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Picture disc

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Picture disc

Vinylgroover - Phantasm (Remix) / I Can Live Without You - 1996 Hectic Records / HECT 016 limited edition picture disc version.

Picture discs are gramophone (phonograph) records that show images on their playing surface, rather than being of plain black or coloured vinyl. Collectors traditionally reserve the term picture disc for records with graphics that extend at least partly into the actual playable grooved area, distinguishing them from picture label discs, which have a specially illustrated and sometimes very large label, and picture back discs, which are illustrated on one unplayable side only.

Curved Air's Airconditioning (Warner Bros. 1971) was the first modern picture disc. This second edition pressing of the disc differs from the very rare first edition in that the credits have been edited. The album which was designed by Mark Hanau won the NME's (UK) Special Award for Best Album Art in 1971. Only 2000 of both editions were ever pressed.


  • The beginnings 1
  • 1946 to 1969 2
  • 1970 and beyond 3
  • List of (selected) picture discs 4
    • First modern picture discs 1970 to 1979 4.1
    • Post-1980 4.2
  • Shaped Discs & 'special pressings' 5
  • Picture discs by band 6
    • Kiss 6.1
    • Muse 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8

The beginnings

A few seven-inch black shellac records issued by the Canadian Berliner Gramophone Company around 1900 had the "His Master's Voice" dog-and-gramophone trademark lightly etched into the surface of the playing area as an anti-piracy measure, technically qualifying them as picture discs by some definitions.

Apart from those debatable claimants for the title of "first," the earliest picture records were not discs, strictly speaking, but rectangular picture postcards with small, round, transparent celluloid records glued onto the illustrated side. Such cards were in use by about 1909.[1] Later, the recordings were pressed into a transparent coating that covered the entire picture side of the card.[2] This novelty product idea proved to have a very long life. In the 1950s and throughout the rest of the vinyl era, picture postcard records, usually oversized and often featuring a garish color photograph of a tourist attraction or typical local scenery, were issued in several countries. These and similar small novelty picture records on laminated paper or thin cardboard, such as were occasionally bound into magazines or featured on the backs of boxes of breakfast cereal,[3] are usually not classed with the larger and sturdier discs that were sold in record stores or used as promotional gifts by record companies, but a few featured famous performers and are now eagerly sought by collectors of those artists' records.

The first picture discs of substantial size, sold as records meant only to be looked at and played, not put into a mailbox, appeared in the 1920s. Their first wave of significant popularity did not arrive until the start of the 1930s, when several companies in several countries began issuing them. Some were illustrated with photographs or artwork simply designed to be appropriate to the musical contents, but some graphics also promoted films in which the recorded songs had been introduced, and a few were blatant advertising that had little or no connection with the recording. Some politicians and demagogues explored the potential of the discs as a medium for propaganda. Adolf Hitler and British fascist Oswald Mosley were each featured on their own special picture discs.

Most of these records were made of a simple sheet of fairly thin printed cardboard with a very thin plastic coating and their audio quality was substandard. Some were more sturdy and well-made and they equaled or actually surpassed the audio quality of ordinary records, which were still made of a gritty shellac compound that introduced a lot of background noise. In 1933, RCA Victor in the U.S. issued a few typical cardboard-based picture records but was unhappy with their quality and soon began making an improved type. A rigid blank shellac core disc was sandwiched between two illustrated sheets and each side was then topped with a substantial layer of high-quality clear plastic into which the recording was pressed. Like nearly all records being made for the general public, they were recorded at 78 rpm, but one issue was recorded at 33⅓ rpm, a speed already in use for special purposes which Victor was then unsuccessfully attempting to introduce into home use. It was the first 33⅓ rpm picture disc and the only one made until many years later. These were deluxe picture discs, priced much higher than ordinary records, and they sold in very small numbers. In the early 1930s the entire record industry was being devastated by a worldwide economic depression and the proliferation of the new medium of radio, which made a wide variety of music available free of charge. Picture discs of all kinds were among the casualties.

1946 to 1969

With the Great Depression and World War II no longer around to interfere with such modest luxuries, the picture disc reemerged in 1946, when Tom Saffardy's Sav-Way Industries began issuing Vogue Records. Vogues were a well-made product physically similar to RCA Victor's improved 1933 issues except that their core discs were aluminum instead of shellac. The Victor discs had been illustrated in high Art Deco style, often in sober but elegant black-and-white. Vogue's discs featured artwork done in the styles typical of 1940s commercial illustration and pin-up art, most of it gaudily colored, some dramatic, some humorous, some very cartoonish. The audio quality was excellent by contemporary standards and they featured professional talent, most with names known to the general public, but Vogue was handicapped by the lack of any big "hit" names. Top-tier talent was usually under exclusive contract to companies such as Mercury Records, for whom Sav-Way manufactured special attention-grabbing, quiet-surfaced picture discs that Mercury distributed only to radio disc jockeys. Vogue records retailed for US$1.05, about fifty percent more than ordinary ten-inch 78 rpm records. The novelty of the colorful discs attracted interest and sales at first, but success proved elusive and Vogue went out of business in 1947 after fewer than 100 catalog items bearing the Vogue logo had been issued.[4]

More commercially successful and long-lived were some of the children's picture discs marketed by the Record Guild of America from the late 1940s through the 1950s. Their most popular and well-known issues resembled Vogue records in their general style of illustration and use of high-quality materials, but they were only 7 inches in diameter, had no reinforcing core disc, and sold for a much lower price. Other companies such as Voco also made picture discs for children.

Red Raven Movie Records, introduced in 1956, were a very unusual type of children's picture disc. They featured a sequence of sixteen interwoven animation frames arrayed around the center and were to be played at 78 rpm on a turntable with a short spindle, on which a small sixteen-mirrored device, a variety of the praxinoscope, was placed. Gazing into this as the record played, the user saw an endlessly repeating high-quality animated cartoon scene appropriate to the song. Only the earliest Red Raven discs, which were of the coated cardboard type but reinforced with a metal rim and spindle hole grommet, were true picture discs. The more common later issues were larger "picture label discs" made of solid colored opaque, translucent or transparent plastic, with the recording in a band surrounding a very large label that carried the animation graphics. In the 1960s similar products were introduced in several countries under various brand names—Teddy in France and the Netherlands, Mamil Moviton in Italy, etc.

Picture discs of the large and solid Victor-Vogue type were very rarely issued in the U.S. between the demise of Vogue in 1947 and the end of the 1960s, but several lines of picture discs, such as the French Saturnes, were produced in Europe and Japan during these years.

1970 and beyond

A new generation of picture discs appeared in the 1970s. The first serious pictures discs (with acceptable but still inferior sound quality) were developed by Metronome Records GmbH (a subsidiary of Polydor Records). These new picture discs were made by creating a five-layer lamination consisting of a core of black vinyl with kiln-dried paper decals on either side and then outer skins of clear vinyl film (manufactured by 3M) on the outsides. In manufacture, one layer of the clear film was first placed on the bed of the press on top of the stamper, then a "puck" of hot black vinyl from the extruder was placed on top of that. Finally the top print and vinyl film layer was added (held by a retracting pin in the upper profile usually employed to retain the upper paper label) and the press closed. Problems with poor vinyl flow caused by the paper texture and air released from the paper (that had not been removed in the kiln drying process) plagued the process.

The first 'modern' rock picture disc was British progressive rock band Curved Air's first album, Airconditioning, a UK issue (1970). The first commercially issued American picture disc is To Elvis: Love Still Burning, a collection of 11 Elvis Presley tribute songs by various artists, issued in May 1978. Both sides of the album (Fotoplay FSP-1001) picture Presley.

On some picture discs, the images used were meant to create an optical illusion while the record was rotating on the turntable (as in the B side of Curved Air's Airconditioning), while others used the visual effect to add to the music — for example, the 1979 picture disc of Fischer-Z's The Worker featured a train which endlessly commuted around the turntable, reinforcing the song's message.

Later picture discs included liquid light show style fluids between the vinyl, Rowlux 3D effect film, diffraction rainbow film, metal flake (vide examples here), pressure-sensitive liquid crystals that changed color when the record was picked up, and a real holographic record.

One picture disc was even billed as a genuine "live album." Made as a demonstration for Stevie Wonder's Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, it featured a layer of blotting paper between the clear vinyl layers that contained alfalfa seeds. A tag of the blotting paper protruded below the record, and resting the disc on a glass of water with the paper in the water allowed the seeds to germinate and grow inside the record. When the prototype was taken through customs in Canada it was seized by the Department of Agriculture, making it not only the only real live album but the only record ever banned by the Department of Agriculture (alfalfa being a prohibited import).

List of (selected) picture discs

First modern picture discs 1970 to 1979


Shaped Discs & 'special pressings'

Band Disc/Song Released Disc Description Disk Size Image
ABBA Thank You For The Music b/w Our Last Summer 1983 Shape of the band's logo 7"
Barnes & Barnes Fish Heads: Barnes & Barnes' Greatest Hits 1982 Shaped as a fish head 12"
Broken English Comin on Strong 1987 Shaped as the 3 band members wearing Ghostbusters outfits holding guitars.
Devo Beautiful World b/w Nu-Tra 1981 Shaped like an astronaut head
Gangrene Sawblade EP 2010 In the shape of a circular sawblade.
Gary Numan Warriors 1983 Shaped like a Jet Fighter. 7"
Gary Numan Berserker 1984 Shaped like Numan's head. 7"
Gefilte Joe and the Fish Hanukah Rocks 1981 Shaped like the Star of David. 12"
Guns N' Roses Sweet Child o' Mine 1988 Shape of the classic logo of the cross and skulls of the five band members 7"
Guns N' Roses Paradise City 1989 Shape of a Colt "Peacemaker" 7"
Guns N' Roses Nightrain 1989 Shape of a suitcase 7"
Joe Strummer Love Kills Shaped like a gun 7"
Killing Joke Loose Cannon 2003 shaped yellow evil clown head image from the eponymous 2003 album sleeve
Kiss Lick It Up 1983 Shaped like an armored tank
Less Than Jake Cheese 1998 Shaped like a piece of swiss cheese. 1000 pressed in yellow. 500 pressed in green ("Moldy Version"). 7"
Men Without Hats The Safety Dance 1982 Oddly shaped picture disc of a man and a woman dancing
Men Without Hats I Got the Message 1983
Monster Magnet Dopes to Infinity 1995 Shaped like the lead singer Dave Wyndorf's head. 12"
Monster Magnet Negasonic Teenage Warhead Shaped like a mushroom cloud 12"
OMD La Femme Accident 1985
Red Box Lean On Me b/w Stinging Bee 1985 Hexagonal red vinyl. Looks like a red box in 2D; flipside is a band photo. 7"
Saxon Back on the Streets Again Shaped as an apple (as is printed on one side of the disk). 7"
Tangerine Dream Warsaw in the Sun 1984 The record is in the shape of Poland and has several images including Lech Wałęsa and Pope John Paul II. 7"
The Coconuts (Side project of Kid Creole and the Coconuts) Did You Have To Love Me Like You Did 1983 In the shape of a coconut. 7"
The Fat Boys Wipe Out Shaped like a Hamburger 7"
The Enemy You're not alone 2007 Square shaped. Has the single cover art on the A-side and a black-and-white picture of the band on the B-side with track listing. 7"
The Mars Volta Mr. Muggs 2008 In the shape of a clear planchette. 7"
Toto Africa 1982 In the shape of the African continent. 7"
U2 The Unforgettable Fire (single) 1985 Shaped as letter & number "U2" with various pictures of the band from the period. 7" U2
Yeah Yeah Yeahs Cheated Hearts 2006 Heart shaped. 7"
  • A single shaped like DEVO's famous Energy Dome headgear was planned, but never made it past the test pressing stage.

toto Africa/ rosana

Picture discs by band



British rock band, Muse have released several picture discs since 2006. They have also notably had much of their work pressed on clear vinyl since 1999.

See also


  1. ^ Birgit Lotz (1999-09-16). "Our Wants". Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  2. ^ Birgit Lotz. "Our Wants". Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  3. ^ "Cereal Box Records". Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  4. ^ "The Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors". Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  5. ^ "DISCOGRAPHY - Picture Discs Discography". The Kissfaq. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
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