Period Correct Mix Tapes – 1990 Model

Every once in a while, I plan to delve into a topic not entirely GSi-centric.  There will be a GSi tie-in, but it may be a bit tenuous.  So bear with me as we take a detour…

One of the key considerations for the various fixes and improvements I’ve planned and begun for the GSi has been whether to maintain factory-correct specification, go for a slightly updated “resto-mod” (as much as I hate that term), or go full-bore into a cone-eating weekend autocross warrior.

At this point, that decision is still up in the air, so the early-2000s aftermarket CD player still resides in its seemingly subterranean spot way down low in the center console. With elderly technology comes compromise and opportunity.

Compromise because the sound quality just isn’t there.  Even the daily driver, with it’s absolute bargain basement Pioneer head unit and factory 5x7s, blows away the GSi in sound quality and volume.  There’s no auxilary input and no option for a tape adapter-to-iPod solution that the factory stereo would have offered. So the only work-around for providing a good library of digital tunes is a FM modulator, which is okay as a temporary fix, but only that.

The factory tape player would have offered random adventures in thrift stores, roadside junk sales and used music joints, looting bargain bins for decent, period-correct cassette tapes.  At the risk of sliding tail-first into the extraneous shit category, I think that having Pearl Jam’s Ten or perhaps Mack Daddy by Sir Mix-a-Lot would be an era-appropriate and amusing addition to the center console binnacle when parked at cars and coffee or whatever Radwood-esque show I may stumble across.

But perhaps the best opportunity may be found in the form of a good, old-fashioned mix tape.  I’d considered this idea before – a tape or two filled with the finest music the early 90s had to offer.  And let’s be honest, it was a pretty good era in that way.  It’s quite simple to sort music by year via iTunes, and burn a CD, but that just doesn’t seem authentic enough. The factory tape deck may be the only correct answer here – and then recording that CD on an analogue  tape.

In any case, other projects took priority, so the idea of sourcing and installing a factory tape deck was shelved. But, a discussion of epic mix tapes on a 24 Hours of Lemons Facebook group has spurred me to come up with some potential tracks to include.


So I decided to give it a go.  The early 90s section of my library definitely tilts hip-hop, owing to my days as a high school suburban gangster, but I’ve been filling in the gaps lately with a more balanced mix.  There’s honestly not much cutting edge here, but to me, the purpose of this particular exercise was to find a good mix of driving-fast-music and stuff to sing along to on a lonely road.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at 12 great songs from 1990 – the first year of GSi production.

Can I Kick It? – A Tribe Called Quest Before gangsta rap took over the world, hip hop didn’t take itself so seriously.  The video for this song exemplifies that attitude and the beat is pretty fresh, too.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? – Mark Lanegan If you’re familiar with the Nirvana unplugged version, then you’re in the majority.  You’d also know that it was a cover of an old Leadbelly song.  What you may not have known is that Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees covered it before Kurt did.

Hard to Handle – Black Crowes Before dating movie actresses and being played absolutely everywhere, the Crowes released their debut album featuring more of a classic rock sound – a definite change of pace from the butt rock of the late 80s.

21st Century Digital Boy – Bad Religion Listening to the lyrics, you’d think this song was written in the past year, not in 1990.  Greg Graffin said about the song, ” in 1990, it was clear that the youth were going to be affected for good and bad by digital technology. It’s probably because we loved video games so much.”

My Head’s in Mississippi – ZZ Top A guitar-driven return to form after spending most of the 80s in a synthesizer-dominated funk, this song is built for a late-night high-speed drive across the desert.

Man in the Box – Alice In Chains Obviously no 90s mix tape is going to be complete without a band hailing from Seattle.  AIC were one of the first to break into the national consciousness with songs like this – crunchy guitars and dark lyrics set the groundwork for 90s music – and future mix tapes.

More Than Words – Extreme If this song comes on while you’re in the car and you fail to immediately start singing along, you’re a stronger person than I.  Just sayin’.

Graveyard Shift – Uncle Tupelo While country radio stations played twangy pop schlock that continues unabated to today, some scruffy punks from Illinois played much better country music than anything identified as such at the time and created a new genre and scene all its own.

Run For Cover – Eric B. and Rakim The Golden Age of hip hop was good.  Really good.

Story of My Life – Social Distortion Another bunch of scruffy punks, this time from Southern California, playing country-infused roots rock.

High Enough – Damn Yankees If you didn’t sing along with Extreme above, perhaps you may resist this as well.  Made up of 70s and 80s retreads, the Damn Yankees burned short but bright and faded away quickly in the face of the grunge and alternative onslaught.

Styrofoam – Fugazi This one didn’t get much airplay and that’s unfortunate.  But I’m guessing of all the bands on the list, this is the one who wouldn’t care about that at all.  Influential and intelligent, Fugazi set the stage for many 90s bands to come.

So – what say you? These are clearly not meant to be a “best of” list – rather a good selection of roadtrip mixtape music from 1990. Have any good year-of-manufacture tracks for your car? Comment below!

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