The Flexi Disc format has been around since the early 1960s, even earlier if you count the coated cardboard imprints on postcards or even cereal packets. They were often included as inserts with magazines for educational purposes, or for children’s songs. Soon bands and pop publications saw their potential as an inexpensive way to reach out to fans without having to press up, or market an official release. Every Christmas between 1963 and 1968 for instance, The Beatles sent out thousands of their annual Christmas message via flexi disc to members of their fan club.
The flexi disc itself was often so thin, at around 10% of the weight of a vinyl pressing, that a coin or similar weight was recommended to keep the disc stable on the turntable and even with this modification, there was always a temptation to hover over the record player as one played in case “something went wrong”. On the downside the sound reproduction could be as thin and wobbly as the disc itself and they didn’t stand up well to repeated plays, especially if they had become dented on their journey home. However, on the upside they were cheap to produce, they fitted in well with Punk’s DIY ethos and were used by emerging bands as another way to reach their fans, they even became a tool to get radio play. Despite all these things, they were a step up from the home produced cassette, and for a time Flexi Discs containing tracks from new bands, were a popular coupling with equally fledgling fanzines.
By the 1980s we had Flexipop a mass produced pop magazine with, as the title suggests, a free flexi disc with every issue.
Jay Balfour in an article for vinylmeplease.com reminds us that
“The UK indie imprint Sarah Records grew out of a Flexi-only fanzine label called Sha-la-la.“It was an attack on pretentiousness, self-indulgence, capitalism,” one of the co-founders, Matt Haynes said, speaking as much about the Flexis themselves as the music. “But it was also simply a way for people without too much money to put out records. Rather than just criticise what others were doing, we’d do it properly ourselves.” Nonetheless, despite providing a cheap DIY entry-point for self-releasing music, flexi discs remained marginal as a serious medium for music for obvious reasons.”
I still remember a few Flexis, they were mainly freebies from magazines, or sample recordings from the Readers Digest which sat within my parents 1970s collection. Later on as fanzines containing Flexi Discs became more available, there was always the hope that which ever of the unheard bands on the disc might just be something brilliant and unforgettable. In the late 1980s, I remember opening the post sent to the venue at the Bull & Gate in London, on one side of the enclosed Flexi was a track called “Glass King” by a band from Leicester.
They are not so popular anymore, although with the current resurgence in vinyl, Flexi Discs are one again being produced in San Francisco by Pirates Press.
Full article from vinylmeplease.com here