Music on Bones – Hearing Beatle Music the Hard Way

One of our favourite Beatle websites is The Beatles Get Back in the USSR – mostly because it’s a treasure trove of information on every aspect of Beatle collecting in Russia, but also because it is clearly a labour of love and a remarkable resource.

The level of research, scholarship and effort that’s been put into this site is immediately obvious. Not to mention the amazing and extensive image libraries accompanying each topic written about.

If, for example, you’re interested in all the different pressings and versions of Paul McCartney’s ‘Russian album’ Choba B CCCP (first issued on the Melodiya label in 1988), then you can’t go past the site’s chapters on it here (first edition – 11 tracks), here (mispressed edition – 12 tracks), and here (second edition – 13 tracks). The depth of information is impressive.

The latest example of this sort of thorough analysis has recently been uploaded to the site. 

Web pages for a chapter called Illegal and Semi-legal Beatles Releases in the USSR are the result of more than ten years of work to find records/images/information and to analyze and describe all the content – and it tells an extraordinary tale. These illegal and semi-legal releases bear witness to the extraordinary lengths people in Cold War Russia went to hear and share western music, especially rock’n’roll, and of course – Beatle music.

Right through the 1960s, and well into the1970’s, there were practically zero officially released Beatles records issued Russia. Rock music was considered decadent and not suitable for the masses. So, the people took matters into their own hands.

Using smuggled-in originals from England and Europe, they made their own un-official copies of songs the only ways they knew how. This was done using two main processes. The first was to utilise the many small, commercial recording booths that were dotted around Russian cities and towns. These were set up to record short audio ‘postcards’ that could be sent through the post. This was, back in the day, a popular way of sending loved ones a message along with a photograph of the place or holiday location you’d been visiting. They looked something like this:The postcard/record above is like a one-sided flexidisc, with the “message” recorded onto the picture side. But this particular example contains a recording of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’! These ‘postcard’ flexies played at 78rpm and only conatined enough space for one song. Also, the quality wasn’t great – but, you got to hear The Beatles in a country that didn’t allow you to freely listen to them.

The other means of copying and distribution was through home tinkerers who set up illegal recording lathes to cut Beatle songs directly onto old medical x-rays. Yes, medical x-rays. These became known as “music on bones” or “music on ribs” – for obvious reasons:These freaky-looking x-rays above both have a Beatle song cut into them and they can be played on a turntable.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and these thick celluloid sheets of x-ray film were one of the few resources available to people in Soviet Russia at the time.

Like the postcard/records, these “music on bones” play at 78rpm, and to be honest, to our ears now they don’t sound that great. But this was the only way that anyone was going to be able to hear this type of music at the time. And don’t forget – making them and owning recordings like these could get you into big trouble with the authorities. Some ended up in prison just because they wanted to listen to rock’n’roll.  

This is fascinating history and you can spend quite a while on the site discovering a lot more about this little-known avenue of Beatle collecting. A shout out to Andrey, an old friend of and one of the contributors to the extraordinary research that has gone into creating this online resource.

Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the front page where you’ll see a series of images. These are all links leading to the sub-chapters with many examples, more detailed information and sometimes videos of the discs actually playing.

And see below for a short documentary on the strange story of Soviet “music on bones” – gramophone grooves cut onto x-rays of skulls, ribcages and bones:

Russian Beatles – Fantastic Website

My post about the many label variations of Paul McCartney’s 1988 Russian album “Choba B CCCP” prompted a response from a reader named Vadim who gave me some links to an absolutely fantastic website that deals specifically with Beatles and Beatles-related releases from the former USSR and Russia.

You can find the site here and, if you’re not careful, it will open up a whole new world of Beatles record collecting to you. I don’t read Russian and so many parts of the site are a mystery – it looks like it has been created by three friends and Beatles fans: Andrey Lukanin, Vadim Legkokonets and Valentin Isaikin, who run something called The Beatles Association. It also appears that The Beatles Association puts out a regular magazine called “From Me To You”. There are links on the Foreword page of the site to download two recent issues.

The site is huge and so comprehensive with details of seemingly every USSR/Russian release and variation – complete with pictures of the covers, labels, catalogue numbers and heaps of other fascinating information for the collector. It is truly mind-blowing and well worth a look. Put aside some time – you’ll need it to have a good look around. Once you figure out how the site is constructed and linked you can delve into more and more detail about individual releases.

It got me thinking about other Russian releases I have in my own collection – apart from the McCartneyChoba B CCCP” ones. I had a bit of a look and found these (and I must say its very meagre compared to Vadim’s treasures). The first is “A Hard Days Night”. This is on EMI/Melodiya and comes in a single sleeve with a plastic inner. It has one less track than the British release. Its also stated that this is a “Direct Metal Mastered” pressing and it has a small official DMM logo on the rear cover:

[You can see the exhaustive details for this pressing on the amazing Russian Vinyl records site here. It looks like my copy is pressed at the Riga pressing plant.]

Then comes “Help”. This is on AnTrop Records from St Petersburg, and has a plain white paper inner sleeve:

[You can see the exhaustive details for this pressing on the amazing Russian Vinyl records site here. It looks like my copy came out in 1991 and is sleeve and label Variation 2.]

Also on AnTrop Records is “Let It Be”. This comes in a single, quite thin, cardboard sleeve with a plain white paper inner sleeve:

[You can see the exhaustive details for this pressing on the amazing Russian Vinyl records site here.  This was released in 1992 and is sleeve Variation b., and label Variation 2.]

There are more “Let It Be” label variations on my site here.

The final Russian Beatles pressing I have is a unique compilation of early material called “A Taste of Honey” (1986). It is on the Melodiya label (and there’s also an EMI logo on the front cover). This is another “Direct Metal Mastered” pressing and it has an official DMM logo on the rear cover. Its in a single sleeve and a plain white inner bag:

[You can see the exhaustive details for this pressing on the amazing Russian Vinyl records site here and here. It looks like my copy is pressed at the Riga pressing plant.]

There is one other in my collection. Its Paul McCartney – “Flowers in the Dirt” (1989). This is on the white Melodiya label and has a plastic inner bag:

[You can see the exhaustive details for this pressing on the amazing Russian Vinyl records site here. It was pressed in 1991, and it looks like my copy was manufactured at the Aprelevka pressing plant, with sleeve variation 1d., and label variation White 2.]

Finally, in my post about different versions of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” from around the world there were two on Russian labels – the first a Melodiya pressing, the second from Santa Records: