When you like many different genres of music it is said you have flexible taste in music. What about when you own actual flexible music? Read on to know more about the wonderful object that is the flexi disc!
Like the tape in a cassette which is so thin and fragile but plays perfectly, I’m amazed at how you can actually play music on something as thin and flexible as this:
Vinyl records, cassettes, CD’s, they are all really common formats but I’m always astonished at how and what makes them work and produce sound. Much like thinking of how analogue photography works, it all seems like magic to me!
The flexi shown above is a 1983 promotional Duran Duran disc which features about 1 minute excerpts of five tracks taken from their first two albums. It was given away for free with some UK magazines at the time:
The history of flexible discs is mostly undocumented but from what I’ve understood by researching, they have been around for nearly 100 years and have come in many many forms: postcards, advertising records, playable books, give-aways, political records, religious records, promos for albums, movies, etc. etc, the list is endless.
In the Soviet Union, they were used as an underground method of distribuiting jazz music because jazz music was prohibited after World War II. These flexi discs were called “bones” and “ribs” because they were recorded on discarded x-rays, resulting in these really striking and compelling visual objects:
Flexi discs rose to prominence in the 80’s largely due to the launch of Flexipop! magazine in 1980. It was a monthly magazine which only lasted 2 years and every issue came with a free colored flexi with previously unreleased songs by some really great bands.
In the words of Hue Collingbourne (a writer for Flexipop! magazine) in an interview he gave for Stylus magazine:
“Other music mags may have dabbled in flexis, but Flexipop! made a career of it. We had singles by the top bands of the day—everyone from The Jam to Depeche Mode. A really good flexi would make the magazine fly off the newsstands.”
And they did fly off the newsstands, particularly their fourth issue, released in February 1981, which came with a flexi disc featuring Adam & The Ants’ very own version of Village People’s Y.M.C.A called A.N.T.S.
After Flexipop! other magazines took on the flexi disc trend, one of those being Trouser Press, which started giving away free flexi’s in 1982 to their subscribers only. I was lucky enough to come across the first issue that came with a flexi disc: Issue number 69, January 1982, with a yellow Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark flexi.
This and the fourth issue of Flexipop! are the only two 80’s magazine I own and I really love them; the flexi discs are amazing. The problem with liking mostly 80’s bands is that, as much as I love music, I can never really find any music magazines that I like to read. I do listen to some more recent bands, but everytime I pick up a music magazine it will have about one or two features — if any — on bands I like.
Reading an 80’s music magazine was a whole different experience because for once, I could read a magazine that featured loads of bands I love (and great bands for that matter). These two magazines also have a nice slightly D.I.Y zine feel to it, which I know a lot of us analogue lovers like. Check out Trouser Press:
Once regarded as disposable, flexi discs are now higly sought after by collectors and while some are relatively cheap others are sometimes sold for ridiculous amounts of money. Collingbourne, in his interview for Stylus magazine said “I’m amazed, I never guessed at the time that anyone would ever want to collect stuff that we regarded as cheap throwaways.”
When you think of it, they are kind of like Diana cameras and all the Diana clones which were given out for free in the 60’s and thrown away most of the time only to be worth quite a lot today!
In the 60’s The Beatles sent out flexi discs at Christmas to their fan club members. I imagine they must be worth quite a lot nowadays.
In 1980 a Joy Division flexi disc with three previously unreleased songs was given away for free in record stores. You didn’t even have to buy anything at the record stores, you just had to go over and ask for it and you’d get it for free! Side A has “This is a free record” printed on it, and side B says “This record should not have cost you anything, wherever or however it was obtained”. Nevertheless, to own it nowadays, it will of course cost you.
Like I said, flexidiscs were made out of various materials. There is even a 7" vinyl record by The Psychadelic Furs, released in 1981, that while it isn’t a flexi-disc, the actual cardboard cover it comes in is. You not only play the actual vinyl record, but you play the cover to hear excerpts from other three songs taken from the same album as the song in the 7" single. It’s a great way of promoting an album.
So, imagine if you could make flexi discs out of your own photos, which photos would you choose and which songs would each of them play? I’d love to know so leave a comment below with links to your photos and your choice of songs for each of them. If you own flexi discs I’d also love to know which, so write it all in the comments!
These are my picks:
Photo 1: The Cure – Primary
Photo 2: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
Photo 3: Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind
Photo 4: Sisters Of Mercy – Walk Away
Photo 5: B-Movie – Nowhere Girl
Photo 6: Tears Of Fears – Mad World
If you want to learn more about the fantastic and fascinating object that is the flexi disc head on over to The Bendable Sounds of Flexi Discs, Disposable Pop: A History Of The Flexidisc, The Internet Museum of Flexi/Cardboard/Oddity Records, Jazz On Bones: X-Ray Sound Recordings, and Flexi Disc on Wikipedia.
Crackle And Pop is a weekly series written by Carlota, a Portuguese graphic designer and vinyl record lover and collector. It is aimed at everyone who can’t get enough of vinyl records and that wonderful crackling and popping sound old vinyl records make!