Worst technology ever – but good memories

John Denver 8-track

One of my recent thrift-shop finds was this: a reminder of misguided technology (and a hugely popular pop singer) from my youth. I have no way to play it, but given how awful 8-tracks were, who’d want to?

So how long has it been since you thought about 8-track tapes?

Now, I realize that if you’re below the age of 45 or so you probably have never thought of 8-track tapes even once in your life. But if you’re older than that, you certainly know what I’m referring to. And I suspect I’m safe in guessing that when you recall 8-track tapes, you do so with a shudder. Because they were surely the worst technology ever invented.

Not only were they big and ungainly – unlike those sleek cassette tapes that came along shortly after them. And not only were they, well, tapes – which meant that the tape could, and did, get tangled and mangled. The best (by which I of course mean the worst) thing about 8-track tapes was that their four tracks, or channels, or whatever they were called (why did they call them 8-tracks when there were only four of those thingies?) apparently had to all be exactly the same length. Which meant that if a song that started on one track, or channel, or whatever it was, was a little long, the stupid thing would hiccup and stop and switch to the next track – right in the middle of the song!


Anyway, 8-track tapes and tape players were an inevitable part of my 1970s childhood, and perhaps yours too. Thank goodness better technology came along and relegated them to the dustbin.

So I find it a little funny that I’ve been reminded of that deservedly almost-forgotten technology not once but twice in just the past few days.

The first time was last weekend, when I popped into Hidden Treasures, the thrift shop on the main street of Tweed, and spotted a whole box of those 8-track babies, with John Denver’s Greatest Hits right at the top. John Denver was (as you will know if you are over the age of 45) hugely popular in the early to mid-1970s, and those songs remind me happily of my early teenage years here at the Manse. And the fact that it was in 8-track format? Well, that just made me laugh because of the stupidity of the thing. For a quarter, I figured it was well worth it to have a little reminder of that wildly misguided technology.

And then just a couple of days ago, another 8-track reference came along! If you’ve read last night’s post, you’ll have seen it too. That post contained a wonderful missive from reader Bert, recounting his visit to the Rock Acres Peace Festival in Queensborough back in the summer of 1971. The highlight of Bert’s beautifully written reminiscence was this: “To this day, the Saturday night of the weekend holds one of my best memories. It was late at night, the bands had finished … we were sitting around our fire, and I was lying back on my sleeping bag looking up and enjoying the night sky and the stars. Not far away, coming from someone’s 8-track tape player, came the Rolling Stones song Moonlight Mile … (T)hat night, in that atmosphere, under those conditions, the song was sublime …(T)o this day when I hear Moonlight Mile, I close my eyes, think of that night and remember how special it was and how lucky I was to live in and be a product of those times.”

I guess there’s a lesson in that lovely passage. To wit: even from bad technology can come splendid lifelong memories. That’s kind of cool, actually.

So in honour of bad technology and good memories of the old days, let’s have a song from John Denver’s Greatest Hits. This one’s a live version, from 1972; and I think it kind of fits in with some of the goings-on that might perhaps have happened at Rock Acres: “Friends around a campfire and everybody’s high…”

12 thoughts on “Worst technology ever – but good memories

  1. “…they were surely the worst technology ever invented…”

    Hmmm…ever try using a hand-threaded open reel-to-reel tape player in the car? Or, how about playing a vinyl record [especially a warped one] in the car…on a bumpy road? [Be sure to check out these sites regarding vinyl record players in cars: http://www.google.ca/search?q=car+record+player&client=firefox-a&hs=ktE&rls=Palemoon:en-US:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=-fQPU-v4O8qlrQGRkICABw&ved=0CDEQsAQ&biw=1016&bih=1019, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_Hi-Fi, http://www.uaw-chrysler.com/images/news/phono.htm Fascinating!] In their day [late ’60s & early ’70’s] 8-track players were the best option for automobiles until cassette tape technology improved enough by the mid-’70s.

    “…And not only were they, well, tapes – which meant that the tape could, and did, get tangled and mangled…”

    And the same would also occur with the later cassette tapes. But unlike with vinyl records, the external hard shell made 8-tracks & cassette tapes durable and thus practical and convenient…one didn’t have to worry too much where they were tossed.

    Nevertheless, in terms of sound quality & durability of the actual recording media, both 8-track & cassette technologies make many of us appreciate CD technology [although audiophiles may differ in opinion]

    “…their four tracks, or channels, or whatever they were called (why did they call them 8-tracks when there were only four of those thingies?…”

    Stereo? 2 tracks, one each for left & right channels.

    Here is an interesting overview of 8-tracks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8-track_tape

    And another about its successor, the Compact Cassette: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_Cassette

    Now, I must be getting back to my living room 8-track player to listen to my only 8-track cartridge…

    • That car, mk, is the perfect car for an 8-track player! I love the idea – and maybe I will take you up on that kind offer and bring my John Denver 8-track over for a nostalgic listen some summer evening!

      • Anytime Katherine.. Our car is a gem. She treats us good when we just want a sunny day out. Or on a long road trip seeing the sites of the summer. Many times while sitting at a street light people come up beside us and just look at how long she is. One little boy told his dad.. hey look at the size of that trunk. lol Of course since she is a Chrysler and is as big as a Whale I always smile when I hear the song “Love Shack Baby!” B 52’s. Maybe you need to go for a ride one day.. even better. I will tell you a secret. She is ALMOST my husbands favorite love after me of course.

      • That car is absolutely gorgeous, mk! I think I have some nice photos of it somewhere from when it was on display at the Madoc Fair. It may be the longest car I have ever seen. It is the perfect car for a long summer ride (while listening to the B52s on the 8-track, of course)!

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