Will 8-Track Tapes Ever Be Rescued From The Dustbin Of History?

Aug 8th, 2008 // 8 Comments

sex.gifWith all the talk of the vinyl revival, and the way that cassettes are being transformed into USB drives, one has to ask: What about the 8-track tape, which has been pretty much forgotten save the occasional ironic music-video cameo and their omnipresence at estate sales? The site 8-Track Heaven has more information than you’ll ever want to know on the format, which experienced its heyday in the early ’70s but petered out once cassette tapes started incorporating audio enhancements like noise reduction. (8-Track Mind’s excruciatingly comprehensive FAQ includes the news that some truck stops in the Midwest apparently still carry 8-tracks–although it was last updated in March of 2004, so that factoid may be out of date.)

My family had its 8-track player for a long time (and still may; there’s a lot of crap in the basement of my old house), and the one album I most remember listening to on it was Don McLean’s American Pie, which I’m pretty sure had a break in the middle of its second song (“Sister Fatima”) because the title track was so damn long. That said, the 8-track format resulted in some amazing artifacts for us to virtually pore over:

mmm.gif

Since the LP consists of four evenly-timed sides, and since an 8-track produces continuous sound without the contrivance of a locked groove, in some ways this recording is a natural for the 8-track format. In other ways, of course, it’s perfectly ludicrous. It is remarkable enough that RCA considered this to be commercially viable enough to be released at all, never mind in multiple formats. Metal Machine Music even came out in quad LP and 8-track!

I’m not sure if anyone’s felt compelled to part with their Metal Machine Music 8-track yet, but an 8-track copy of Frank Sinatra With Antonio Carlos Jobim did fetch $4,500 on eBay two years ago. And in other collectible news, there were also some record-club-only 8-tracks manufactured in the ’80s that may be seen as rare; according to the FAQ, record clubs were the final mass merchandise outlets for the format, ceasing to make them in 1988.

Surely at least one Idolator reader still listens to their 8-tracks now and then, yes? Even though they were a bitch to clean and didn’t sound very good, with wear and tear resulting in the “wow and flutter” distortion effect that was immortalized by a Stereolab song title, which kind of makes 8-track nostalgia in 2008 similar to what nostalgia for .wav files grabbed off IUMA will be like in 2028?

The 8-Track Hall Of Fame [8trackheaven.com]

idolator

  1. Anonymous

    Although I can’t find a link to a recording of it at the moment, I feel I should mention that Jim Boggia’s new album, “Misadventures In Stereo,” has a song on it called “8Track.”

    (There’s also a special vinyl version of the album with a unique mono mix.)

  2. KikoJones

    To answer your headline, I believe “Hell, no” is the approproiate reponse.

  3. Gnosis

    Wow…nice find (Metal Machine Music)! “Now! Even more unlistenable!”

    The last known use for the cartridges that I know of were as “Carts” at radio stations up until the end of the 90′s(?). A track would be recorded from vinyl, cassette, or even CD onto an 8 Track Cart that was of the appropriate length (90 Seconds ~ 5 minutes) and stuck in a special player to be broadcast. The advantage? Instant start and no rewinding required – it goes right back to the beginning.

    I was amazed in the early 90′s when I saw Negativland and they triggered all their samples using stacks of these. This was long after digital sampling was a viable option. I was impressed and the show was hilarious!

    As for their future? Sad to say, it probably is in the hands of future ironic hipsters…

  4. Captain Wrong

    *sigh*

    I guess I’m going to have to step up as the sole Idolator reader that still rocks the 8-tracks. I’m old enough to have bought them new. My first car, a Chevy Mailbu, had a pull out 8-track that I used to rock Paranoid and Back in Black with. I still will buy interesting tapes when I see them and I still have about five decks including a recorder and this dandy portable:

    [photos1.blogger.com]

    My best tapes are probably NY Dolls, Van Der Graf Generator, Beefheart and a bootleg Kraftwerk tape. And I’m still tempted anytime someone is going on about how “warm” and superior their records sound to let ‘em know they haven’t lived until they’ve heard it on 8-track.

  5. ghostyhead

    @Captain Wrong: Nope, not just you! I’ve got a fairly large collection of 8-tracks, along with 3 home decks and 4 or 5 portables. And at one time, I had that Sex Pistols 8-track, but sadly, it disappeared in a move or something. I actually bought a box of still sealed 8-tracks online a couple of years ago. Mostly crap, but it was cheap and I just couldn’t pass up the novelty.

  6. Gnosis

    Captain Wong – Nice player! An nice collection!

  7. Gnosis

    sorry, “and”.

Leave A Comment