Nov 302011

This great article on the life and times of Columbia House reminded me of a strange period of time when I was in high school.

Like many people I discovered rock music when I was in high school. Sure, I’d had a few 45 rpm records with some top 40 hit like “Waterloo” by ABBA, and “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace, but that was kid stuff. Before I had a turntable I had an 8-track player. Sometime in the mid 1970’s our family received a strange package in the mail; a Columbia House 8-track player. It was a gift sent to my father from an ex-con that my father had done some legal work for. My father really didn’t listen to music, but my mother did. Our family already had an 8-track player, so the Columbia House machine was extra. For several years the unused machine sat fallow until I rediscovered it.

I got lucky because my friend David Peterman not only had lots of LPs but an 8-track machine that recorded as well. The capacity to record was an unusual feature for 8-track machines. For those not old enough to remember, the music on pre-recorded albums on 8-track would often fade out before the big “Ka-chunk” when one track switched over to another. With home-made 8-tracks the music would switch abruptly, which would seriously harsh one’s mellow. You couldn’t buy blank 8-tracks either, so you had to find junk ones to record over. I remember enjoying Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo this way…

The problem was that the whole standard for 8-tracks was total junk. In an analog tape format, precision alignment between the tape and tape head is critical. The mechanical tolerances needed for genuine high fidelity just weren’t there with this format. The Columbia House machine that I owned was so cheap that I would have to fold up paper and cram it under the plastic cartridge to keep the tape aligned! As much as I enjoyed rock music I grew to hate this machine and realized that I simply HAD to transition to LPs.

The Columbia House machine came to a violent end one night. As with many dramas in life, you never know exactly how your life will impact those around you. Evidently the story I told my friends was resurrected in this hilarious account by David Peterman. David’s memory of my account is remarkably accurate, though I think I used an ax and not a baseball bat…

 Posted by on 11/30/2011 Growing Up In Montana

  2 Responses to “The 8-Track Player”

  1. Our first family stereo had turntable and a recordable 8-track. This must have been around 1976. We had about 6 blank tapes, so my sister and I put our name on one and used it to record ourselves pretending to interview each other or make radio shows. We spent hours recording ourselves being silly. Weirdly, I didn’t get my first cassette player until the middle of the 80s, long after most people had made the transition from 8-track to cassette. Matt, what I don’t understand about your story is, once you axed the 8-track, how did you then listen to music?

  2. I can’t remember clearly. I think I suffered without music for a while. Eventually I bought a decent turntable.

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