Before the internet and social media – yes, there was a time when these did not exist – if you wanted to reach young minds, you used cereal boxes. I suspect this demographic is now looking at their phones and tablets rather than the more archaic cereal box. Nevertheless back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, you could find plastic coated cardboard discs on breakfast cereal boxes. So, its not surprising that the likes of Bobby Sherman had to resort to cereal box records to pump up his teen popularity, but a bit harder to believe that .Michael Jackson and his brothers needed to take this tactic.
These cereal box promotions were known as Flexi records. While they did play, the sound quality was understandably poor quality. The Life cereal Rock Music Mystery game (1986) even had detailed instructions that was a pretty clear indication of quality – “Play at 33 RPM on any turntable. If record sticks to spindle, enlarge hole slightly or place a coin over the center of the record.” That said, these were often the first records that many of us owned. The Life Rock Music Mystery included greats (and “Other”) such as Elton John – Crocodile Rock, Katrina And The Waves – Walking On Sunshine, Aretha Franklin – Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, and The Spencer Davis Group – Gimme Some Lovin’
The coin solution was used because these records were very thin and light so the weight of the stylus would often stop the disc from spinning. Some flexi records had a spot indicating precisely were to place a coin to add enough weight for “proper” spinning.
Checkout the Top 10 Cereal Box Records.
Before these records came to your kitchen table in the eighties, they were introduced as magazine inserts in Japan and the Soviet Union in the sixties.
In the early to mid-sixties, the Beetles sent out flexi records with Christmas greetings to their fan club members. You can find these on Discogs for as low as $25 USD.
In 1964, the National Geographic Society released Song and Garden Birds of North America which included a 12-sided clear flexidisk, giving the titles and birds on the recordings. The August 1965 issue of National Geographic Magazine included a soundsheet of the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill narrated by David Brinkley. The recording has the sounds of the funeral procession to St. Paul’s, a hymn sung by the leaders of the world, and an excerpt of the funeral sermon. Excerpts from various recordings of Churchill’s speeches are included. The recording ends with bagpipes accompanying Churchill’s coffin to the funeral barge on the Thames, as the public phase of the funeral ends.
During the 1970s, MAD magazine included Soundsheets in several special editions. One was a dramatization of “Gall in the Family Fare”, its parody of “All in the Family,” packaged with MAD Super Special #11 (1973). The Summer 1980 edition of MAD Super Special (published in 1979) featured “It’s a Super-Spectacular Day”, a song with eight different versions pressed into eight concentric grooves; which version was played depended on where the needle was dropped onto the disc. Another issue included “It’s a Gas”, a song whose lyrics were belches.
A two-sided flexible sheet record of the songs of humpback whales was included with the January 1979 issue of National Geographic Magazine. With a production order of 10,500,000 copies, it became the largest single press run of any record at the time.
As of December 2010, Pirates Press, an independent record manufacturing company based in San Francisco, California, USA, has started production of flexi discs of various sizes and color. Pirates Press is still producing these discs.
On April 2, 2012, Third Man Records released 1000 flexi discs tied to blue helium balloons into the air in Nashville, Tennessee. The discs contained the first release of “Freedom At 21”, a track on Jack White’s debut solo album, Blunderbuss.
On April 20, 2012, Domino Recording Company released a zine exclusively for Record Store Day that included five individual, multi-colored flexi-discs, each containing a song by Dirty Projectors, Real Estate, Cass McCombs, John Maus, and Villagers. The Dirty Projectors disc was previewed on April 19 by frontman Dave Longstreth via a YouTube video of him playing the record on a turntable.
As recently as the summer of 2015, PizzaDischi, an Italian record manufacturing company, has started production of flexi discs too, in collaboration with the European Slimer Records independent label run by Panda Kid members, dedicated to limited and rare edition of worldwide artists.