Forest Parker residents don’t need much of a reason to celebrate. Take the Annual 8-Track Party hosted by Joe and Joanne Donoghue on Aug. 6. Over 70 people packed their backyard to listen to oldies played on a device that’s been on the endangered list since 1982. The music evoked memories of sitting in a basement in the ’70s surrounded by black light posters.
That’s where I first discovered the technological marvel of 8-Tracks. My friend’s older brother had a collection of seminal rock that shaped our musical tastes. Playing the tapes was so easy, compared to keeping the tone arm down on our scratched-up records (taping a penny to it helped). We no longer had to endure snap, crackle and pop, or lift the needle when it got stuck.
During that same period, Joe Donoghue discovered 8-Tracks. He had an under-the-dash unit in his ’74 Vega, blasting “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper, on his way home from Proviso East. Joe had a case of 8-Tracks filled with The Who and other music now known as “classic rock.” Though 8-Tracks were phased out in the ’80s, Joe still clings to the format.
8-Tracks were invented in 1964 and promoted by the auto industry, with Detroit installing them in GTOs and Firebirds. Home tape players came out a few years later, and 8-tracks soared to become the most popular music format. They held an entire album divided into tracks. This meant that the track could change mid-song but we got used to it.
There were other problems with the tracks. The tape could start double-tracking, so you were basically listening to two songs at the same time. The tape could become tangled or break. It could start playing the tape upside down, so the music would be muffled. Still, the 8-track remained the king of recorded music until it was dethroned by the cassette tape.
Fans like Joe, however, have kept the legacy alive. He began collecting 8-Tracks 15 years ago and threw his first 8-Track Party in 2004. Partygoers brought tapes and players to the party, and Joe’s collection has grown to over 600 tapes. Most are over 40 years old and have languished in garages and basements. Some have been victims of floods.
Tapes that have given up the ghost are displayed on a fence, known as the “Wall of Shame.” There’s also some “bad stuff” in the collection that deserves the same treatment, like Don Ho. His youngest tape is a Wham album from 1984. “That can go on the Wall of Shame, even if it’s still working,” Joe quipped. Keeping the players working is also problematic. Joe cleans them and tries to replace parts. He substituted a hair band for the belt inside one of them. “The only tapes it will play,” he said, “are by hair bands.”
Joe also has some excellent tapes by the Rolling Stones and Rush that have great sound quality. The crowd enjoyed these jams, along with good conversation. When someone popped in “The King,” Joe appeared with dark glasses and sideburns. He was dressed in a fur-lined bomber jacket. I don’t remember Elvis’ fur period but Joe quickly found it uncomfortable.
Next year, he plans to hold another 8-Track party during the first weekend of August. He’s shooting for a hundred people to show up. If guests have trouble finding Joe’s house, they should simply look for the backyard fence with a Cheap Trick 8-Track hanging from it.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.