“… 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 records, we will take a look at the strange and unusual picture vinyl pressings (of popular rock songs) on Poland’s Tonpress label.
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 picture flexi-discs, that featured everyone from Blondie, to The Doobie Brothers to even the American “boss”, himself, Bruce Springsteen.
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 that it could be put in the pages of a magazines and would not break if slightly bent. Flexi-discs are played like your conventional vinyl record but because the grooves are shallow, they are not particularly good to listen to (nor are they great for your record needle for that matter). Next, Tonpress would adhere these cheap flexi-discs to cardboard backings, which made them more sturdy and provided a place for information. 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.
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 and the famous rock songs they are coupled with that make them interesting and perplexing. The releases are themselves are 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, just rock and roll and the state approved and selected image.
In place of the trappings of rock imagery, more “wholesome” images were used. Whether it was the dreamy, slightly dull countryside or a still life of flowers. These images 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.
Listen to “Come Sail Away” by Styx on Cottage Country Vol. 7:
Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” Tonpress Pressings
British band, Queen had many releases on Tonpress including many flexi-discs, all with the same aesthetic. Here, (as pictured above) we have two different versions of Tonpress’ issue of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. In one a Polish woman enjoys a walk in the countryside, and on the right, three puppies posed on a wooden plank. Not exactly “crazy”, I know.
David Bowie “Modern Love” & “Young Americans” on Tonpress
These stock pictures were also reused 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. 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…because why not.
David Bowie’s “Modern Love” appears on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 13:
Three Versions Of Squeeze ‘s “Cool For Cats” on Tonpress Records
There were 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.
The Sweet’s “Fox On The Run” on Poland’s Tonpress
Here we have The Sweet’s “Fox On the Run“, in three different versions on Tonpress. It was not unusual to have multiple pressings, sometimes with up to five different pressings with different images. Particularly, The Sweet seemed to be well-loved in Poland with a couple of releases getting many represses.
The Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” appears on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 09:
Punk Rock Flexis On Poland’s Tonpress
Surprisingly, even some of the innately rebellious genre of punk made it’s way into the Tonpress 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?
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 roll stars, especially during the 70s and 80s, were inseparable from their image. In some respects, Tonpress were almost accidental pioneers in abstract cover design. It was not until the ’90s, after the Tonpress ceased to exist, that you would begin to see this type of 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, was not intended. It is a kind of random art meets censorship.
Listen to Blondie, The Rolling Stones and the Clash on our latest mix, Cabin Fever!