Music piracy these days is dominantly digital, where people the world over illegally share and disseminate Top 40 pop music and underground indie artists without distinction.

But back in the 1950s, long before there was any such thing as illegal downloading, torrents, and Game of Thrones; music piracy was alive and well, even if the methods to copy music took on a very different form.

That’s especially true if you were a music-lover growing up Soviet-era Russia, where the availability of tape recording wasn’t even a thing yet, and further making things difficult for budding bootleggers was the scarcity of vinyl.

So they improvised.

You’d have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha’s brain scan…”

From between the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, foreign music was not only frowned upon by the Soviet government, but strict censorship laws agains Western Music meant anyone caught with popular music from the States could wind up in jail.

But despite the risks, there was still huge demand, with Soviets just as obsessed with the latest sounds coming from America, but the only way to get their hands on the latest in blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rock’n’roll was to smuggle it onto the most unlikely of mediums: x-rays.

Crafty bootleggers and youths would loot hospital waste bins and archives for exposed x-ray film, which would provide an archaic kind of flexi-disc upon which the grooves of the latest Elvis single or swinging big band sound could be imprinted – colloquially known as кость музыка, or ‘bone music’.

“They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole,” author Anya von Bremzen tells NPR. “You’d have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha’s brain scan — forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens.”

Proving that necessity is the mother of invention, the ‘bone music’ LPs make for equally cool and creepy historic artefacts.

Though it seemed the idea of x-ray LPs seemed dead and buried, the concept has actually been resurrected since by the Steve Jobs of modern vinyl gimmicks – you guessed it – Jack White.

Last year, the record-breaking vinyl mogul teamed up with the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes for a special Valentine’s Day release through his own Third Man Records. A limited run of the three-track, 7” record, titled the ‘Flex-Ray Disc’ was “pressed on old medical x-rays from The Rolling Record Store in Austin, Texas,” (the former hometown of Haynes) and sold at SXSW 2013.

Trust crafty ol’ Jack, but what else would you expect from the man who invented the world’s first tricked-out Ultra LP for his new album Lazaretto, which shifted 40,000 copies within the first week of sales, setting a new record in the process.

There’s still a few experimental vinyl styles that White has yet to appropriate however; may we direct your attention to the edible chocolate vinyl from a Croatian rock star, the world’s first 3D printed records (and accompanying pop-up store) and a company that will press your ashes into your favourite record so you can R.I.V. (that’s Rest In Vinyl).

(Source: Third Man Records)

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine