I want my MTV
Homage to 8-Track
I pity the iPod generation.
Sure, iPods have a gazillion songs available at a touch, great sound, portability.
But, back in my younger days, we appreciated music more because we had to work to listen to it. I’m talking about, of course, the worse technology ever designed to play back recorded music -- 8-track tapes.
I was overcome with both loathing and joy last week when Cheap Trick released its new album, “The Latest,” on 8-track.
In the 1970s, when I was in high school, about the only way to play recorded music in your car was 8-tracks.
Yes, I know—those of you born after MTV are asking: “What the hell was 8-track?”
8-tracks used recorded tape, except that, unlike the handy pocket size of cassettes (which 8-tracks somehow usurped), 8-track tape was housed in a flat, rectangular plastic case about the size of a Gideon’s Bible.
8-track was spawned in 1965, but auto makers took years to join the conspiracy and equip cars with players.
So, 8-track decks had to be hot-rodded onto the bottom of a car’s dashboard, where they hung like a cross between a toaster and a tumor. One careless kick of your foot while scouting for loose change under the seat would rip out your player’s wire rigging, exposing what looked like a Terminator’s brain.
Once a deck was installed, the real labor of the 8-track listening experience began. Though called 8-track, the boxy tapes had four channels.
Except that rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd didn’t write songs to fit into the 10 minutes or so of a single 8-track channel. So, sometimes songs were split over two channels, with an annoying “ka-chunka-chunk”—the sound of an 8-track retching from one channel to the next—popping up in the middle of, say, Zep’s “Dazed and Confused.”
If that “ka-chunka-chunk” came during a favorite song, we of the 8-track generation had to man up and suck it up.
Sometimes a vinyl album’s song order—a sacred part of a rock album’s experience! -- would unceremoniously be reshuffled to fit the 8-track format (a decision made by some music biz suit, no doubt).
When a tape or a player became as worn as Mick Jagger’s jock strap during a tour, you’d begin to hear the dreaded sound of one channel bleeding into another. Pop in Led Zep’s fourth album for six months and, slowly but surely, you’d begin to hear “Stairway to Black Dog.”
I’m still battle-scarred from the ultimate trauma of my 8-track wars. Let’s just say tears were involved when I pulled “Frampton Comes Alive” from the deck retrofitted in the Oldsmobile my grandparents had given me, and I discovered Frampton had been eaten alive.
He wasn’t the only 8-track casualty. You iPod kids of today couldn’t have handled it.
But 8-tracks did spawn joy.
At home, parents could disturb the ecstasy of a “Dark Side of the Moon” listening session (via vinyl) with a knock on my bedroom door. Once the 8-track deck was fitted into the ol’ Olds, my un-cool car became the coolest listening room in the world.
I still recall driving at midnight through the countryside, alone, with Scorpio glimmering in the inky sky, all windows down, the flowery scents of summer riding the night breeze like fairies on wind horses, and Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” blasting on my 8-track...
I’d buy Cheap Trick’s “The Latest” on 8-track, if I had a cursed 8-track player in my car.