and B with the real killer, Chet Baker. If it's too obvious, I am, too. I'll go all the way and put some Queen (the beautiful ones), Kenny & Dolly's ``Islands in the Stream'' and Journey's ``Faithfully.'' You can't go too far. So many songs about all the angles of love. It's really the easiest tape to make.
Mark Mulcahy's latest single is ``I Just Shot Myself in the Foot Again'' (Mezzotint).
The person who made the best mix tapes for me, and I wish I still had them, was John Hughes. He made the most amazing, amazing mix tapes, and I should have copied them, but I didn't. I listened to one so much that the tape broke. I took another on a trip and lost it. If you truly love a mix tape, you have to copy it, or put it on a DAT [digital audio tape]. I'm really good at making mix tapes. It's an art. I'm really specific about it. I can't have anything that's cut off [at the end] at all. I have to find a song the perfect length so it clicks off and turns to the other side. I hate it when I get a tape and it's not perfect.
Molly Ringwald and John Hughes collaborated on ``Sixteen Candles,'' ``The Breakfast Club'' and ``Pretty in Pink.''
When I was just out of high school, living in Athens, Ga., I went to New York with Oh-OK to play a show. We stayed on the floor of a friend of the band. For some reason I ended up with a cassette that had been given as a Valentine tape to the girl we were staying with. On the tape was the album ``Grievous Angel'' by Gram Parsons. Although I'd never had any real exposure to such a country sound, I was captivated by Gram's voice and songwriting, as I had never heard of him or his music. The LP's sentiments are bittersweet, with songs like ``Hearts on Fire,'' ``Love Hurts,'' ``$1,000 Wedding,'' etc., but I've always thought it was such a wonderful ``love'' gift, and how lucky I was to discover that tape of Gram, even if it was meant for another person's heart!
Matthew Sweet's albums include ``Girlfriend'' and ``In Reverse.''
If you're going to be corny, use a song with the girl's name. It's like an ID bracelet in song. I remember once someone made me a tape with the Bob Dylan song ``Sarah Jane.'' That worked. Now I was 19 at the time; I don't know how I'd feel about it now. But if you're going to use a name, you want to go with the best possible song. Starship's ``Sara'' -- that wouldn't work on me at all. Eye color would be No. 2. This guy used ``Brown-Eyed Girl'' on the same tape.
Sarah Vowell is a regular contributor to ``This American Life'' on National Public Radio. Her books include ``Take the Cannoli'' and ``Radio On.''Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times