‘Big Bucks’ BurnettThere’s a man in Dallas who reckons that a collection of records isn’t complete without eight-track cartridge releases to sit alongside vinyl, cassette, CD, DVD, concert programmes and other music memorabilia. In fact, he’s setting up a museum specifically to celebrate the eight-track format…

And he makes a very a valid point – it’s not the best recordings that get the collectors excited, it’s the rare releases...

Most would agree that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a classic record. And Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

Kind of BlueIssued in 1959 in both mono and stereo, Kind of Blue has seen remastering and re-release on many occasions – on everything from vinyl to MiniDisc and Super Audio CD. One of the most prominent of these was Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition, a two-disc CD box set that appeared in 2008. It has also been released on both two-track open-reel and four-track open-reel tape in the US.

With 45m sales, Dark Side of the Moon ranks as the third best-selling album of all time, beaten only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller and AD/DC’s Back in Black. Originally released in 1973 on vinyl, it has since been remastered for repeat vinyl release, as well as being transferred to CD in 1984 and subsequently remastered and re-released several times on this format. Most recently, it was re-released on 180g virgin vinyl in 2003 and formed part of a 40th anniversary CD box set in 2007.

In both cases there’s plenty to collect, but not that much for the real collector.

Unless you factor in the eight-track cartridge, that is. While Dark Side of the Moon duly found its way onto eight-track and is now sought after, it appears that Kind of Blue did not – even so, there are posts from record collectors on the internet attempting to search it out. Just in case…

We know that what gets the real record collector’s heart beating are rarities – white labels, test pressings, press promos, limited editions, withdrawn pressings. That kind of thing. So where does this leave James ‘Big Bucks’ Burnett’s eight-track museum?

White Christmas

Well, after opening on Christmas Day for a one-day special event highlighting the Beatles, it is aiming for regular hours sometime in January to allow regular public access to the 3,000 tapes that make up the collection.

Dark Side of the 8-TrackA musician, music producer and music store owner, Burnett is not to be mistaken for a misguided music fan. Now 52, he ‘discovered’ eight-tracks at a garage sale in 1988. ‘I was digging around and I pulled up the White Album, and I thought, how cool is this,’ he said in the Dallas Morning News. ‘I asked the guy what he wanted – I thought I’d pay 50¢ but he said he wanted $7. I said, “Are you nuts?”.’

But Burnett stumped up, took it home and put it on the mantel. ‘It looked like this piece of art, a commemorative postage stamp of the White Album,’ he says. ‘Then I thought, what if I bought every Beatles eight-track and put it on the mantel? It took me five years to complete.’

The collection grew further and Burnett decided to sell off redundant acquisitions at his music store – as a joke. ‘I put them in a box for $5 each. The first day I sold two, and it was no longer a joke.’

Like a jet trainer doing circuits and bumps, the eight-track cartridge took off again… ‘If you were in Dallas and wanted an eight-track, I was the only game in town,’ Burnett says. ‘My pitch was, if you don’t have the eight-track in your collection, you don’t have everything.’

The jet set

The museum will fill three rooms and display Burnett’s collection on rotation. The theme of its first show will be ‘Conceived in Cars, Birth of the Format’ and it hopes eventually to house exhibits devoted to every music format since the wax cylinder. In the meantime, visitors will have to settle for the likes of the complete eight track tape archive of Led Zeppelin including an eight-track signed by the three surviving members of the band.

In fact, the story and design of the eight-track cartridge will surprise many visitors. Intended specifically for in-car entertainment, the Lear Jet Stereo 8 cartridge (as it was called) was the work of inventor Dick Kraus and Bill Lear Snr at the Lear Jet Corporation in 1963. Yes, that Lear Jet – the one mentioned on Dark Side of the Moon.

State-of-the-cartUsing a loop of quarter-inch tape, their Stereo 8 format further developed Earl Muntz’s Stereo-Pak four-track design of the early 1960s, moving the pinch roller from the player into the cartridge itself. As a result, the transport did not allow the tape to be rewound (although some players offered fast-forward) because it was technically impossible.

Ford effectively endorsed the format in 1965 when it offered Stereo 8 players as an option for its Mustang, Thunderbird and Lincoln, alongside RCA Victor’s release of 175 cartridges from its RCA Victor & RCA Camden catalogues.

Then the motor industry thought it had spotted a further opportunity with in-car quadraphonic players in the early 1970s – but it was laughably wrong. Instead, it created another doomed line of music cartridges. Ironically, these are now prized by collectors.

And appropriately, Burnett prizes his eight-track tapes for their rarity, not for the music they carry. ‘I advise people not to play them because they’re getting too old,’ he says.

Which returns us to our own collectors’ instincts and their absurdity. So just what is the value of our music collections? Are they dotted with rarities that make them a worthwhile investment? Or an archive to be passed on to other appreciative hands? Are they the soundtrack to our youth? Or are they simply a tell-tale sign of the obsessive nature of the audio industry?

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