Forget vinyl – it’s time for the 8-track revival
Now the 8-track cartridge is the latest music format to be rescued from obsolescence by pop hipsters.
A fixture in Ford Mustangs cruising down American freeways, the 8-track player reached a popularity peak in the mid-1970s.
The 8-track magnetic tapes, housed in lightweight plastic casings, gave listeners 45 minutes of music, spread over four “programmes” instead of two sides.
Ideal for travel, the 8-track cartridge threatened to replace the vinyl LP until the compact cassette stole its thunder. Vintage players change hands for up to £100 on eBay.
However, Mark Ronson, the chart-topping musician and DJ, believes the 8-track is ripe for a reassessment. His new album Late Night Feelings will be the first major release on 8-track tape since Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits in 1988.
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Audiophiles say the 8-track delivers a better sonic experience than modern pop’s processed digital files. Ronson, who won an Oscar for co-writing Shallow with Lady Gaga, said the format suited his new collection of “sad bangers”.
The Uptown Funk hitmaker said: “Tape, either cassette or 8 track tape, sounds super warm and round. We record our music [specifically the bass or drums] on to analogue tape because of the way it naturally compresses and gels the sound.” Ronson added: “So it makes sense that listening to an album recorded on analogue tape would sound great on a tape, if that makes sense. And of course it just looks beautiful. It has a nostalgic element too, but it goes beyond that for me.”
The Grammy-winner is determined to leave no music format behind. Late Night Feelings will also be released on vinyl, cassette and MiniDisc – another failed saviour of the recording industry.
The 8-track cartridge, first developed by William P Lear, who founded the Lear Jet Corporation, was incorporated into the first karaoke machine produced in 1971. The format frustrated listeners, who had to toggle from programme to programme, requiring the tape player to physically move its reading head. Background hiss, clicks and long gaps between music were an occupational hazard.
Sales of the music cassette, considered obsolete until recently, soared by 125 per cent last year, music body BPI revealed. Nearly 50,000 cassette albums were bought, boosted by new releases from The 1975 and Kylie Minogue. Music fans are reaching “peak vinyl” though, with 4.2 million LPs bought in 2018 – a rise of just 1.6 per cent.