In praise of the mixtape: a new book looks back on an eclectic time in popular music

Before there were Spotify playlists or homemade mix CDs, there was the mixtape. Mixtape is also the name of the latest book from Vancouver’s Fiona McQuarrie, who has been writing about music in one way or another for over four decades.

The full title is Mixtape: 21 Songs from 10 Years (1975-1985) – appropriate as this was an era when cassettes were king.

“Oh, heck yes. I still have a Tupperware container of mixtapes that I made, both from recording off the radio and taking tracks off records,” McQuarrie admits. “Yeah, I had a lot of ’em.”

She says the initial impetus for Mixtape was to write a sequel to her earlier book, Song Book, which covered the previous decade. The era Mixtape covers was also when McQuarrie started writing about music professionally.

READ MORE: Song Book: 21 Songs from 10 Years (1964-74)

“It really resonated with me because I saw a lot of acts that are mentioned in the book live. I interviewed several of them and it really was an exciting time for music,” she explains.

“There were so many different styles on the Top 40 at any given time, and the technology for music was changing too. There were mixtapes, there were cassettes, there were 8-tracks, there was vinyl. So, it was just a really lively and vibrant time in the music industry for fans and for musicians as well.”

McQuarrie wrote for both the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers. So, it should come as no surprise “Too Bad” by local legends Doug and The Slugs made the list.

“Doug and The Slugs were just starting their rise to national prominence when I was working at the Sun, so yeah, I interviewed Doug [Bennett] several times. I also saw the band play live several times,” she says. “It was very exciting to see a band from Vancouver that was so unconventional have that much success.”

“I think they’re one of the great underrated bands from Vancouver. They sort of acquired this reputation as a party band which is fair enough because they’re a lot of fun to see live,” she explains. “But they deserve so much more credit than that because the songs that Doug wrote are so deep and so intricate while still being very listenable and clever.”

LISTEN: Sense of humour among keys to Doug & The Slugs’ longevity 

Fans of TV’s Stranger Things may enjoy reading the chapter on “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, though McQuarrie insists she chose it before its unlikely revival on the Netflix series last year.

“So, I actually had to get a couple of friends to tell me what was going on in that scene where it was used. But I did pluck up enough courage to watch a bit of it online. And I was really impressed with how well it was used and how well it fit the context in that particular show.”

“It was really interesting to me [as] someone that followed [Bush] back from the early 80s to see a whole generation understand that song even though it was presented in a very different context than it originally came out in,” she says.

Ultimately, McQuarrie hopes the reader takes away a new knowledge for the songs they are already familiar with, but also for the ones they are not.

“One thing I tried to do in choosing the chapters is to give a sense of the scope of music and all the different styles that were out there in that decade,” she says. “I hope that maybe some readers will come across an artist that they might have heard of somewhere, but they don’t know a lot about and learn more about them and maybe start to appreciate the work that they did through reading the book.”

Mixtape: 21 Songs from 10 Years (1975-1985) is available from New Haven Publishing.

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