The 8-track tape is the Rodney Dangerfield of music formats: It gets no respect.

Like CB radios, leisure suits and mood rings, the 8-track elicits a chuckle and a head shake as if to say, “Can you dig how wacky the 70s were?”

But 8-tracks were instrumental in extending recorded music beyond home hi-fi systems and into the automobile. Prior to 1966, if you wanted to listen to music in the car, the radio — primarily AM radio — was about your only choice. Chrysler did offer the “Highway Hi-Fi” system from 1956 to 1962 [it played special-pressed seven-inch records at 16 2/3 rpm] and other car manufactures had installed reel-to-reel tapes in some models, but neither was commercially successful.

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William Lear — the guy who invented the Lear Jet — is credited with inventing the 8-track, though he was not the first to develop a shell-encased continuous-loop audiotape.

Lear’s Stereo-8 system, as it was branded, was a tweaked version of the 4-track tapes and players developed by Earl “Madman” Muntz. Lear unveiled his tapes and players in 1965, and used his standing as a successful businessman to convince Ford Motor Co. to install his players under the dashes of the company’s Mustangs and Fairlanes. In 1966, Ford offered the players as an option on all its models after RCA Victor agreed to produce its entire catalog on 8-track cartridges.

The tapes and players were wildly popular, but began to lose much of the appeal in the mid to late 1970s as the smaller cassette format gained acceptance. Record companies had already begun to phase out 8-tracks by the late 70s, but the death knell for the cartridges was rang on Aug. 31, 1982 when Sony, CBS/Sony, Philips, and Polygram introduced the compact disc system. [Incidently, the first album released on CD was “52nd Street” by Billy Joel on Oct. 1, 1982.]

Did you know?:

  • Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits,” released in November 1988, is generally considered the last commercial eight-track released by a major label.
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “Live/1975-85” was one of the very few boxed sets to be released on 8-track, vinyl, cassette and compact disc.
  • According to Maxim magazine, the first artist to sell a million copies on CD was Dire Straits [Brothers in Arms, 1985].
  • Queen was the first artist to have its entire catalog converted to the CD format.
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