Eight-Track Tapes

Eight Track Tapes

In our world filled with portable music, the eight-track seems rather (click) antiquated. Big and bulky, the endless looping tape within had this annoying habit of (click) interrupting songs midway with an audible click as it moved through each of four quadrants. The intended order of songs was often disrupted, and (click), … long periods of silence often lingered between tracks. They also marked the first time we could truly take our music with us.

The eight-track format was introduced in 1964, with Ford Motors offering factory-installed players by the following year. And, for a time at least, the technology seemed here to stay. Places like Columbia House allowed you to stock up on a dozen tapes for a mere penny (under the agreement that you would purchase a few at full price in the future). Portable players allowed you to take your favorite music to places such as the beach or the school bus.

Still, Eight-Tracks weren’t without their flaws. The plastic cases (and tape within) were quite susceptible to heat. Leave your Eight-Track on a hot dashboard and it probably wasn’t going to perform very well the next time around. Then, of course, was that annoying click. Since each “track” only allowed for a finite amount of time, and since this was the era of the concept album with songs regularly released that far exceeded the 3.5 minutes of your typical radio single, a lot of great music got chopped up along the way. If you wanted to hear “Freebird” or “Stairway to Heaven” in their uninterrupted glory, this wasn’t the media for you.

The Eight-Track tape’s reign of popularity began to fade in the 70s, with the introduction of the smaller cassette tape. These modern marvels were less than half the size and, much like a record, allowed you to hear each side in it’s entirety. The days of the clicks were behind us now. Memorex heavily-promoted the new format, lauding its superior quality in a series of very popular ads that featured jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald breaking a glass with her voice. Maxell would follow with a great series of commercials showing a listener literally blown away by the music emanating from one of these tapes.

With the arrival of the digital (and more durable) CD format in the 80s, the glory days of the eight-track tape (and soon, the cassette) came to an unceremonious end. Most sources agree that Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits album in 1988 was the last commercially produced eight-track. And, as was inevitable, the CD seems headed the way of the 8-Track, in favor of storage devices that allow one to store literally thousands of tapes worth of music.

Thankfully, a man named James “Bucks” Burnett (who once managed Tiny Tim) has done his part to ensure the former media format will never be forgotten. A collector since 1988, he first set out to compile every Beatles eight-track ever produced, an endeavor that took two years to complete. But that was only the beginning; today, he is the founder of the Eight-Track Museum, located in Dallas, Texas.

Do you still have any eight tracks among your personal property? Even better, do you have a way to play them? Do you have a particular one that you remember listening to all the time? We would love to hear all of your memories of eight-track tapes in our comments section below.

Oh, and a word to the wise; don’t be so quick to put them out at your next garage sale. A copy of a Led Zeppelin 8-Track tape recently fetched a respectable $152. You could be sitting on a small gold mine.

7 Responses to “Eight-Track Tapes”

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  1. HardyGirl66 says:

    My brother had ’em, my friend had ’em. I’ll admit, the only time I ever owned an 8-track was in the 80s, when I found this cool 8-track player headboard in a thrift store, and bought a couple of 8-tracks from there too, so I could play something on it. I didn’t keep it long though, b/c I needed money to move so I sold it.

  2. popcult69 says:

    Ah, the good old days…listened to many 8-tracks almost every day, enjoyed some good music. Joined the RCA Record and Tape Club (long gone, would be great to have it back) in 1977, the first release I got was “The Monkees Greatest Hits” (Arista), which I still listen to every once and a while.

    Then came “Saturday Night Fever” (with different artwork on the cover, a painting of the Bee Gees on stage), “Pieces Of Eight” (Styx), “Octave” (The Moody Blues), and many others. We (the family) had a Yorx stereo with 8-track, turntable, cassette decks, and tuner…replaced it with a Magnavox in 1992, I got a Sears system for Christmas 1986 with an 8-track player…who knew they were still around then?

    Goldmine magazine featured a column by Lisa Barker called “Collectormania”, which featured an article about 8-tracks, a fascinating piece. I think it was included in one of their Annual books, all of them and the magazine are worth checking out. Hope it’s OK to mention brand names and such, I strongly believe in promoting fine name brand merchandise and publications that I use and read.

    Long Live The 8-track!

  3. Amy says:

    Still have one, it still (kinda) works, but the tapes are so old and deteriorated that if I stick one in, it is immediately (click) chewed up and spit out like bad licorice. I remember being 7 or 8 and (click) my favorite 8-track was my brother’s Thin Lizzy-Jailbreak. I also remember the (click) clicks. Young audiophiles like myself were endlessly perturbed at this blasphemous interruption.

  4. jennifer harris says:

    I never had an 8 track tape or player.My ex-fiancee did with a record player built in.

  5. Rich says:

    I fondly remember 8-tracks as well. My brother had a bunch, and we had a Yorx turntable/8-track/tuner in a wood cabinet. My brother also had a car mounted one.
    The one thing that was required equipment on almost all 8-track players was a matchbook, which would be wedged between the bottom of the 8-track and the player to keep the playing head aligned with the tape. Good stuff.

  6. Michael Tremblay says:

    I had an 8 track…I hated the 8 track (click). No rewind only fast(click)forward. Oh man, I hated those things.

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