Here’s a side of history you’ve probably never heard.
In the 50s and 60s during Soviet Russia, people were restricted from getting their hands on Western music, meaning no Elvis, no Little Richard, and no Beatles.
The Beatles were officially mentioned in the U.S.S.R. official press shortly after they formed in 1964, though the writer’s editors were wary of publishing the article. They became popular anyway, despite no official Beatles releases until 1988’s special Beatles wildly popular pressing Back in the U.S.S.R., or any Beatle ever playing Russia until Paul McCartney journeyed there in 2003.
On the cover of the U.S.S.R. album was a quote: “In releasing this record made especially and exclusively for the USSR, I am extending a hand of peace and friendship to the Soviet people.”
But that was in 1988, about 25 years after The Beatles rose to fame. Still, somehow, people managed to hear their music, as well as that of Chuck Berry, Elvis and more.
Enter the “stilyagi”, a group of Russians who were able to distribute homemade rock records to Russia through underground channels. This group, who Consequence of Sound dubs “‘hipsters’ as we’d call them today,” would, of all things, collect disposed x-rays from hospital dumpsters, press them, and foster a massive network of music lovers.
And this ‘bone music’ as they’d call it was cheap too. According to FastCo Design, these records were low-quality, but to buy at one rupee, cost about the fifth of what a single (legal) disc cost in Russia. They had a sense of humor too:
According to Artemy Troitsky’s 1987 book Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia, they often contained surprises for the listener: “Let’s say, a few seconds of American rock’n’roll, then a mocking voice in Russian asking: “So, thought you’d take a listen to the latest sounds, eh?” followed by a few choice epithets addressed to fans of stylish rhythms, then silence.”
Bone music was policed by the U.S.S.R. government by the 60s, though it seems probable that at least a few songs from the young Beatles made their way over after it became illegal.
Head to Fast Company for more on the stilyagi.