Try to explain 8-Track tapes to a kid and you’re likely to get a puzzled stare. They are certainly archaic by today’s standards, but in the 70s these mechanical marvels allowed us a way to carry the music we wanted to hear into the car, the school lunch room or even the beach. Try that with a record player.
The 8-track tape debuted in 1958 as the first practical portable music format. Finally, one could carry a collection of music with them, rather than always waiting for their favorite song to come on the radio. Want to listen to some Beach Boys while hanging at Jones Beach? Want to share the latest Led Zeppelin with all of your friends on the school bus? Want to be serenaded by Pink Floyd as you sat in traffic on the L.I.E., the 8-track was your friend.
Of course, most friends have an annoying habit or two, and the 8-track was no exception. The format basically divided an album into four sections, each about 8-12 minutes (something nature hadn’t intended). This meant that songs from said album were usually presented in a different order, sometimes with longer efforts (Freebird, anyone?) cut in half by a rather annoying click as the tape switched to the next track. It was a rarity to find an album where the songs remained intact and in the same order.
The tapes were also especially vulnerable to the elements. Leave your box of music in the car on a hot summer day and it might sound a little more psychedelic than intended during playback. Tapes commonly wore out and snapped, and repair was no easy task. Eventually, the compact cassette was developed, a smaller and superior medium that debuted in the mid-70s and had all but taken over with the arrival of the 80s. Still, there are some that swear by their 8-tracks out there, and there are a number of classic albums that can fetch a pretty penny among collectors. If you have an old box of 8-tracks in the garage, you might be able to finance a small vacation should you have any of the titles most sought.
Today, the thought of carrying around 10 songs in a plastic container the size of a small paperback book seems unfathomable in a world filled with iPods. But the 8-track certainly had its charm, and it allowed many of us to listen some great music on the go.
If you have fond memories of your 8-track tapes, or any other related recollections you’d like to share with the community, please don’t be shy! Leave your thoughts in our comments section.