Wobbly Sounds celebrates the bygone days of bendy discs

Vinyl might have made a comeback, but there’s no sign, so far, of the flexi disc doing the same. A new book from Four Corners might be about to change that

Wobbly Sounds traces the history of bendy discs all the way back to the late 1920s, when 3-inch musical discs were glued to the font of postcards, creating “bizarre clashes of traditional scenes or images and unrelated recordings” that nevertheless proved popular.

By the 1950s, the ‘slim disc’ market was dominated by Lyntone, which showed flexi discs were the quickest and cheapest way to get your song to market. They could be stashed in boxes of cereal, stuck in comics, or handed out at exhibitions. They were also often visually striking.

“They can look fantastic,” writes author Jonny Trunk in the book’s introduction. “From their sleeves and descriptions they often promise excitement, sonic oddness and period perfection.”

Match Mastermind of Soccer, early 1980s
Brillo Clearway, 1965
Recorded for George Newnes Ltd., c. 1964

The content of these discs was hugely diverse – and in some cases quite bizarre. The book features everything from a record that promised to teach budgies to talk, a set of spoken horoscopes, and a recipe for chicken curry.

Perhaps surprisingly, they were also home to adverts, and the book features several examples including cigarette, shampoo, coffee and corset commercials. Some brands simply sent out the equivalent of radio ads, while others went a bit more left of field – for example Ribena which, inexplicably, sent out a two-sided disc of sea sounds, including a ‘rather annoying’ shanty and set of bird facts. Milton Keynes even got in on the act, with a song dedicated to the area. Trunk assures readers that it’s “sublime, in many, many ways”.

Central Milton Keynes, 1979
Françoise Garrigues Talks Fashion, Peter Robinson Fashion Store, 1961
The cover of Wobbly Sounds: A collection of British flexi discs

Above and beyond their appeal as an object of curiosity though, the discs are a great time capsule of graphic design, and readers can expect a rich source of bygone typefaces and vintage illustration. For those of us with some flexi discs in the attic, there’s even some tips from Trunk on how to get the best sound from them.

Wobbly Sounds: A collection of British flexi discs is published by Four Corners, priced £10; fourcornersbooks.co.uk

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