How Russians used old X-rays to circulate forbidden music

How Russians used old X-rays to circulate forbidden music


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2017

A tale of samizdat subversion from the Soviet Union:

From 1946 to 1964 … people in Soviet Russia had been using X-rays as makeshift records to listen to the music they loved. The reason for that was that most of that music was forbidden.

“Stalin didn’t like anything that made people dance,” Coates explains. “The only music that was allowed were classic composers, or simple folk tunes, whose words were all about how great socialism was.”

Any other vinyl recording was prohibited on the grounds that it was bourgeois, western, or otherwise dangerous stuff. Jazz and US-made rock ’n’ roll obviously faced the ban, but so did the work of many popular Russian émigré singers, or Soviet musicians who had fallen out with the regime – such as Vadim Kozin, a popular tenor who was sent to a concentration camp for refusing to sing about Stalin. 

Young Russians immediately set about finding ways to overcome the ban….

Read on here…


  • Robert Holmén says:

    I recall reading about these underground x-ray records many years ago, it’s a story that keeps getting rediscovered. Now it’s one of those hipster TED talks?

    I don’t think the practice stopped in 1964 since government control of record publishing didn’t stop then either.

  • Larry says:

    There’s a wonderful story which jazz musician (French horn) Willie Ruff wrote about. When he first visited Russia, in the ’60s, he met a group of Russian jazz fans. One of them had a smuggled jazz recording produced on an X-ray, as you wrote. It turned out to be a Miles Davis recording which Ruff had played on in New York City! As the played it, the leader of the group called out the names of each of the jazz soloists. When he heard the French horn solo, he automatically called out “Willie Ruff,” then stopped, looked at Ruff and said: “Is you?” Ruff replied: “Is me.”