The Eight Track Museum opens on Monday in the Deep Ellum arts district of Dallas. If you're under 40 you may have never seen or heard an 8-track audio tape. The 5.25x4x.8 inch plastic tape cartridge was big and bulky, but it became wildly popular in cars in the 1960s. An 8-track cartridge contains a continuous loop of quarter-inch tape. The ends of the tape are linked by a metal foil splice, and the tape is divided along its length into 8 channels, or tracks (hence the name).
Bucks Burnett, 52, is the force behind the creation of the Eight Track Museum. He didn't buy his first 8-track until 1988, when the format was already history, but that first tape, the Beatles' "White Album," led to collecting all the Beatles albums on 8-track. In the days before eBay, that wasn't easy, and it took five years to complete the set. He now has around 3,000 tapes.
The Museum also features a nice selection of car and home 8-track players, and the opening exhibit, "Conceived in Cars," is a tribute to the first two years (1965-66) of the 8-track, when it was a car-only format. Ford was the original and biggest booster of the format. The format was a really big deal at the time because 8-track was the only alternative to radio.
Burnett told me that the record labels didn't initially make their own tapes; they licensed tape companies like Ampex to make and sell the music. It took Warner Brothers a full five years to start making its own tapes.
Eight-track was a refinement of the similar-looking 4-track cartridge that dates back to the 1950s. A quadraphonic surround-sound version of 8-track debuted in April 1970 and was first known as Quad-8, then later changed to just Q8. Burnett told me that Quadraphonic 8-tracks are now highly collectable, and are usually worth more than Quad LP versions of the same title.
The more reliable analog cassette tape eventually killed off the 8-track format; though there was some record label support through the 1980s. Radio Shack sold 8-track players and recorders up to the mid-1990s.
Burnett expects to finish his 8-track documentary film, "Spinal Tape," sometime this year. He has over 40 interviews with rock stars, including Jimmy Page and members of Black Oak Arkansas. Burnett is about to launch a new 8-track label, starting with a Tom Tom Club release. Tom Tom's Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth will be signing copies of the tape at the Eight Track Museum's opening celebration on Monday.
Want more 8 Track info? Check out the 8 Track Heaven Web site.