How Russians pirated vinyl music in the 1950s – using Xrays!

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Back in the old days, long before Spotify, iTunes, and even the CD or cassette tape, getting hold of music was really difficult. Even more so if you happened to live in the Soviet Union, which banned western music. So what would you do if you wanted to listen to Elvis?

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NPR recently published a great piece on how to Soviets were secretly subversive in their homes – and one act of dissent was to listen to western music. But how would they do it? By ‘burning’ vinyl records on to old hospital X-ray plates. Here’s the key paragraph:

Before the availability of the tape recorder and during the 1950s, when vinyl was scarce, ingenious Russians began recording banned bootlegged jazz, boogie woogie and rock ‘n’ roll on exposed X-ray film salvaged from hospital waste bins and archives.

“Usually it was the Western music they wanted to copy,” says Sergei Khrushchev. “Before the tape recorders they used the X-ray film of bones and recorded music on the bones, bone music.”

“They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole,” says author Anya von Bremzen. “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.”

Unfortunately, we were unable to confirm whether Dem Bones was amongst pirated songs.

James O’Malley