Many hundreds of years ago (well, in the 1960’s and ’70s) and in the days before the Internet, if you can imagine such a thing, record companies tried many ways to get music heard. They tried bribing DJs. This was frowned upon. They tried fixing the charts by bulk buying or giving away records to record shops. No-one minded this so much. The more ethical tried legitimately to get their act on Top of the Pops or Swap Shop. But last and perhaps least was the humble Flexi Disc attached to magazines and given away to consumers for free.
There was much excitement in my house recently when an entire stash of sixty or so bound 1988-90 era mint condition heavy rock magazines were discovered. I say “much excitement in my house”. To be fair, all of that excitement originated from one place (i.e. me) and my poor, long-suffering wife rolled her eyes skywards and silently wondered a) where they were supposed to go and b) how long it could be before she could “accidentally” throw them away without my noticing.
The 25 year old stash was “discovered” by my father-in-law who secretly rescued (i.e. stole) them from the skip I reluctantly threw them in twelve years ago when I was having a clear out. “They might be worth something” he thought to himself, (inaccurately, sadly, judging from the lack of a market for them on eBay) and he then stored them in his garage before casually mentioning them to me last week with the question “I don’t suppose you’d find them useful for your blog?”
After I had raised my hands skywards, leapt out of the chair I was sitting in and finished a victory lap of my front room (in my head – we had company and you have to keep up appearances), I asked him gratefully to bring them round.
The magazine was called RAW which stood for “Rock Action Worldwide” and (from memory) was created by a splinter group of ex-Kerrang! scribes. The first issue (numbered 00) was released at Donington 1988 – the year Guns n Roses played, Iron Maiden headlined and two people in the crowd died. The collection runs to number 61…
But back to Flexi discs: These were frequently given away free with magazines, and I am happy to say RAW did so too. Five issues came with a Flexi disc and a plastic sleeve to store them in – which has kept mine in fine condition.
Pick of the bunch is an Ozzy Osbourne sampler of two songs from his “No Rest For The Wicked” album, with a spoken introduction from the great man himself:
“Hi this is Ozzy Osbourne!” he begins, going on to talk about his new record. “It’s been a lot of fun playing with Geezer again” he says, reminding me that Ex-Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler joined him on the record and on tour (I saw him play at London’s modest-sized 2,500 capacity Town and Country club – now known as The Forum in July 1988). This was also Zakk Wyld‘s first (ever) album. “Zakk had never (played live) anywhere bigger than a bar before” Ozzy tells us about touring with the then twenty-one year old axe-whizz, before remarking on his “uncanny resemblance to Randy Rhoads… It’s like déjà vu sometimes” he muses.
Interestingly given that Black Sabbath have now reformed, in 1988 Ozzy was pretty ambivalent about the band he left ten years previously. “Black Sabbath – it’s just a name to me now – it means the same as Deep Purple…”
Ozzy then suggests we “sit on the khazi and read the rest of the interview in the magazine….”
Also in the set are Flexi discs featuring Helloween, Blue Murder (the band John Sykes formed when he left Whitesnake), Michael Schenker Group and Onslaught.
Another later disc features Thunder, the band that formed from the ashes of Terraplane, and which enjoyed decent success and popularity in the UK in the late eighties.
The only other Flexi disc I own is a sampler of Exile on Main Street, which was given away free with the NME at the time of that Rolling Stones album’s release in 1972.
The Flexi disc itself has, I have discovered, a fascinating history. For fact fans, here’s a quick run down:
- Although first commercially produced in the US, Flexi discs were a popular way of secretly distributing jazz records in Cold War Russia. Printed on discarded x-ray sheets, they could be wrapped around arms, hidden from view.
- The Beatles produced a Christmas fan club Flexi disc every year, some of which now fetch high prices on eBay (c£100).
- In 1980 a UK magazine called Flexipop! had a Flexi disc on every cover and featured artists as diverse as The Jam, Depeche Mode and Adam Ant. The latter released a version of the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. called A.N.T.S. The Art Editor of Flexipops! Magazine for a time was Mark Manning, who later found brief fame as Zodiac Mindwarp.
- It is rare to find flexi discs nowadays – probably because you don’t have to put a coin on top of an MP3 download or CD in order to hear it properly – although that hasn’t stopped Decibel Magazine from still regularly featuring them. Their latest issue has a Cannibal Corpse Flexi.
- Other recent-ish examples include a Libertines Flexi of “What Katie Did” and Jack White (of course) who tied 1,000 Flexi discs of solo track “Freedom at 21” to helium filled balloons and released them into the world. Doubtless 999 of them have ended up choking dolphins on the other side of the world…
Flexi discs were the mp3 samplers, cover-mounted CDs or Soundcloud of their day. A way to hear a new release and for the record company to get the music out there for limited cost. Being “wafer thin” the sound lacks volume, but it is nevertheless crystal clear and they are a great souvenir – so long as the music is good. As much as I love records, however, whilst vinyl sounds better than CDs, CDs sound better than flexis…
It’d be great to hear if anyone else still has any flexi discs – do tell me about them in the comments section – and feel free also to let me know if you know anyone who wants to pay top prices for a mint collection of RAW Magazine (once I have plundered them for quotes and colour on future articles of course…).
Record #197 : Ozzy Osbourne – Demon Alcohol
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