Stock and Roll: Classic Rock Picture Vinyl from the Eastern Bloc on Poland’s Tonpress Records

Two different Tonpress pressings of The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” far away from the glitz of rock & roll.

“the images look more like postcards, the kind you could send to grandma, more than the visuals of a rock and roll rebellion”

Recently cottagemixtape.com jumped on Discogs, and added all the Cottage Country Mixes in vinyl record form so you can peruse the original album covers used in the mix. Now, going further and combining our love for rock and roll, nature and vinyl, we will take a look at the strange and unusual picture vinyl pressings (of popular rock songs) on Poland’s Tonpress label.

ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”
John Lennon- “Woman”

Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight”

Tonpress was a Polish state run record company, owned by KAW – Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza (National Publishing Agency), through the 70’s and 80’s until it ended in the 90’s with the collapse of the Communist Bloc. Tonpress’ output was largely focused on Polish music, however, they did release some popular non-Polish music, including western rock music. However, the most peculiar of these releases were their flexi-discs, that featured everyone from Blondie, The Doobie Brothers or even the American boss, himself, Bruce Springsteen.

Doobie Brothers – “Minute By Minute” Tonpress with front and back shows how brilliant it is minimal and reductive design.

Flexi-discs were a popular format in the 1950s to the 70s, they were cheap to manufacture and easier to transport than standard vinyl records. They were made of a thin sheet of vinyl, malleable enough it could be put in magazines and would not break if folded. Flexi-discs are played like your conventional vinyl record but because the grooves are shallow, they were not particularly good to listen to (nor are they great for your record needle for that matter). Next, Tonpress would adhere these flexi-discs with cardboard backings with the printed info (which made them more sturdy and provided a place for information) and finally they were usually placed in a plain envelope. So, these were single-sided offerings that had only one feature track on the image surface.

Two different copies of Suzi Quatro’s (Cat-ro) “She’s In Love With You”. In love with your cat, maybe, in love with a non-descript plot of land, I dunno.

However, it is not so much its flexi format (a sonically lacking one) that these Tonpress pressings have become sought after by the collectors. It’s the images that adorned these picture disc vinyl that make them interesting and at times perplexing. The releases are themselves, devoid of the musician’s image. That means no long hair, no make up, no guitars, no Marshall amplifiers, no excess of limousines and debauchery, and definitely no sex and drugs. Presumably, just the rock and roll and the state-selected image.

A copy of Styx’s “Boat On A River”. They were close on this one, except we are in a field, the river in back and no boats.

In their place more “wholesome” images were used, whether it was the dreamy, slightly dull countryside or a still life of flowers, these were images that were meant to promote a sort of idealized Polish state. These were the least objectionable images probably ever produced in rock. Stock images of Polish landscapes and cultural dress and when that didn’t suffice, cute animals will do (puppies, ducks, birds). In the end, the images look more like postcards, the kind you could send to grandma, more than the visuals of a rock and roll rebellion.

David Bowie “Modern Love” & “Young Americans” Tonpress

Two different Bowie releases with the same image: “Modern Love” (left) and “Young Americans” (right).

These stock pictures were treated as such and were seemingly interchangeable from release to release, artist to artist. There appears to be little or no consideration for the title of the song nor any of its themes lyrically. Images were chosen randomly and often used and reused it seems without too much consideration. For instance (above and on the left), David Bowie’s “Modern Love” with a display of modern courting techniques and (on the right), David Bowie’s “Young Americans” because why not.

Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” Tonpress Pressings

Two different Tonpress versions of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” for the “love” of women and puppies, evidently.

Queen had many releases on Tonpress including many flexi-discs, all with the same similar visuals. Here, two different versions of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, a Polish woman enjoys a walk in the countryside and on the right three puppies posed on a wooden plank (“crazy” I know).

The Sweet “Fox On The Run” Tonpress Pressings

Three different versions of The Sweet’s “Fox On The Run” on Tonpress. One quite literal displaying a fox hunt, the other two, a display of flower power.

Here we have The Sweet’s “Fox On the Run“, in three different versions on Tonpress. It was not unusual to have up to 5 different pressings with different images. The Sweet seemed to be well loved in Poland with a couple of releases.

Squeeze – “Cool For Cats”

Squeeze’s “Cool For Cats” Tonpress pressings. In its banality is more like “arty” album covers of the 90’s.

Three different Tonpress versions of Squeeze’s 1979 New Wave Hit “Cool For Cats“. All of them kind of missing the mark. Although the ladies gathered on a park bench could be an ironic take of “Cool For Cats” and a pheasant in a field may be cool to a cat (in hunter mode), the last one that is of two bunnies makes me think you don’t know what “cat” means.

Punk On Tonpress

B-52’s “Dirty Back Road”

The Clash’s “London Calling

Blondie’s “Call Me”

Surprisingly, even some punk made it’s way into the catalogue, including (much to my amazement) political British punk band, The Clash. Above is one of Tonpress’ versions of “London Calling“, which begs the question do the Clash even like cats?

Deja vu. This cat image was used again for Blondie’s “Dreaming” (pictured here) but ironically was never used for Squeeze’s “Cool For Cats”.

So, not as extreme as your Russian bootleg pressings on an X-ray, these were state manufactured but are also very unusual, particularly to western tastes. In many ways rock and rock stars up to this point (during the 70s and 80s) were inseparable from their image manufactured or otherwise. Tonpress were pioneers in some respects. It was not until the ’90s, after the Tonpress ceased to exist, that you would see this aesthetic reborn for album covers and singles. Found images or stock images would be pervasive in Alternative music and Indie Rock world in the 90s. This was done in some ways ironically, a means to escape the trappings of the cliched band photo but also a means to confound or obscure the band’s image (thinking Helmet’s Betty but the list goes on). However, the irony of the Tonpress flexi-discs, this incongruous set of images and songs, is not intended. It is a kind of random art meets censorship.

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