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Monday, July 7, 2014

How The Soviets Saved Rock n Roll With Bone Music

Russia is fairly open and Westernized today, especially when compared to the old Soviet days. Back then, anything Western was forbidden, especially music. In those pre-Internet days (we're talking the 50s and 60s), unless you had a radio and lived near the border, you had a tough time hearing the music that the rest of the world was digging.

Bone Music Record image
A "bone music" record
The Russians are a resourceful people though (as evidenced by their programming skills today), and the hipsters of the day found a way to copy American music using an ingenious DIY method they called "bone music."

Vinyl bootlegs of popular artists did occasionally make it into the Soviet Bloc in those days, but vinyl was a scarce commodity so that there was no way to make vinyl copy of it. That's until someone got the bright idea of using another piece of plastic that was plentiful at the time - exposed X-rays.

They would look through hospital waste bins for discarded X-rays, cut a copy of the album with a standard disc cutter, then use a cigarette to burn a hole in the middle so it could be played on a standard turntable. These "records" only played on one side and the fidelity was low, but they were cheap and easy to get, and gave a big boost to Western music in a land where it had no traditional exposure.

Soon a whole network of bone music distributors sprang up, but not long after the police caught on and formed a group of anti-Western music patrols to break up the distribution rings and confiscate any X-rays found.

Ironically, it wasn't that long after that the West created its own version of the X-ray disc with its own "Flexi-disc," a very thin piece of plastic which sounded equally as bad, but was cheap and easy to distribute in books and magazines.

This is just a great example of people that are deprived of something they desperately want being resourceful enough to overcome any barriers in the way. You can read more about this topic in an excellent article by John Brownlee on


Mike Hillier said...

I love the idea that they had a cutting lathe, but no better means of punching a hole in the middle than a cigarette.

Fred Decker said...

What a great story! I never know what I will discover here!

I remember certain types of free records I used to get sometimes, like Harry Carray singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" from the White Sox back in the 1970s. The record was floppy and thin -- about like an x - ray!

Thanks Bobby!

Rand said...

Great story Bobby. A worthwhile and more cost-saving method reintroducing the concept to replace all the wasted CD's people hardly buy anymore. Most of the 'music' today deserves it anyway;-)

Anonymous said...

Remember playing mad magazine discs?

Juan said...

I remember now a National Geographic number featuring sounds of whales recorded on a very thin piece of film disc, like 30 years ago...what a nice story!


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