The Media File: Mix It Up This Valentine’s Day

Twentysomething by Jamie Cullum Love Songs (Best of the Verve song book) by Ella Fitzgerald The Beatles-The white album A Night At The Opera by Queen Awake by Josh Groban

Nothing gets you brownie points faster than a mix CD. (OK, maybe a state-of-the-art kitchen makeover would do the trick, too.) An inexpensive gift that’s easier to assemble than ever thanks to the one-click simplicity of iTunes, the mix CD has come a long way from the tapes you probably made for friends back in the day.

But nothing’s worse than a crappy mix CD—poorly sequenced with treacly songs, nothing more than a Sharpie scrawl across the front to serve as a label. If you’re going to give this as part of a gift package, your mix CD needs to be better than that. Follow these eight simple tips for a mix CD to remember.

1. SIMPLICITY WORKS BEST. Skip the over-blown ballads from Celine Dion and Michael Bolton because re-straint is not part of their voca-bulary. Remember, you’re try-ing to get your significant other’s attention, not audition for a Broadway stage production.

2. MIX THE GENERATIONS. If you’re in the 50-plus set, modernize your collection with newer throwback singers like Jamie Cullum, Norah Jones, or Diana Krall. If you’re considerably younger than that, be sure to remember great music existed long before the iPod was invented. Try a little Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, or Frank Sinatra—just be careful that you choose carefully with Ol’ Blue Eyes. Sure, “dame” and “baby” were just fine in the ‘40s, but you might get a smack across the kisser in the 21st century for the same thing!

3. FIND HER FAVORITES. My wife loves Rod Stewart and Michael Bublé, but the Chipmunks might make your girl’s heart melt.

4. FIND SOME FAB FOUR. The Beatles cut across every generation. I put “I Will” on my mix last year and my wife loved it because it was so unexpected. Just skip anything Ringo wrote.

5. LISTEN TO THE LYRICS. Sure, R.E.M.’s classic “The One I Love” sounds like a great idea, until Michael Stipe sings, “a simple prop to occupy my time.” That takes the magic out of a little. Likewise with last year’s hit song, “Beautiful,” by James Blunt. Even if you use the version without the F-bomb, the final lines, “It’s time to face the truth / I will never be with you,” will be water on the flames.

6. GO BEYOND THE OBVIOUS. Last year’s mix CD included “Just Like Heaven” by Katie Melua, “It Looks Like Love” by Josh Rouse, and “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops. Variety is the key.

7. SENTIMENTAL DOESN’T MEAN SAPPY. Skip the generic power ballads like Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” and take left turns like Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” or John Legend’s “Each Day Gets Better.” If you’d normally pull out a Bic lighter with the first chord, it probably doesn’t belong here.

8. WRAP IT UP. No, not gift wrap-ping, although that’s always a good idea. No, what I’m talking about is a really good cover. Download a favorite digital photo of you both, draw a funny illustration, or use some clever clip art. Measure and trim the label to fit a standard or slim-line jewel case for the finishing touch. And if all else fails, buy her a Josh Groban CD. She’ll swoon in a second.

Style Editors Dean Blinkhorn and Amy Mangan and Creative Director Trevor Byrne have many opinions on music, books, and movies, respectively. This special rotating column will highlight a different editor and a different topic each month. Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Drop us a line at or and we’ll print the best responses in the next issue. Next up: Trevor suggests some great TV show DVDs.

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