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Eight Is Enough: Collecting 8-Track Tapes

By: Meredith Retsinas

Sue Goodwin of Philadelphia, Pa. began collecting 8-tracks after seeing the movie “So Wrong They’re Right.” She is not alone. Many people were inspired by the 1997 documentary that spans a 10,000-mile, coast-to-coast journey around the US compiling quirky interviews with the growing underground network of 8-track tape collectors, or "trackers.”

In addition to the movie, there is now a fanzine, 8-track Mind, lots of attention from the mainstream media and even several brand-new music releases available on 8-track. And last month’s eBay Magazine listed 8-tracks as a growth area for the online auction site. With the turn of the century, the retro mania craze continues. But this is not a Y2K thing. 8-tracks experienced a resurgence in popularity around the turn of the last decade when people began snapping them up anywhere they can find them — online auctions, record stores, Goodwill, etc. There is even an online resource site for 8-track lovers: 8-track Resources, and an extensive history of 8-tracks. “8-tracks can allow you to listen to a variety of music without having to spend a lot of money,” Goodwin says. “My first 8-track player — with tape included — cost me about $5. You can't say that about CD players.”

Now 8-track players are fetching anywhere from $5 to $150 dollars and higher. And artists from Elvis Presley to Diana Ross to Linda Ronstadt can be found at online auction sites, in addition to 8-track cases and players. Scotese says although she grew up with an 8-track player, after a couple of years it broke, a common problem since 8-track players are not built to last more than a few years. Her parents threw out all of the old 8-tracks and purchased a new stereo. The new technology was so great, as Goodwin says, “I never looked back.” It wasn’t until years later that she saw “So Wrong They’re Right” and became nostalgic about them. But nostalgia isn’t the only reason people are interesting in tracing. Other, more practical reasons also come into play.

Some people are even looking to new technology to enhance their 8-track sound. Aida Gutierrez was in her early teens when 8-tracks started to die out. But Gutierrez saved some of her 8-tracks and, with the resurgence of 8-track popularity, thought it would be fun to hear her old tapes and record them on to cassettes or CDs. Although he does not collect 8-tracks, Mathew Brickell of Kansas City, Kan. bid on an 8-track player on eBay to put in the 1973 Volkswagen 412 he is restoring. “I thought it would be neat to have an 8-track in it since it came from that era. I think the booming economy has given people more discretionary money to spend on collecting, so maybe that is why there is a surge in collectibles of retro stuff,” he says.

Malcolm Riviera, who helped develop 8-Track Heaven in 1995, says that 8-tracks are such a big hit because many collectors want every possible format for their favorite group or celebrity. Pink Floyd fans, for example, have been known to pay hundreds of dollars for certain rare Pink Floyd tapes to complete their collection. “For years, music collectors focused on vinyl, but now they're including the 8-track as a viable object of obsession,” Riviera says.

Scotese says the resurgence is all things ‘70s are to blame. “I think that one of the reasons that 8-tracks have become popular among younger generations is due to shows like "That 70's Show,” "Nick At Nite" and movies like "Boogie Nights," Scotese says. “There is also a revival of popular 70's items such as mood rings, bell bottoms, clogs and the ever-popular ‘Have a Nice Day’ happy face.” But 8-track collectors that are not experienced may not always have a happy face. “Still-sealed tapes are particularly in high demand on eBay, although I think it's also because some people think mistakenly that a sealed 8-track will play better than a used one,” Riviera says. “The problem is that a tape that's been sitting in shrink wrap for years likely has many problems.”A tape that can't breath gets mildewed, warped, and the internal parts begin to crumble. The tape frequently fails on the first play from broken splices, melted pinch rollers, or jammed tape reels. “Of course, a true hobbyist is more than likely able to repair the tape, but the Johnnies-come-lately snapping up all these tapes on eBay don't have a clue and probably just throw the tape away in frustration,” Riviera says. Scotese says she can relate. She destroyed a couple of tapes while trying to repair them, and finally gave up and put them aside. “Hopefully, Radio Shack will decide to take up 8-track repair again,” she muses.

So where do they go from here? What will the future hold for collectables of 8-tracks? A sequel to “So Wrong They’re Right” perhaps? Goodwin knows what she hopes to see: “I just hope that the manufacture of new 8-track players isn't too far behind,” she says.

Meredith Retsinas is the online editor at AuctionRover.com

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