Where are they now? This is what remains. Where the rest of our collection went, we don’t know, but my family’s eight-track stereo and a few choice tapes still reside in my childhood home. Everything is all intact and functioning. Pop a tape in the stereo and the sound warbles and flutters. If you know the faults of eight-tracks, you remember older, worn tapes playing faint, or not so faint, harmonies of another song in the background because the tape inside the cartridge managed to get slightly off track. The clicking in the middle of the song when the tape switches from track to track? All annoyances we didn’t even know were annoying at the time.
I was born in the mid-seventies to hip parents who tried their best to keep up with the fads of the day. Through the mid-eighties, this translated into our entertainment feature piece, this Panasonic eight-track AM/FM stereo system and our family’s red Buick Station wagon that sported the hi-tech eight-track tape deck.
For those of you not in the know, the eight-track cartridge was born in 1964 and had a short life through the mid to late seventies when the compact cassette format eventually won out. The eight-track gained its most popularity when the automobile industry began installing the tape decks as an upgrade option, giving drivers the freedom to listen to their favorite artists on those long road trips. You could take your music with you wherever you drove! For our family, it was trips to my grandmother’s over the holidays and long, two-day drives from Texas to Colorado during summers. The radio stations were in-and-out at best, but we had Willie Nelson and Anne Murray to get us through.
My Dad, ever the brass-band geek from his college days, had a vast collection of Chuck Mangione. There was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, John and Yoko, Neil Diamond, Barbra and oh, Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.”
I can feel the Buick’s wheels turning on that open road, windows down, scream-singing “HEART ATTACK-ACK-ACK-ACK!”
Fame is fleeting, and the popularity of the format was no stranger to that. The clunky cartridges were replaced by smoother, more-protected cassettes, then CDs and now digital reigns. But my household pays homage to the clunky big bro to the sleek cassette and CD. And I am thankful that, even though Mom threw out all my Debbie Gibson cassettes and my bubblegum pink boombox, she hung on to the old Panasonic.
Fast eight-track facts:
- Since the tape was on a continuous reel, there was no need for rewinding, and no way to! Imagine enjoying your favorite artists most-recent release ALL THE WAY THROUGH from beginning to end
- The official name of what we know as the eight-track is Stereo 8
- The format was invented by Bill Lear-the same guy who brought us the Lear Jet Corporation
- Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits,” released in 1988, is believed to be the very last commercial eight-track release
- While you can still find eight-tracks on sale in-store and online for a few bucks, some of the rarest foreign versions can sell for close to $2,000
Becky is Marketing Communications Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.