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Obsolete Entertainment: New Museum Honors 8-Track Tapes

Feb 13, 2011 – 8:20 AM
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David Moye

David Moye Contributor

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and for Dallas-based music historian Bucks Burnett, his treasure is 8-tracks.

Burnett, a lifelong music collector, has been hunting and gathering 8-track tapes since 1988, which just happens to be the year they were phased out of use altogether.

"Although 1982 was the last year they were sold in stores, they were sold in mail order record clubs until 1988," Burnett told AOL News. "I never was interested in them until 1988, because they started to have that exotic quality."
On February 14, Bucks Burnett will fulfill a longtime dream by opening up the Eight Track Museum in Dallas, a museum dedicated to celebrating and preserving all forms of musical distribution including wax cylinders, 78s, 45s, CDs, and, yes, 8-track tapes. (Robert Greerson)
Robert Greerson
On Monday, Bucks Burnett will fulfill a longtime dream by opening the Eight Track Museum in Dallas, dedicated to celebrating and preserving all forms of musical distribution including wax cylinders, 78s, 45s, CDs, and, yes, 8-track tapes.

However, as any historian knows, what is garbage to one generation becomes historical gold to the next.

That's why Burnett is honoring the legacy of the 8-track tape by opening the Eight Track Museum in Dallas on Monday. But Burnett isn't as interested in the music as he is in the cartridges themselves.

"They had a lot of colors over the years, such as bright green and red," he said. "You can tell what era a cartridge comes from by the color -- and, of course, collectors want them all."

But in the 23 years since 8-tracks went obsolete, a whole generation is basically unaware of this particular format, which was the first music distribution system designed for cars.

Yes, children, for people who grew up between 1965 and 1988, 8-track tape cartridges bring back memories of driving around aimlessly to the local Tastee Freez while jamming out to your favorite prog-rock band.

They are basically tape cartridges that, as the name implies, feature eight tracks of stereo separated into four programs each. Music fans would shove the cartridge into the tape deck and rock out to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or the Marshall Tucker Band.

In an interesting quirk, bands that played long-form music were especially popular with 8-track owners, even though that meant songs would often be interrupted by a moment of silence while the cartridge switched to the next track.

"Those breaks were a lovable disadvantage," Burnett laughed. "You had to get used to some clicking in between Jimmy Page's guitar solo."

Since 8-track cartridges were the first music distribution system designed for cars, Burnett said many of the early tapes in his collection are compilations and samplers handed out by car companies.

By the early 1970s, portable players were introduced on the market, including a kitsch classic known as "The Plunger," which was shaped like one of the boxes that detonate dynamite.

Burnett expects interest in his museum will explode when it opens on Valentine's Day, but while he will have cartridges on display, he doesn't plan to have that much interactivity between the cartridges and the tape decks.

"I am focusing on the cartridges themselves as visual objects," he said. "If you want the music, listen to a CD or MP3. When you see an exhibit on ancient Egypt, you don't get to pick up an Egyptian spoon."

The opening night ceremony will feature some live music as well as an appearance by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, one half of Talking Heads and the nucleus of Tom Tom Club.

"I snuck backstage to a Talking Heads show in 1982 and we've been friends ever since," Burnett said.

To add to the sanctity of the occasion, Tom Tom Club is issuing 30 copies of its new album, "Genius of Live," on 8-track through Cloud 8, a "dead format" label run by Burnett.

Although 8-track tapes are the museum's focus, Burnett also plans to mount displays and exhibits dedicated to other defunct formats, such as the original wax cylinders introduced by Thomas Edison, 78 rpm records made from shellac, vinyl LPs, 45s and cassette tapes.

"We will even have a gift store that will sell music in these formats," he said.

What about piano player rolls that allowed early 20th-century music fans to hear how George Gershwin played his own music?

"We'll be getting those soon," he promised. "I do want the person who's never seen an 8-track to know what they are."

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