Mixtapes We Really Made When We Were Teenagers: A Roundtable

Mixtapes (whatever the format) create a quintessential part of most high school experiences. There’s something so poetic about carefully curating a collection of songs to capture a moment, identify a mood, or communicate a feeling to someone else. So today the staff has gone through our tapes, CDs and playlists to share a little corner of our past selves.

Audrey, Staff Writer

Title: Windows Down, Volume Up
Made for: Myself, the world
Year: 2009

It was senior year, and I thought it was supposed to be great. And it was, in a lot of ways, despite all the regular turmoil and insecurity of being 18-years-old and having no clue. When I made this mix, I think I wanted to convey the reckless senior year can’t-stop-me-now vibe, but damn, it gets heavy at a couple points. “Train In Vain,” by The Clash? “Back In My Head” by Tegan and Sara? I want to give myself a hug. It also features Hoku and Fun. from before they were famous, and it ends with “Soco Amaretto Lime,” because who among us born after 1985 did not scream “I’m gonna stay 18 forever so we can stay like this forever” a capella on some swingset in some park?



cd with black writing on it

Laura M, Staff Writer

Title: L
Made for: me and anyone riding in my car
Year: 2004ish

Going through my old mix cds from high school, two things struck me:

  1. I spent an awful lot of my youth blithely singing along to lyrics that I clearly did not understand as well as I thought I did. (Did everyone else know that “Jane Says” was about drug addiction?! I definitely thought she was physically kicking something…)
  2. I had zero sense of moderation. In one inexplicable masterpiece, I chose to end with four U2 songs in a row, “This World” by Zero 7, then two more U2 songs. Because, you know. That’s just what you do in high school.

This particular playlist only contains two songs by the same band, and it’s The Dandy Warhols! So I consider that a great success. One thing that I really appreciate about this mix is the wild, shameless genre swings between tracks. I was really earnest about the things that I liked back then, even when they were terrible and/or incongruous. I’m still like that, I guess, but I don’t shout-laugh my feelings down school hallways or sing-shout them out car windows so much anymore. I write them down and post them on the internet! Like an adult.

KaeLyn, Staff Writer

Title: Party Like It’s 1999
Made for: Me and My Sony Portable Discman Portable CD Player with Anti-Skip
Year: 1999

This was made on a CD, which I have to point out was very high tech in 1999. CD burners were still pretty expensive and Napster had just become a thing. It was the year before Y2K and everyone was concerned that the whole world might explode at midnight on December 31, 1999. It didn’t.

This is a mix of my favorite songs of the time. Like most 90’s girls, I liked to pretend I knew all about 80’s music, even though I was a wee child in the 80’s. (I hear teens and undergrads these days listen to 90’s music ironically, so the tradition marches on.) Also, that I only listened to alternative rock and didn’t like popular radio music, but I kind of did. Add the best 90’s pop-ska and hip hop and you have my junior year of high school jams. It was my junior year that I started to kind of peek out of the closet. I didn’t come out as bi for another year, but by 1999, I knew what was up. And what was up was I had a #1 crush on Shirley Manson.

Lydia, Fashion/Style Editor

Title: Where The Party People At?
Made for: Me and The Party People
Year: 2007

I was 17, I finally had a boyfriend, and he was throwing a party. Despite attending high school in a city which was rather… conservative in it’s outlook, I always wanted to dance at house parties. Often times the music would be terrible, and typically the night would result in one or two friends joining me which everyone else didn’t dance.

I clearly had a “good time” in mind with this playlist, with “SexyBack” followed by “Barbie Girl” for a double hitter, later bringing in “Wannabe” by Spice Girls. My allegiances to Britney Spears and Kanye were already going strong… Crowd pleasers (ending in the Big & Rich classic, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”) were my teen hopes that maybe, just maybe, someone living room would feel like the dancefloor in a super cool nightclub in the Big City. If not, I’d be dancing on my own to what I thought was an excellently crafted burned CD.

The file name for this picture is "seriously."

The file name for this picture is “seriously.”

Maddie, Staff Writer

Title: Eight Songs, In No Particular Order
Year: 2006
Made for: Moments of Deep Longing for My Friend and Nostalgia for Decades I Wasn’t Alive For
At this playlist’s conception, I had just turned fifteen and was a year into high school, where I had fallen in with the straight-edge counter-culture hippie-type freshmen, who were very supportive of my deep love for very long songs from the 70’s. We wore a lot of flowy skirts over jeans during that time, sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the girls’ locker room at lunch. Most of us were pretty fuzzy on our sexual orientation. We were also very into Rent. I found this playlist written down in my journal, between two different entries where I talk about how much I wanted to lie next to my best friend, who I was in love with, while listening to Phish. I also compare us to characters in David Levithan’s YA classic, Boy Meets Boy.

And just as a note, I only put the three minute version of “Thick As A Brick” on here. For the full experience, please see the 45-minute version.

me with a trophy

This photo really sums me up in high school. (Yvonne, age 17, won lots of academic competitions, especially in journalism.)

Yvonne, Senior Editor

Title: Random Car Jams, 1 & 2
Made for: Me and friends who were in my car
Year: 2008

I made this mix CD as a senior in high school when I had already kissed a girl and liked it. This playlist was for me to scream-sing on my way home after band practice, after hanging out at the library with my best friends or after dropping off my secret girlfriend (aka my best friend) at her house. I lived in the outskirts of town so it was at least a 20 minute drive anywhere, which was plenty of time to contemplate life’s complexities and scream-sing along to this playlist. I also was all up in my fluttery, first-love feelings and thought a lot about said secret girlfriend. I was really into “alternative rock music” and was one of those kids who were right near the stage at All Time Low concerts with my friends so this mixed CD is full of that kind of music. At the time, I didn’t know how to rip like 50 songs onto one CD so that’s why I had to split 30 songs onto two CDS. I lost the first CD but the second one still exists and I occasionally dust it off and listen to it to relive all those angsty teen years.

FullSizeRender (2)

Stef, Music and Vapid Fluff Editor

Title: C30 C60 C90 Go
Year: 1998
Made for: Sittin’ Up In My Room

This isn’t actually an actual mix I made myself so much as a collection of songs I remember recording off the radio. As an adolescent, I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends, and I was just beginning to figure out what kind of music I was into. I took CD purchasing really seriously; I had to absolutely love at least two singles off the radio, and I obsessively kept my CD collection in the exact order in which I’d purchased them. I also spent my mornings before weekend horseback riding lessons (I was that kid) keeping careful track of the top 40 on the radio, noting which songs had staying power and which faded away. I’ve always been a student of pop music, with a serious soft spot for one-hit wonders. The first artist I really became enamored with was Alanis Morissette, and although in retrospect I had absolutely no fucking idea what she was talking about, I identified deeply. Shortly thereafter, I bought my first Garbage record, dyed my hair red, started wearing heavy eyeliner and everything went to hell.

Riese, Editor-in-Chief

Title: Middle School Megamix
Year: 1994
Made for: Chilling with friends


In middle school, my friends and I tended to like all the same things at the same time. I mean, Amelia went a little rogue — she got me into The Indigo Girls and Grateful Dead, and even more into the James Taylor, Rolling Stones and Simon & Garfunkel my parents had already laid the foundation for. I was raised on classic rock and The Beatles were in heavy rotation. Then I became a pre-adolescent girl and adopted communal Bad Taste.

Not ALL of it was bad, really. In 6th and 7th grade we were heavy into R&B, The Bodyguard Soundtrack and The Boomerang Soundtrack. In 7th and 8th we adopted grunge rock, like all the cool kids. We liked really depressing music, too, because I think most of us were clinically depressed. Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself! All I know is we cried a lot, like abnormal levels of crying. I also listened to a lot of soundtracks. A LOT OF SOUNDTRACKS.


Title: Revolt: The Summer 98 Mini-Van Mix
Year: 1998
Made for: Driving around Michigan in the summer


There are three songs on this tape that I can’t put on a Spotify playlist: one is the live recording from Lilith Fair of “River is Wide”, which isn’t on Spotify. The other two are ’cause I obtained them by hooking up my video camera to my cassette recorder. They were songs Kim sang at the last Coffeehouse of my junior year and her senior year — basically a monthly-or-so open mic night hosted at the boarding school I attended — and I couldn’t listen to them now without getting big sad pangs in my gut, but I’m pretty sure they were about good friends and the future and the lake we loved and how she’d miss everything. Everybody had a crush on her, I think. She was good at everything: art, music, poetry, looking cool in leggings with a nose piercing. Over the summer I worked a lot and drove a lot, mostly to visit friends from Interlochen. This required a lot of mix tapes.

[Take a Drink – Kim]
Me & Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
Angel – Sarah McLachlan
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
River is Wide – Lilith Fair
32 Flavors – Ani DiFranco
I Shall Believe – Sheryl Crow
Hammer and a Nail – Indigo Girls
Life in a Nutshell- Barenaked ladies
Eternal Flame – Susana Hoffs
Party Generation – Dar Williams
What I Am – Edie Brickell

If He Tries Anything – Ani DiFranco
[Goodbye – Kim]
Brown-Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
Mercedes Benz – Janis Joplin
Sweet Surrender – Sarah McLachlan
Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed
City of New Orleans – Arlo Guthrie
Untouchable Face – Ani DiFranco
Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls
As Cool As I Am – Dar Williams
Too Darn Hot – Ella Fitzgerald
Let It Be – The Beatles


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Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a Presbyterian pastor. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianwhitetx.

Adrian has written 153 articles for us.


  1. My college girlfriend made me a mixtape called “I’m Gonna Stand Down Here and Drink ‘Til You Come Talk to Me.”

    … it had a lot of Ani DiFranco on it, if memory serves.

  2. Yvonne’s playlist was my life. I was obsessed with Kimya Dawson and Juno in the 8th grade/Freshman year of high school.

  3. I just realized the reason my girlfriend thinks it’s really impressive and sexy that I can set up a stereo system is that cd burners and music downloads were already normal by the time she got to middle school and she never tried to hook strange things up to tape recorders in order to get that great alt-rock radio hit or friend’s band’s school talent show recording on a mix tape.

  4. I love us so much. Oh my goodness.

    I had no idea “Jane Says” was about drug addiction either, Laura, though I know all the words. And duh. Then again every 90’s alt/grunge song was about drug addiction back then, so…

    • P.S. I really miss the flowy skirts over slouchy jeans thing. With a hoodie or a band tee, maybe, and some huge-ass earrings. Can we bring that back, Maddie?

  5. Oh my god, KaeLyn’s playlist.

    I was in band in high school, and someone would ALWAYS start playing the trumpet bit to She Has a Girlfriend Now in between practices. Me and the other resident queers would burst into song. It was a thing of beauty.

    • I saw Reel Big Fish in concert the summer after my senior year! That song was so validating for some reason even though it was from the perspective of a whiny white boy who was kind of disrespectful.

  6. These are all amazing. I just found a CD I made for my car (I designed and printed jewel case artwork for it in Photoshop, naturally, because I apparently had THAT MUCH TIME) that I called “Ecstatic,” which I must have listened to on my better days (my non-ecstatic days were spent listening to the Counting Crows and crying). It had like three songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers for some reason. High school.

  7. I’m staying in my parents house for the holidays, in my old childhood bedroom, so of course when I opened this article I went right to the drawer in my desk, and yup, every mix CD I ever made is still there, neatly stacked, all of which were burned between 2001-2003, when I was in 7th-8th grade. (I got my first iPod in grade nine, so its no coincidence that’s when my CD-burning stopped). It’s pretty much all Dashboard Confessional, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Sugarcult, Good Charlotte, Rancid, Nirvana, Sum41, Treble Charger, Simple Plan, Blink 182, and Metallica, with some Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, Michelle Branch, Pink, and early Avril Lavigne thrown in, along with a bunch of stuff from the Rent, Chicago, Grease, and A Chorus Line soundtracks. Man, I feel old now.

    • I get really sad thinking that kids don’t make physical playlists for their angsty teenage car years anymore, just load up their phones…

      • I’m still in high school, and I drive a 2005 VW Jetta the 1.5 hours roundtrip to and from school every day, in which the music options are CD and radio (it has a cassette slot that doesn’t work, so no aux cord for me). So I have a lot of CDs, about half of which are mixtapes my friends and I have made for ourselves or each other. They’re all beautifully decorated and thoughtfully made, and they live in a CD book another friend decorated for me after searching Wal-Mart for half an hour, because apparently CD books aren’t in high demand anymore (who knew). I really treasure them! It makes me sad, though… we have school-issued laptops, and my class (who are seniors now) are the last class whose laptops have CD drives. So the younger kids don’t get to experience the magic of burning mix CDs, which to me is tragic.

        • You could always go to the local Pep-boys or TJ Max/marshalls and get one of those aux ports that works via an empty radio-station channel. I have one and it works well. I got mine for $10 from Pep-boys.

          • Al, no! She has the magic of CDs she will find in her parents’ basement someday and treasure! Don’t ruin it! :-D

        • Also still in high school, and CDs are also still the best way to give a playlist to a specific person, so while I don’t make them for myself, I’ve got a few that various friends have made for me.

  8. I have always wished that I had made Christine a mixtape but then it was like tapes and radios started to disappear? I managed to make her I think 3 (?) CDs AND I also wrote the lyrics of the songs in a notebook because she had once mentioned she didn’t know the lyrics to most of them. I made the CD cover too. Wish I had pix tho =\

    If my memory serves me correctly I THINK her mom threw out the covers and one of the notebooks when she found out about us? But I’m almost sure Christine still has the CDs….MAYBE.

    *sending text now*

  9. I FELT A LARGE NUMBER OF FEELINGS WHILE READING THIS mostly due to Audrey’s mix. Ben Kweller + “Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” + “Jesus On The Radio” + obligatory Brand New track = College Me and College You would have gotten on great probably.

    Also, I have not thought about “Beating Heart Baby” in ages, and, BABY IS THIS LOVE FUHREEEEEEAL

    • Also, I was a prodigious mix-maker in middle school and high school, and my taste wasn’t *entirely* terrible back then, but I did at one point decide I wanted to listen to “One Step Closer” by Linkin Park so much that I put it on an actual cassette mix, so.

  10. KaeLyn you were so high tech with your 1999 CD burning! I remember when my dad figured out how to burn CDs in the late 90’s – while the CDs burned he was very insistent that we all walk very softly around the house to keep from disrupting the process or making a track skip.

  11. Oh my gosh I love this. I’m going to go dig up all the tapes i bought from the dollar store in middle school to record hits off the radio. This was right before CD burners became a thing and I remember the main reason I was so excited when my family finally got a computer was because I could make mix CDs. And boy did I. I still do! There’s just something about finding the perfect 15-18 songs that fit on an 80-minute blank CD…

  12. I’m 17 so this inspired me to start making a playlist for a mixtape cd or something so I’ll have one of these ahahaha.

  13. Some of these mix cds have me feeling older than I am. Cause it was the 90s early 2000 when I was in 1st grade through high school. Most of my mix tapes consisted of Wu-Tang Clan, Dr. Dre & Snoop(side note the Record store from his What’s My Name video is closing down) tracks from the early to mid 90s. Once I discovered real player(remember that music app?) and the web it was mostly GangStarr(Discipline is still a great track) and Redman(this was when MTV still played mostly music).

  14. KaeLyn’s playlist is so jam-worthy though!

    The best mixtape I’ve made was a Nostalgia Mix, which I made for my best friend’s birthday this year. It mainly focuses on songs from when we were 12 – 14, so it’s essentially an emo kid starter pack, and it is EXCELLENT.

  15. In ny júnior year of high school, a teacher that I had a BURNING crush on mentioned in passing during one of my suspiciously daily casual homeroom visits that she’d misplaced her copy of Weezer’s Blue Album some years prior. The next day, not only did I burn her a new copy, but I also presented her a CD wrapped in looseleaf with the track list written on it, which consisted of every mid-2000’s indie pop song about unrequited love you can think of (pretty sure “I Will Possess Your Heart” was in there somewhere). Somehow we’re not married.

  16. The only mixtape I still have from high school (and I’m floored that it still plays perfectly to this day) I made around 1996-1998 (I forget, but it was definitely on a tape, not a CD). It’s a pretty… eclectic mixtape overall, to be VERY charitable. If I choose to not be charitable, the tape is absolutely nuts. It includes most of the album Les Greatest Hits by the Swedish band Army of Lovers, Hurt (Quiet) by Nine Inch Nails from their album Further Down The Spiral, several songs off the debut album of The Presidents of the United States of America, and a few songs off Marilyn Manson’s album Antichrist Superstar. Since the songs are all mixed together, there are quite a few jarring shifts in mood featured on this tape. Again, eclectic if you’re feeling generous, and completely nuts if you’re being blatantly honest. An hour and a half of demonstrating just what a messed up person I was as a teenager.

  17. I just remembered I have a mix video somewhere. Anyone else record music videos from MTV, VH1, and BET when they still pretty much played videos all day?

  18. Lydia’s mix would have totally been my jam in high school.

    I found three different mixed CDs I made in high school a few weeks back and all three of them had “The Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show on them.

  19. Oh dear lord I made SO many mixtapes in high school and college, and drove countless miles during those years listening to my mixes. I’m tingling with nostalgia reading this! The tape entitled “Summer Pieces” is hitting particularly close to home, since I would always make a cover for my tapes in the same style as this.

    Over the years I’ve had many moves and de-cluttering phases, so I can’t say that I really have any of my tapes anymore…but I just love reading this. Nothing brings you back like a certain song, or an old playlist. Thank you everyone for sharing.

  20. Thinking about Soco Amaretto Lime made me cry (I have Feelings about turning 20) and Lydia, your past party playlist has a lot in common with my ‘it’s 2am and I must dance’ jams.

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