Artists’ free discs

 The Truth About Me

The truth About Me: Elvis Presley
6″ 78 rpm vinyl disc, free with tokens collected from The Weekend Mail in 1956

I own, but have not heard Elvis Presley’s The Truth About Me. It’s a 78 rpm, one-sided extra-thick six inch vinyl disc, obtained from The Weekend Mail in 1956 to publicize “The H.M.V. Recording Star” as he then was, RCA being distributed by HMV until early 1957. The fragility dictates that it was not a cover disc bundled with the magazine. If you’ve got one with the original mailing envelope, it’s worth £70. Without the envelope? £10 would be generous. (Discogs “Highest” is £35.99).

It looks as if it’s been sandpapered and I don’t have a 78 rpm machine, nor the envelope. While it claims that Elvis tells the truth, it’s doubtful whether The King goes into his insistence that potential paramours be issued with new, plain white panties prior to entering the royal bedroom (according to his bodyguards), nor into his plans to disappear in 1977 and re-emerge years later working in a chip shop in Northern England. 

Anything Elvis was of interest. The EP Elvis Sails (RCA, 1958) is simply the interview before he got on the boat for Germany and military service. You had to buy that one. Elvis Sails … Elvis Sells.

The Truth About Me: Tommy Steele
Weekend, 1957

The Truth About Me concept from The Weekend Mail  stretched to Tommy Steele, but with Weekend (a different magazine) a couple of years later in 1957. 

Cliff Richard

Were the discs designed to sell magazines? Apparently so. In the late 50s or 60s new magazines launched with a free gift, as do Part Work series until this day … issue one £4.99 with a free CD, DVD, LP or die-cast model car. Issue two, £11.99, issue three £16.99. This wasSerenade, launching in September 1962:

New Musical Express, September 1962. Advert for the new “Serenade” magazine with a free Cliff Richard record.

And here it is. So few of these discs survive intact with the magazine. The disc was transparent, flimsy and square cut so you could see the magazine. The instructions inside say:

If you have any difficulty playing the disc mount it on a piece of card 7 inches square, sticking it down with a small piece of tacky tape at each corner. Check that the record lies flat on the card. Make a hole in the centre of the card with a pencil, using the hole in the disc as a guide. Now place the mounted disc on your turntable and play (!).

Srenade #1, 17th September 1962

The magazine format inside was mainly romance comic drawing, but there is a record page, where we learn that Brenda Lee was 4 ft. 11 in. tall with vital statistics of 32-24-32.

The reviews section is done by a readers jury, that week drawn from Huddersfield with assistant hairdresser and Elvis fan, June, aged 19; Mary, 16, a secretary and Cliff fan; and Josephine, 17, an art student who likes classical music. They were given Frank Sinatra, Julie Grant and Dick Charlesworth & His City Gents to review. The Dick Charlesworth piece is The Bachelor Gay on HMV, which has no connection whatsoever to the singer on flexidisc.

There is a page of telegram best wishes from Elvis, Cliff Richard, Acker Bilk, and Kenny Ball. Edd Byrnes from Hollywood says Sounds like you are in with a swinger stop. Hope you come on strong daddy. Richard Chamberlain (Dr Kildare) says Serenade will send the pulses pounding.

It was 1962.

The Beatles Christmas Discs

Most free covermount discs were flexidiscs. The best known and easily the most collectable of the flexible cover discs are The Beatles Fan Club flexidiscs with The Beatles annual Christmas message, and comedy turns. 

New Musical Express, 28 December 1962

The Beatles were good at Christmas stuff, even taking out an advert in the December 28th 1962 NME to preview the release of Please, Please, Me. Their Christmas records were manufactured by Lyntone, distributed via the British fan club (and switch between 33 rpm and 45 rpm). The idea was dreamt up by Beatles publicist., Tony Barrow. The fan club had 80,000 members at its peak, and they each got one.

The first one is worth £100 mint. The others £60 to £70, but it’s essential that the paper inserts are included to get the full price. And they’re pressed by Lyntone on thin, flimsy flexible discs too.

Sincere Good Wishes: The Beatles Christmas Disc #1 December 1963

The first was five minutes long, and had The Beatles on King Wenceslas, messages from the group, and Rudolf, The Red Nosed Reindeer.

Gallery: click to enlarge

Another Beatles Christmas Record: December 1964

This had Jingle Bells, messages and the song Oh, Can You Wash Your Father’s shirt. That year Americans got the disc from the year before in a card mailer with the disc imprinted on plasticized card, instead of a flexidisc.

Galleies: click to enlarge

The Beatlers Third Christmas Record: December 1965

They keep doing bits of Yesterday a cappella. Auld Lang Syne mutates into Eve of Destruction. Then they try the Four Tops The Same Old Song, but stop when George points out it’s copyrighted. American fans got a postcard instead.

The Beatles Fourth Christmas Record: December 1966

The three earlier ones were produced by Tony Barrow, but George Martin stepped in for this one. There is a  collection of original songs and comic skits. The songs include “Everywhere It’s Christmas”, “Orowayna”, and “Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back”. McCartney plays piano. Again, a postcard sufficed for the US Fan Club.

The Beatles Fifth Christmas Record: December 1967
Design by Julian Lennon, John Lennon, Ringo Starr

The concept is bands trying to audition for a radio show. They sing Christmas Time Is Here Again..

The Beatles Sixth Christmas Record: December 1968 (credited to Apple).
Produced by Kenny Everett.
cCartney’s song “Happy Christmas, Happy New Year” is featured, along with Lennon’s poems “Jock and Yono” and “Once Upon a Pool Table”. Tiny Tim appears singing Nowhere Man. They do a speeded up Helter Skelter and Baroque Hoedown.

The Beatles Seveth Christmas Record, December 1969
Produced by Kenny Everett again.
Rear sleeve by Zak Starkey
They appear separately. McCartney sings his original ad-lib, This is to Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas.

They have been pressed on CD and LP. The UK Fan Club issued a compilation LP of all seven in December 1970. There have been several bootleg versions.

The expensive one is Happy Christmas, Beatle People! The Christmas Records, the official Apple box set as 7″ coloured vinyl records. in 2017 Currently one is on sale at £245 on amazon.co.uk. Discogs have a few ranging from £80to £150, with a median price of £89,

The most expensive?

The Beatles are not the most expensive. Blaydon Races by Nancy Spain with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated came free inside a 1963 Trio magazine. It’s rated at £100, but an eBay search shows one selling at £156. Discogs don’t report ever selling one. That’s RARE. And it has two sides.

Promoting albums

The Rolling Stones issued a flexidisc on New Musical Express to promote Exile on Main Street in 1972. The B-side fetured Curved Air, and Fanny.

New Musical Express Flexidisc 29 April 1972

Flexipop #5, with Bad Manners, 1981 … 60p
Flexipop #11, featuring Depeche Mode 1981 … 60p

In 1980 a UK magazine called Flexipop! had a Flexi disc on every cover with examples by Bad Manners, The Jam, Depeche Mode and Adam Ant.  They fit in the artists’ section because they were single tracks, not part of a compilation, nor extracts. Both New Musical Express and Sounds went for compilations … the ancestors of first covermount cassettes, then covermount CDS.

Modern Drummer and Guitar Player gave tuition discs featuring famous players.

RAW #15 with Outrage flexi disc (transparent) on cover

RAW! magazine specialized in heavy metal and issued covermount flexidiscs from 1988 on. Ozzy Osbourne did one of them. These focussed on just one artist.

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