If you had a good memory, and some ear for music, you might know just the right note to hit the button to switch tracks on an 8-track. The tune was just about over and you wanted to hear the first notes of the other one, and you’d learned just when to shift. If you were really good, you might know that hitting the track button twice would take you from the end of “Heart of Gold” to the beginning of “Old Man.”
On a cassette player, you learned when to hit reverse. On Patti Smith’s “Easter” I knew when to reverse it to hit the opening of “Because the Night.” I may never have heard that tape in the order it was recorded. I may never had heard the end of one side or the beginning of the other.
But it was never clear whether the 8-track or the cassette gave the user more control. It depended on the tape. It might be that when you reversed direction or switched the track at the end of “White Rabbit” you’d end up in the middle of some self-indulgent instrumental fueled by too much LSD and the fact that the guitar player really wanted to be playing blues. Or you might get a tune you liked.
And of course both gave you the freedom to listen to the entire tape at once, in order, without getting up to turn the record over. Just as the album had allowed the listener – this was before we were users or consumers – to hear six tracks in a row, maybe seven, a particular convenience if your 45 changer would only hold four at a time. But then the 45 had the convenience that if you left the arm up it would play the same record over and over, “Crimson and Clover” or otherwise, whereas with a 33 you had to get up and move the needle by hand, always creating a hazard of scratching the groove. To this day I expect “Magic Carpet Ride” to begin with “I like to dream-uh … dream-uh … dream-uh.” You could set a quarter on the tone arm to prevent that if the scratch wasn’t too deep.
Then came CDs and even the cheapest player – I owned it – would let you program the order of the songs. Or repeat one endlessly. Or put in more than one CD, in the upscale ones I didn’t own.
Through this all you had the contradictions. One singer used his fame and success to urge people to buy one copy of a book or a magazine and pass it around to all your friends to save paper, while his record company was trying to put a tax on cassette tapes to keep anybody from copying his albums, made from chemicals that filled up our senses a lot more than paper pulp, thank you very much.
And never mind the sound contradictions. Yes, albums sounded better, if for no other reason than the fact that 8-tracks were played mostly in the cabs of pickups.
But we lined up and switched media, because music is about keeping up, even if the best stuff was recorded before the Ford presidency, although I’m sure it’s not his fault. I have a tune from a Brewer and Shipley album that I bought from iTunes. I once bought the 8-track. I have the album in the attic, although it’s probably my sister’s. Three times that tune has been bought. And that’s Brewer and Shipley, ferchrissakes. If you follow the Beatles from mono single to stereo album to 8-track to cassette to CD to remastered CD to iTunes, you’re talking about millions of tunes paid for multiple times.
And that’s a trend that content providers want to keep alive as the Stones and U2 re-release remastered collections and somehow convince Rolling Stone they were good the first time. We’re supposed to buy them. Again. So Bono and Jagger won’t miss any meals.
And if you lifted the arm to hear a tune again, or memorized the track order on an 8-track, or programmed the order on a CD, not to mention if you’ve bought and rented movies on laserdisc, Beta, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, you may be tired of buying the media and the players again and again, and you may have a hard time understanding why the companies that bought up the record labels you grew up with need something called SOPA. That’s not a street name for Quaalude, mind you. You’re thinking about sopor, which was phased out because it made you stupid, but now the generation that remembers 45s, fondly or not, is eating Ambien like candy, but that’s another issue.
SOPA isn’t supposed to put you to sleep. It’s supposed to slip in while you are asleep, or so entranced by Casey Anthony and Lindsay Lohan that you might as well be. It will keep you from getting those funny youtube videos because the wrong song is playing in the background, and it will keep you from seeing cops pepper-spraying people because that website was shut down, and it may keep you from reading Jane Austen for free, because certainly nobody’s going to pay you to, and it’s not even designed to do those things. It’s designed to keep record company profits alive so they can pay royalties to Jagger and a living wage to some little guy in PR whose job is to design ads on cable stations that tell you it’s not about Jagger, it’s about the little guy, because the last thing they want is for the consumer to think he’s the little guy. You’re important, and the record companies are willing to pay all this money to keep your media safe. From you. Because you haven’t paid for it enough times.
Google SOPA. Watch a youtube about it while you still can. These people are serious, and they’ve always gotten away with it before.