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Flexi discs - Bending your way to a great new collection

Longtime record collector Dave Thompson goes beyond vinyl to contemplate the floppiest of the toppermost pops.
Record Store Day created its own Monkees flexis

Record Store Day created its own Monkees flexis

The flexi-disc is the mutant offspring of vinyl, fragile and bendy, creased and torn, and often sounding scratchy before it’s even been played. Imagine what it’ll sound like after half a dozen spins.

They used to be everywhere. Extraordinarily cheap to produce, flexi-disc technology can be applied to any host material sturdy enough to withstand the light embossing required to impress the grooves. Thus, flexi-discs have appeared in the form of postage stamps (issued by the Asian nation of Bhutan), postcards and greetings cards, they have been embedded into cereal packets and record sleeves, they appear on pieces of wood and sheets of metal. Among the very first flexi-discs ever was a series of “Hit Of The Week” discs produced during the early 1930s, made from paper with just enough of a shellac layer to preserve some semblance of the music.

Since that time, flexis have filled every need. The Beatles fan club used to send them out as Christmas presents. Magazines used to mount them on the cover. They might be given away with books, affixed to food packages, sent through the mail. No matter what use a manufacturer could require, the flexi was capable of fulfilling it.

You never know what you’re going to find, either. An Allman Brothers/Marshall Tucker disc cover-mounted to a 1975 issue of Rolling Stone. Genesis’ non-LP masterpiece “Twilight Alehouse” inside a 1973 issue of Britain’s ZigZag… the same year that Alice Cooper offered New Musical Express readers the Billion Dollar Babies out-take “Slick Black Limousine.”

Michael Stipe (REM) treated readers of Sassy to a solo interpretation of Syd Barrett’s “Dark Globe” in 1989; Robyn Hitchcock reinvented “A Day In The Life” in a 1991 issue of The Bob; the Fruits de Mer label issued a box set of newly recorded flexi-discs in 2014. Keep your eyes open and who knows when you’ll come across Suicide’s 23 Minutes In Bruxelles a nine—inch disc released with the 1980 reissue of their debut LP; a live in Paris recording of The National’s “Day I Die,” from their Sleep Well Beast LP. Lush’s 1993 promo flexi of “Rupert the Bear.” The Phil-Co Ford Corporation’s Hip Pocket Records.

David Bowie gets bent out of shape in 1974

David Bowie gets bent out of shape in 1974

TOPPS issued a series of playable gum cards during the late 1960s, featuring Motown artists; the Shadows Of Knight performed a song called “Potato Chip,” distributed with a brand of potato chips. Wynder K Frog placed a Flexi on the cover of Dog’s Life magazine in 1967. The Dave Clarke Five, in support of Ponds facial cream, delivered another very collectible piece of product endorsement around 1966. Dig deep into a host of discographies, and you’ll doubtless find at least one to fit every collection.

By their very nature, flexi-discs are difficult to find in mint condition. They are easily bent, torn and otherwise damaged, becoming utterly unplayable through every-day wear and tear that would not even affect a vinyl disc.

However, as a repository for some genuine curios and rarities within so many bands’ catalogs, they can not be overlooked for a second. Whether it is David Cassidy sending greetings to readers of an early 1970s teenybop magazine, or Dick Clarke imparting “inside stories” via a giveaway with 1973’s 20 Years Of Rock And Roll compilation LP; EMI heralding a Cliff Richard box set with a flexi excerpting the best of its contents, or a 1987 Guns n’Roses tour promo, flexi-discs offer a world of apparently untapped possibilities, frequently at minimal cost.

Just make sure you have a small coin handy, to weight the record down on the turntable.