Record Machine: Oddball Flexi Discs

Flexi discs — those thin sheets of plastic or coated paper containing music and other recordings — used to be included in magazines, fan club gifts, or other giveaways. Their popularity waned once CDs took more of a market share in the ’90s, but now Pirate Press is reviving the format with releases from Deerhoof, Napalm Death, and Jack White. Recently, I unearthed a few releases from the late ‘70s hidden in my inherited collection.

Because these discs are harder to find on YouTube, I’ve made short recordings of all of them in lieu of photos. Apologies for any shakiness in the sound quality.

National Geographic (January 1979): Songs of the Humpback Whale

This one is my favorite, and not just because it’s amusing to watch my dog’s reaction to it. Enclosed with an issue of National Geographic, I am guessing this was meant to be a supplement to an article about humpback whale songs. Narrated by research zoologist Roger Payne, Ph.D, we hear the different forms of whale noises, as well as how they change over time. There are two sides to this disc.

Time Life Record Presents: The Swing Era

This is more or less a commercial for Time Life’s restoration of old 78s, also known as a “demonstration record.” There’s some Tommy Dorsey and “Moonlight Serenade,” and though I’m not sure of its origin, there’s a comment on the above video that says, “My family must have gotten 12 copies of this record in the mail.” It has only one side.

Time Life Presents: Great Men of Music

Another demo record, this time with a title to inspire eye-rolls. Yes, these symphonies from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and more are wonderful pieces of music, but yes, yes, let’s make sure everyone knows it’s all about TEH MENZ. Released in 1979 with one side, it has the amusing feature of a circle indicating where one should place a coin if the “soundsheet” slips.

Giants of Jazz: Earl Hines Remembers

Now this one is a little better, as far as “demonstration soundsheets” go because it has commentary from an actual musician. Yes it’s still an advertisement, but we get excerpts from Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Coleman Hawkins. Released in 1977, it has two sides and plays in mono, which makes it sound better on my single speaker turntable.

Overall, I was surprised at the playability of each of these discs. They were shoved into a box, and some have more scratches than others, but all played without skipping. It’s a neat idea to bring flexis back as a promotional tool, though hopefully they’ll act more like freebie singles and not straight-up commercials.

Any of you have these still kicking around? Or do you remember having them as a kid? Give a shout in the comments.

Collection of Flexi Discs

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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