Monday, January 7, 2008

8-Track Memories

Today I listened to one of my lifetime favorite albums and it took me down a music media memory lane of sorts. This album goes back so far with me that I've now owned it in five different mediums. First came the archaic 8-track, then an LP, on to a cassette tape for portability and eventually a CD... now I listen to it on my Zen mp3 player.

It started way back in 1978 when I inherited about ten 8-track tapes as my brother "moved on" in his musical tastes. The album (yes kids, we called them albums - not CD's) I enjoyed the most was Rockin' Rod Stewart's 1977 effort, "Foot Loose & Fancy Free". It came out before "Blondes Have More Fun" which gave us the "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" disco hit. Nah, foot loose was more of a rock offering with songs like "Hot Legs" and "Born Loose". Added to those wanna be rock songs were rock ballad remake of "If Loving You is Wrong - I Don't Wanna Be Right", and funky bass heavy "You're Insane".

All of those songs were OK in their own right, but I really wanted to hear my favorite songs... "You're In My Heart" was a love song that twisted me inside and out when I could only guess what the emotion was all about... (I was all of 10 years old at the time). The songs "I Was Only Joking" and "You Got a Nerve" were all about when love goes wrong, and I learned the other side of the scary emotion from listening to them.

I remember my first guitar lesson as I almost jumped out of my chair when the teacher told me that I could bring in music and he would teach me. I knew immediately that I wanted to learn the riffs from the beginning and middle of "I Was Only Joking"... knowing this one song would make learning how to read music worth all the effort. I took a recording (cassette by this time) to my teacher saw the relief on his face when the song started. I asked him what that was all about and he said that he was ecstatic that someone wanted to learn a song other than Led Zepplin's "Stairway To Heaven".

For those people lucky enough to have experienced the 8-track you will remember that they had their good and bad points... for me, they were mostly bad. The good point was that it was an endless loop and would play forever... nice if you didn't want to have to get up and switch out your music.

Regrettably the bad points were many. The tapes themselves were 1/4 inch tape separated into 8 tracks which were spliced together by a little foil piece. When the machine would "read" this splice it would move the head so that it could play the next track. Unfortunately not every album could be timed to put this splice between songs, and frequently the volume on the song would slowly be reduced to dead air, then the player would make a loud THUNK as it changed tracks then the music would slowly come back on, eventually back to full loudness. This track change is so deeply ingrained in me for this particular album that right before the last chorus of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" I still expect the sound to go down and the track change to occur. There were countless times that I was drifting off to sleep to my favorite music only to be rudely interrupted by that ever-present THUNK which of course completely disturbed all thoughts of dreamland.

Another crappy aspect was that you couldn't simply forward to a particular song, or even really pick what song you wanted to hear above all others. It was impossible to play and replay your favorite without at least hearing all the songs before it on that one track. On top of these horrible aspects was the fact that the 8-track itself was a flimsy piece of equipment and the players were rather complex and prone to "eating" tape after tape.

There were about twenty-five of these tapes that shaped my youth, some of them bit the dust early, I remember considering Hari Kari when "Frampton Comes Alive" ate the big one. Slowly they were all replaced by LP's or cassette tapes... both were simply easier to operate, it wasn't really because I didn't like the medium. In 1983 Billy Joel's "The Stranger" killed not only the tape but the player on my Hi-Fi leading me to give up on the 8-track system completely. Of course that meant that I had to go out and buy the LP, starting another long line of ownership (hmm... note to self, get the Billy CD's out for a listen).

Are you old enough to remember your favorite tape being eaten by your player?
Have you ever ridden in a car with an in-dash 8-track?
Do you even remember 8-tracks?
If so, what was your favorite?


Patty said...

Oh yes...I remember the 8 tracks and having the tape eaten by the player. Your post brought back a lot of memories for me. As a teenager, I had a portable 45 player and a huge selection of 45's. Lesson learned the hard way..NEVER leave your 45's in a car on a hot day.

EuroTrippen said...

I remember loving my parent's 8-track player! Ma favorite tape was Harry Chapin's 'On The Road To Kingdom Come'... my mother used to play it over & over & over again.