I talk to people a lot about 8-tracks these days (I’m not going door to door but may start). The first thing they mention: “I hate how the songs fade out in the middle.” The second is how they built a nice instant collection from the mail-order record clubs: “I got twelve 8-tracks for a penny, then they kept sending tapes and bills to my parents or whatever, I didn’t care.”
The major-label tape clubs also offered memberships for LP and cassette listeners, but you couldn’t mix formats. Other independent clubs served 8-track listeners only, some with marginal legality. The audience seemed to shift from dads in the early ’70s to kids and then apparently to the moms. Let’s track the marketing — and cool albums — offered by the ’70s tape clubs.
*Note: Click on the images twice to enlarge to easy-readin’ size.*
Here’s a stuffy, boring example from 1968 from Columbia Stereo Tape Cartridge Service, a division of Columbia Records. Here the big draw wasn’t the tapes themselves or even mail-order convenience but the very cheap player you could get by subscribing (and paying $15). Check the inset pic of Dad with his pipe enjoying the “richness of full stereo sound.” Tapes offered seem to be entirely Columbia artists (they would later cross-license from other labels) but include Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills.
This 1969 Playboy ad (yes, we’re still talking to Dad) adds a new hook: a handful of tapes for pretty cheap! At $2 a pop, not that big a deal (by later 12 for 1¢ standards), and the player has gone up to $20. Note that this is still a component that must be used with an existing stereo system. The shot of a woman’s finger inserting the Andy Williams tape has been recycled from the previous year. Hippest tapes here are the Doors’ debut and Switched-On Bach (which sounds amazing on 8-track, FYI).
Welcome to the ’70s, finally! Columbia’s still the only player here, but perhaps responding to a market shift, offers a younger appeal (“the one for fun!”) with groovy active-lifestyle illustrations. The complete (if flimsy) stereo system might appeal to older teens or college kids. Price point for the (non-bargain) tapes is $6.98, which would hold pretty stable throughout the decade. The only remotely decent tape here is Santana’s smoldering self-titled debut (which I just bought on eBay recently and enjoyed greatly).
By 1971, RCA Records had entered the marketplace with its own tape club. This offering seems more directed at broke teens (who doesn’t have a buck?) than their dads. (Mail-in card was likely a separate insert in the magazine.) No player offered; tapes could be played in a cheap portable or the family station wagon. Here we see the grid layout familiar from ’60s record-club ads and LP innersleeves. The Tom Jones hero tape is less than promising, but mind-bending offerings include Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Faces, Who, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and (incredibly) Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Mostly I dig the iconic, simplified album cover designs (be nice if we had those nowadays for phone streaming).
Here’s an independent, the Stereo Tape Club of America, with an intriguing 1971 offer: buy six full-price tapes (but “send no money”) and get the player for free! (They also offered a car-stereo option, which Columbia had not done, though you’d still have to pay to get it installed.) Killer offerings include Beatles, Stones, Zep, Jimi Hendrix + Otis Redding at Monterey Pop, and the Ramsey Lewis cart I reviewed here recently. But coolest of all: Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. I want that tape, you can keep the player!
Here’s part of a 1972 ad, the only artifact I could find from Capitol’s tape club. Pretty good offer: a $20 stereo and 7 tapes for $2, though the appeal is pretty much dad-focused. Tapes shown aren’t too hip — Who, Grand Funk, Elton John — but maybe better offerings were on the facing page. Mostly I like this for the cool illustrations of Alpert, Englebert, Diamond, Bacharach, and friends.
In 1972, Columbia goes for a name change: Columbia House would serve all the LP, cassette, and 8-track subscribers (but one format per subscriber — note the underlined “or” in “records or tapes.”). No stereo offered here, just 10 tapes for $2. And finally, the end-label lineup that seems such an obvious marketing layout in retrospect (it’s ubiquitous in present-day eBay 8-track lots). A staggering amount of titles: standouts include Al Green, T. Rex, Bill Withers, Sly and the Family Stone, Neil Young, Cream, Yes, O’Jays, Uriah Heep, Curtis Mayfield, and Alice Cooper (many of which arrived as “selection of the month” titles to blow the minds of unsuspecting listeners).
So here’s a thoroughly illegal 1972 offering from Oklahoma City’s brazen tape pirates Sound Values. “Not a tape club,” as the ad promises, just a bunch of homemade comp tapes for ridiculously cheap (4 for $10!), no obligation. Note that few of these offerings are legitimate album titles by the artists; these are largely greatest-hits comps (“An Hour With The Beatles”) assembled by the bootleggers themselves. The artful design was a trademark of the mysterious Sound Values organization.
Here are three tapes issued by Sound Values notable for their fantastic comic-book art covers. They’re one of the few bootleg 8-track labels I’d actually collect. (Loving Charlie Pride’s “bad hombre” look.)
Two years later and Stereo Tape Club of America has nothing new to offer: this 1972 ad is a virtual carbon copy (albeit in color) of their 1970 offer above, with no teen appeal or cool stack of tapes to show. Still, out of this stack I’d grab Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, and James Brown’s Revolution of the Mind. LOL @ Led Zeppelin New – what, they couldn’t spell Zoso?
It’s 1973, and here’s another indie with an offer almost too good to be true: mail-order tapes for just $1.99, and five tapes for $1 with your $5 membership fee, no commitment ever! But what’s this about “a bill for the Club’s standard mailing and handling fee… sent later”? The large print giveth and the fine print taketh away. Nice stuff from Z.Z. Top, Mandrill, and Rare Earth. I love that Chopin, Holst, and Scott Joplin are also listed as artists (didn’t they tour that year?). But by far the coolest is the New York Dolls tape (shown just above the “brand new hit list” starburst). Who put that one on the schedule? Is it still available?
We jump ahead a few years here to 1977. Not sure who issued this amazing image (guessing Columbia House) but I thought it was too good to resist. Here the customer is an adult woman, perhaps a mom, somehow astounded that the tapes she ordered for cheap actually arrived. (Or maybe she’s excited by the Peter Frampton and Cat Stevens tapes on the right because she read my 8-Trackin’ review of them.)
RCA again; this 1977 ad is the first appearance in this post of the “tape penny here” gimmick, though that surely arose much earlier. It’s an odd marketing scheme: did they figure out that “six tapes for a penny” was more credible than “six tapes for free”? Whatever the case, this seems more a juvenile kids’ ploy than a bid for moms (or dads): get your scissors and tape, ask your parents for an envelope! Selections are a little hard to read but include a cool Kiss tape, Ohio Players Gold, and some sci-fi with the Star Wars soundtrack, Rush 2112, and Alan Parsons Project I Robot.
1978, and we’re back to Columbia’s giddy-housewife character, here hugging a stack of LPs because they didn’t have time to do a separate photoshoot with 8-tracks. (Hubby is thrilled with new vinyl provided by his genius wife.) Offerings here are pretty stale, though, with only Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, and Aerosmith offering any edge. Interesting to see some kids’ offerings in the mix: The Story of Star Wars and Sesame Street Fever. The latter is the Muppets’ disco tribute and features one of my favorite songs, “Trash,” sung by Robin Gibb —as good a theme as any for the 8-track collector. (Article continues after song…)
Robin Gibb: ‘Trash’ (1978)
We’ll close out the decade with this 1979 RCA leaflet, likely tucked inside record sleeves or the Sunday paper. This perky comic-book story brings back the clever housewife, here getting hubby stoked on the big cash savings (with an asterisk, that pesky postage and handling charge). I guess the clubs realized they were getting ripped off by families opening multiple accounts to get free albums, hence the “one member per family” caveat (Dad’s going to have to settle for his one Foreigner album).
The RCA comic leaflet offers an appealing display of pretty fine titles and artists, including Rickie Lee Jones, Dire Straits, Queen, Southside Johnny, The Police, The B-52’s, The Cars, Abba, Chic, and Sniff ‘n’ the Tears (“Driver’s Seat”). I’d be hard-pressed to pick just six! Here at decade’s end, prices for all formats had gone up slightly, to $6.98 – $7.98. Hope the couple remembers to return their reply card each month and decline the automatic selection, or they’ll be paying $120 a year for Eddie Rabbitt and Steve Martin tapes they don’t want…
Footnote: Columbia and RCA’s tape clubs survived well into the ’80s and kept putting out 8-tracks long after record labels stopped making them. These unique “club tapes” issued between 1982 and 1987, featuring artists such as Prince, Madonna, and U2, are highly collectible and fetch hundreds of dollars — when you can find them. The tape clubs may have seemed cheesy in the ’70s, but their ’80s releases are serious business nowadays.
Twisted Sister, ‘Sold Out’ (‘Billboard’ magazine, March 17, 1979). Click to enlarge.
Here’s a real rarity for you. Quintessential ’80s band Twisted Sister got their start in the ’70s, inspired by bands like the New York Dolls and Slade. In 1979, as the ad above states, the group sold out the Palladium in New York City without having a record available. Later that year, they released their first record, “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” sided with “Under The Blade.”
Known for their onstage rapping with the audience, Twisted Sister could make one song last for 15 minutes. Check out a live version of “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” below.
Twisted Sister: ‘I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!’ (Live, 1979)
The song, written and produced by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, climbed to #10 on the US Hot 100. Here’s a rousing live version of “Put Your Hands Together” featuring the O’Jays and full band from a Soul Train appearance in ’73.
The O’Jays, ‘Put Your Hands Together’ (Live, 1973)
The Who, ‘The Who By Numbers’ (‘Record World’ magazine, October 25, 1975). Click to enlarge.
The Who released the By Numbers LP in October of 1975. The album features the singles “Squeeze Box” and “Slip Kid” and made the Top Ten in both the US and UK.
One of the stand-out tracks on the LP is “Dreaming from The Waist” which Pete Townshend has listed as among his least favorite songs to perform live. John Entwistle on the other hand, stated it was one of his concert favorites.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We’re celebrating the day with jaunty ’70s music as is traditional here at Cherry Stereo.
With the spirit of the holiday in mind we now bring you Belfast, Ireland’s punk rock rabble rousers Stiff Little Fingers. Here’s the band, fronted by a 21-year-old Jake Burns performing “Alternative Ulster” in a clip from the 1979 Shellshock Rock documentary. Cheers!
*Note: Technically, the band is British as they come from Northern Ireland, but they were born on the isle (and I’ve been a fan for 38 years), so indulge me!
Stiff Little Fingers, ‘Alternative Ulster’ (Live ’79)
‘You’ve got eyes. You can see. You can try to imagine me…’
Scottish band 1-2-3 formed in the early Sixties, were signed by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, and counted David Bowie as an early believer. The guitar-less trio later changed their name to Clouds and released three LPs beginning in 1969. After struggling to find mainstream success, the group disbanded in 1971.
Take in a storming live performance of “Imagine Me” on Germany’s Beat Club program in February 1970 below.
*Thanks to reader John Collier for the Clouds suggestion.
WINGS, WINGS OVER AMERICA (1976);
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK: ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II (1976);
THE BEATLES: THE BEATLES AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL (1977);
THE BEATLES: LOVE SONGS (1977)
There was a weird resurgence of Beatlemania in the late 1970s, several years after the band had broken up. It started in early 1976 as offers for the legendary band to play a live reunion grew from $10 million to $30 and then $50 million. Oddly, the offer that almost worked was a mere $3000 offered by Lorne Michaels as a joke on Saturday Night Live that spring (“If you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you”). Paul was visiting John uptown at the Dakota that night and together they watched Lorne’s pitch. Says Lennon, “We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired…”
As summer 1976 rolled around, the band’s Apple contract with Capitol/EMI expired, allowing the labels to assemble new compilations and issue tracks in whatever form they wished. First out of the gate was the obvious and pointless collection Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, complete with bizarre ’50s Happy Days-inspired cover art.
I remember hearing “Got To Get You Into My Life,” the single from the album, in the car with friends en route to see Paul’s band Wings play at San Francisco’s Cow Palace that June. This tour was the first time any Beatle had played the US since their final live show in that city almost a decade earlier; the concert featured Paul playing no fewer than five Beatles classics, which he’d never done before. Quite a thrill! (The shows were summarized on Wings Over America, a three-LP set conveniently poured into a double 8-track. Since audience noise makes it hard to juggle songs, the tape version simply breaks a lot of numbers in half. But it’s still a ton of great Paul music.)
The madness grew that fall as a mystery group named Klaatu was rumored to be a secret Beatles reunion (it wasn’t). An even weirder project emerged by the end of 1976, the film All This and World War II. This was an assemblage of Second World War newsreel and archival clips, inexplicably underscored with Beatles songs as played by current rock artists. Unsurprisingly, the film was a critical and commercial disaster, never shown on TV or released on home video.
The ATAWWII album fares a little better; there’s a handful of great, rockin’ covers by the likes of Ambrosia, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Tina Turner, many of which became (or had been) hits. But most of the album finds random vocalists overemoting with orchestral backup, like some sleep-inducing charity event at a concert hall. The 8-track squeezes these uneven 98 minutes onto a single tape, which given its useful length (few blanks are over 90 minutes) you may wish to record over…
By early 1977, bad cover versions and reunion hopes weren’t enough; the world wanted to see Beatles, even fake Beatles, play live, and Broadway delivered. Though the musical Beatlemania simply presented Fab Four songs played onstage with no dramatic narrative, that was enough; it earned $40 million over its two-year run. Also in April, an almost-legal release of a crude audience recording of a 1962 Hamburg Beatles performance emerged; it proved fascinating if nearly unlistenable (and yes, there’s an 8-track of it).
Capitol/EMI countered with their own live Beatles release, compiled from 1964 and 1965 shows at the Hollywood Bowl. Thrilling as it was to hear the first “new” Beatles recordings in years, this wasn’t the band’s finest hour (Lennon screws up the verses in “Help”), partly because they couldn’t hear themselves play over the screaming fans. Like the Hamburg tapes, this is more interesting as a historic document than an actual music album. (As with Wings Over America, the 8-track just lets the live tapes roll and breaks songs as necessary.) (Article continues after song…)
The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl: ‘If I Fell’ (Live)
October 1977 saw the release of two of my favorite late-Beatlemania releases: a Beatles tribute issue from raunchy mag National Lampoon and Capitol/EMI’s sublime followup to Rock ‘n’ Roll Music. Love Songs could have been a boring dud, but the label wisely mined the band’s rich 1964-1965 period, pulling out gentler B-sides and album tracks originally overshadowed by the hit singles and raucous rockers. Love Songs reminds us what skilled songwriters John, Paul, and George were, even as they cranked out songs to fill up LPs. It’s a great late-night or early-morning listen; the 8-track presents all four LP sides in one flow as you sip coffee or what have you. (As with Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Love Songs was never officially issued on CD, so the cartridge is actually a good option.)
Other than a rarities disc in an original-LPs box set at year’s end, 1978 saw no new Beatles music releases, but it did see the band’s mythology translated into film. In spring two wonderful comedies emerged, the Beatlemania fantasy I Wanna Hold Your Hand and the cheeky TV mockumentary The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. Alas, summer’s release was the terrible and nonsensical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees standing in for the Fab Four. Apart from a couple great Beatles covers by Aerosmith and Earth, Wind & Fire, the dud project was a naked cash grab, souring public taste for the Fabs and effectively killing the second Beatlemania boom. For a second time, to paraphrase Lennon, the dream was over.
“I’ll Meet You at Midnight” was written by the hit machine team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman and was released as a single in the fall of 1976. The song appeared on Smokie’s Midnight Café LP. If you’ve never heard this song before but singer Chris Norman’s voice sounds familiar – it may be because he co-sang the 1978 hit “Stumblin’ In” (US #4) with Suzi Quatro.