Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blood on the 8-Tracks, Track Eight: To Make a Long Story Short...Too Late!

Some Boring Facts:

Well, I finally found out why they’re called 8-tracks instead of 4-track.

I would have known this a lot sooner, but now I just don’t have the time to read things like this:

And if that’s not enough for you, there are sites out there like the aforementioned 8-Track Heaven and the 8-Track Museum.

In case it’s not obvious to you, these people have serious problems.

Well, I’ve already lost interest. How about you?

Some Worthless Opinions:

So let’s cut to the chase. So what did 8-tracks offer? Well, the old ads showed a young guy and a gal in a car, so I guess the main draw was that you could just leave it playing in the background and it would keep going while you were done doing...whatever you did in the back of a car.

Maybe cassettes didn’t automatically play side two or have a repeat setting at first. But once they did, the bigger, bulkier 8-tracks made less and less sense.

But just to put it in perspective, here were some things that sucked about 8 tracks:

1. The SOUND kind of sucked, actually. Tape just didn’t sound as good as vinyl and if it wasn’t lined up just right, you’d hear the ghost of songs on the other tracks while trying to listen to track that was actually playing.

2. No Fast Forward or Rewind!
Unless you had a high end player. So if you missed something, you had to wait until the track finished and got to the same spot again.  I’ll get into THAT at another time...

3. Sometimes they would even leave off songs. You heard right. Go look at that track listing on your 8-track version of Tommy.  That’s right!  “Christmas” is missing! How come they don’t talk about that on Fox News?!

4. Forget about liner notes. Maybe 8-tracks were made for people who had better things to do (like that couple in the car) than sit around like a nerd reading liner notes.

5. The packaging was crap and usually fell apart within a week or two. I have album covers that are still pristine. And those bozos want me to buy a piece of cardboard folded in four parts?

More Worthless Opinions, or CDs (and mp3s) Kind of Suck, Too:

On the other hand, CDs weren’t flawless, either. Although some records began to sound better after CDs came out, I doubt that 99% of us noticed the difference.

CDs were smaller, too, and thus, supposedly more convenient. And I guess it was true to a point. Now I'm a lazy man, and I value the idea of not having to flip over a record every twenty minutes.  Try that when you're painting a room and see what happens to your productivity.

As an aside, I should add that my first CD player only played one disc. Like an idiot, I fancied myself a music connoisseur, and thought that being able to play more than one album at a time somehow cheapened the music. Tell that to your party guests as you climb over them to get to the stereo.

And the size of the CD could actually be a pain in the ass, especially if you’re a nerd who likes the liner notes (me), which were now in a 6 point font. Any hope of learning the lyrics, or finding out who the drummer was went out the window.

And although shorter, the CD jewel cases were actually thicker than LPs and thus very inefficient to store. It wasn’t until the new cottage industry in CD shelving addressed the havoc these little discs caused on our record shelves.

And although they held more music, there were a few double albums that didn’t quite fit on a single CD and the record company would to drop a song. (The older release of Prince’s 1999 didn’t have “DMSR”. Someone tell me if I’m missing anything, okay?.)

There were also some double albums (Tommy) that would have fit perfectly well on a single disc, but that record companies wanted to charge more for, and so put them on two discs instead, thus defeating the purpose.

Oh, and indestructible? Please. You could fling a CD you hated against the wall and shatter it quite easily. How do I know this? Don't ask.

So CDs were not nearly all they were cracked up to be.

And don’t get Neil Young started on mp3s!

Waiting Around for the Next Shiny Toy:

I spent the 80’s watching my favorite record stores devote more and more space to CDs at the expense of vinyl.

I wasn’t a vinyl holdout, exactly. I held off getting a CD player because I kept hearing about how yet another new technology - Digital Audio Tape - was superior to CDs, and would eventually replace them. Remember that? No? Okay, let me help you.

So I spent about five years waiting for that to happen while my vinyl choices dwindled. I finally gave up and got the CD player in 1989. But by then we had a young child, and my opportunities for even playing music were limited. And it wouldn’t be until that other shiny new invention - the internet - would provide me with a wealth of musical information that would allow me to dive back in head first.

And we’ve come full circle now, as I see more and more record store (remember them?) space taken up by vinyl. Because, you know, the sound quality is better.

It’s kind of like living in Brooklyn, or wearing old clothes. If you wait long enough it’s back in style.

Every decade seems to offer us something newer and shinier, and we - music lovers that we are, and thus blind to any faults in the object of our affections - fall for it every time.
But I’m not likely to start buying vinyl again. My turntable’s in the basement and the stairs are murder on my knees.

So were we idiots for being taken in by a shiny new technology (and really bad clothes) back in the 70s? Nah. And even with the Beatles breaking up and all, I’m still fond of that underrated decade.

If you ask me, the 80s had a lot more to answer for than that. But that’s for another time.

No comments: