8 Track Tape Rewind
That title is a joke, you see... Ya can't rewind 8 Tracks. That's just one of the things that makes 8 Track a format that's hard on music lovers, and yet there's an undeniable nostalgia about the format.
In the retro biz, you can't intone the number "8" without pretty much everyone remembering 8 track tapes. In fact whenever anyone asks me about Retro Thing's popularity, my pat answer is "who knew you could make a splash with a website about Ataris and 8 Tracks?"
8 Track was just one of several early attempts at a format for pre-recorded music. You can't really listen to a record in a moving car (not that a couple companies didn't try...). 8 Track was a reuse of the pro cartridges used in radio stations called the "Fidelipac CARtridge". It was designed for DJs to use for commercials, jingles, and even single songs. It was Bill Lear heading a consortium of electronics manufacturers who thought of putting more tape in the cart and offering 4 separate "programs" of 2 track stereo, hence the name "8 Track". As the man responsible for the luxury Lear Jet, Lear imagined the convenient cartridge format as being ideal for in-flight listening.
The cartridge was much simpler to load up than threading up reel to reel tape. By including the pinch roller inside the cart itself, the actual mechanism of the player could be simplified. The cart has a clever endless loop system where all of the tape is wound around a single reel inside, the downside being that rewinding is impossible. Overall it was a (sort of) hardy and affordable system that found its way to regular consumers. You didn't have to be a member of the jet set to enjoy music in your car.
"Enjoy" might be a strong word as the format was anathema to loving music. Songs were sometimes re-sequenced (or omitted!) from the original album to fit more songs on less tape. Sometimes songs were split across tracks, so right in the right in the middle of your tune... ka-chunk! While the format was a fairly efficient idea, in practice both players and tapes failed all the time. How many of us remember the sight of a shiny black spaghetti of 8 track tape discarded in the street?
Thankfully Philips was able to squeeze more fidelity out of the Compact Cassette which then became the mainstay of portable music listening for decades. 8 Track stuck around the US from the mid 60s to the early 80s, so there's a lot of history there. Misguided history. So it's no surprise that Retro Thing fans have given the following 8 Track posts a lot of love.
· In pop culture, 8 Tracks were a 70s staple, yet stubborn freaks for the format continued to get albums via mail order into the 80s. You could get Michael Jackson, Madonna, and even this 8 Track by Phil Collins.
· 8 Track players weren't just built into cars. You could find the format supported by literally tons (ever try to move one of those things?) of hideous console systems, but here's what must be the weirdest one. An 8 Track built into a fake fireplace.
· 2-XL is a little plastic toy robot. He's an interactive toy with a clever use of the beleaguered tape format. He doesn't run on bits and bytes (though here's an actual computer that reused the format... sorta...). He's a robot who runs on the power of 8 Tracks of garbled stereo sound.
· How about a crazy collision of 70s ideas? Just plug this gimmick into your 8 track player to turn it into a CB radio.
· Finally, a crowd favorite. A tongue-in-check feature comparison of a portable shiny white 8 track player versus a shiny white iPod. I'm still not sure which is better.