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8-Track

This was the first practical way to play recorded music in your car and was invented by Bill Lear and developed in the 1960s by a diverse consortium including RCA Records and the Lear Jet Company.

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A 4-track cartridge first appeared in the early 1960s and soon found favour at radio stations as jingles and advertisements could be set up on the tape loops so once they had been played they were all ready to go the next time. Players were soon developed for cars to exploit this new format.

4-track cartridges were rather clunky as they required you to push one of four buttons to move to the next part of the tape.

So the format was soon improved and called “8-track”, but not made backwards compatible with the earlier system.

Although called 8 tracks there were still only 4 “programmes” (presumably they now had the capacity to be in stereo) and at least they now played in sequence without too much button pressing.

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Unfortunately, the tracks were too short to hold the album-side length rock compositions that were popular in the 70s prog-rock era.

By splitting two-sided LPs into four you often found a tune stopped halfway through as the tape moved over to the next track.

plungerJust as you were getting lost in the music, it would fade out and chhkunk! . . . the deck would change tracks before continuing the music.

Certain artists just seemed to suit the 8-track format; people like BreadJim Croce and Seals & Crofts.

The best 8-track player was probably the early 70s Panasonic Dynamite 8 plastic portable player (pictured at left) in red, yellow or blue and shaped like a dynamite detonator. You had to push down the plunger to change tracks.

By the early 1980s, the 8-track was losing ground to the low-cost, less bulky cassette tape (which had the added advantage of offering superior sound quality).

The 8-track has since been consigned to decay in the back rooms of Salvation Army shops and basements everywhere.

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