Mar 27, 2014

Muscle Car Music: Collecting 8-Track Tapes

To garage-salers and flea market buffs, they seem to be everywhere. Most folks walk right by boxes full of them with their nose in the air and an attitude of indifference. For collectors, though, boxes of unwanted 8-track tapes are pure gold.

Monthly sales of 8-track tapes number in the thousands on eBay, with prices sometimes exceeding $100 for rare quadrophonic tapes. There is even a brisk market for broken 8-track tapes, because collectors regularly disassemble and repair tapes to gain access to their favorite music format. 8-track enthusiasts claim to love the feel of the tape cartridge in their hand and to crave the full-bodied analog sound of the music contained therein. To collectors, 8-track tapes are the embodiment of the 1970s.

That’s not how I remember them. I remember 8-track tapes as being the most aggravating music format ever invented.

For starters, the tapes were on a continuous loop, which meant I couldn’t fast-forward or reverse to search for a particular song. If I was cruising down the highway listening to “Freebird” on my Lynryd Skynyrd tape (it was the ’70s, after all) and wanted to hear the song again, I’d have to listen to every other song in the set first. As tapes were played repeatedly, the rollers wore away and they would get dirty and fill with grime. The tapes would jam, break, and sometimes change programs in the middle of a song (No! Not on “Freebird!” Not again!). Stretching would cause tapes to lose firm contact with the playback head, and sound quality would suffer. Worst of all, I would occasionally unwrap a brand-new tape only to have it break on the first playing, sending me back to the store for a replacement. Read More...

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