#969: Picture Discs

RECORD STORE TALES #969: Picture Discs

Picture discs – in this case, vinyl records – will be the subject of tomorrow’s episode of the LeBrain Train (don’t miss it).  If you have ever seen a playable record with an image on one or both sides, then you have seen a picture disc.  If you’ve played one, you know the quality of the audio can be dicey.  Today picture discs are quite common on store shelves, but they used to be much rarer.  What is the history of the picture disc, exactly?

The very first modern picture disc was 1969’s Off II – Hallucinations.  This German compilation disc from Metronome featured the Doors and MC5 among other current artists.  In the 1970s, Elektra records experimented with a five-layer disc consisting of vinyl film over a paper image over a core of traditional black vinyl.  Difficulties with the materials (particularly the paper) and manufacturing led to inconsistent audio quality.  Eventually the process was refined and picture discs today can deliver acceptable audio over cool artwork.  But the roots go further back.  Etched discs aside, the first true picture disc recordings were actually picture postcards!

We begin in the early 1900s.  Rectangular pieces of cardboard, with a transparent celluloid record glued to one side, were the first “discs” that you could play with a needle on a gramophone.  Later versions had the recordings etched into special transparent coatings.  These kinds of records could be mailed or even included in magazines and cereal boxes.  Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, regular circular picture discs began to emerge.  Some were used to spread political propaganda.  And yes, that means there is such a thing as an Adolf Hitler picture disc.

Picture discs disappeared for a while during the war era.  Vogue Records attempted a revival in 1946 but released only around 100 records before folding due to lack of interest.  From that point on, picture discs were dominated by children’s records.  One unique variety even included crude animation on the record as it spun, if you looked at it through a special mirrored eyepiece.

When picture discs re-emerged in the 70s, popular music and soundtracks took over.  The standard cover art would traditionally be on side one, with the back art and track listing on side two.  There were variations but generally this is what you’d find on a normal everyday picture disc.

And they are normal, and everyday items now.  Most record collections have at least one.  What are your favourite picture discs?  Tomorrow, John Snow from 2Loud2OldMusic will join me as we show off our records.  They are always eye-catchers, and some occupy some real points of pride in our collections.

 

45 comments

  1. And, of course, there’s part 2 of the picture disc equation: CDs (a history tale I’m looking forward to reading on here, unless my memory fails me and it’s already appeared)

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    1. I’m not sure I have much to say on that subject Harrison. My first picture CD was one of the first I bought, Dr. Feelgood by Motley Crue. Shaped CDs are more interesting, and I covered some of that when I wrote about B-Cards.

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  2. Picture discs have been around since the 1900s? Dang, I didn’t know those things were that old! I am looking forward to Friday’s show (as I am typing this, it is currently 9:35pm on Wednesday in Hawaii) because I get to see a lot of cool album artworks and photos of 70s/80s bands!

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  3. I wonder if Bruce would still sing “Dive! Dive! Dive!” live given that the kind of diving he’s singing about in that song possibly gave him his cancer.

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  4. I’m a big fan as you know Mike. Some bands used to hide little things on them. Maiden (along with Marillion the best ever pic disc band) sped up a small section on the last track of the original Powerslave pic disc, my uncle played it for me once.

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      1. Just that Mike, there was a section of ‘Rime of ‘ that was sped up like hell towards the end – can’t remember if it had snippets of another track on there too – it was a joke, not a pressing error.

        Thunder did something similar on the 12″ pic disc of Dirty Love – not the shaped pic disc version, that’s normal.

        I reckon I must have 175-ish pic discs if you count my singles (which aren’t catalogued). I fell for them hard in the late 80’s.

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        1. Poor guy had most of his record collection stolen in about ’92. His Maiden stuff alone was just priceless, he’d been into them right from the beginning – had two copies of the Soundhouse tapes, loads of signed stuff too from them and Ozzy and Motorhead. Never got it back, but revenge was taken on the perpetrator by some biker friends of his apparently.

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  5. Thanks for doing those Yngwie reviews. He’s not radiating much talk these days anywhere, not positive anyway.

    Wasn’t familiar with that ep. Finally got the seventh sign cd, like it a lot but since I got Magnum Opus first that’s my favorite of the two.

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    1. That was an Ebay score. I may have actually still been working at the Record Store…and then a couple years later Bruce issued it on the Tattooed Millionaire deluxe edition. Isn’t that always the way?

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