Picture discs are gramophone (phonograph) records that show images on their playing surface, rather than being of plain black or coloured vinyl. Collectors traditionally reserve the term picture disc for records with graphics that extend at least partly into the actual playable grooved area, distinguishing them from picture label discs, which have a specially illustrated and sometimes very large label, and picture back discs, which are illustrated on one unplayable side only.
The first 'modern' rock picture discs was British progressive rock band Curved Air's first album, Airconditioning, a UK issue (1970). The first commercially-issued American picture disc is To Elvis: Love Still Burning, a collection of 11 Elvis Presley tribute songs by various artists, issued in May 1978. Both sides of the album (Fotoplay FSP-1001) picture Presley.
On some picture discs, the images used were meant to create an optical illusion while the record was rotating on the turntable (as in the B side of Curved Air's Airconditioning), while others used the visual effect to add to the music — for example, the 1979 picture disc of Fischer-Z's The Worker featured a train which endlessly commuted around the turntable, reinforcing the song's message.
Later picture discs included liquid light show style fluids between the vinyl, Rowlux 3D effect film, diffraction rainbow film, metal flake (vide examples here), pressure-sensitive liquid crystals that changed color when the record was picked up, and a real holographic record.
One picture disc was even billed as a genuine "live album." Made as a demonstration for Stevie Wonder's Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, it featured a layer of blotting paper between the clear vinyl layers that contained alfalfa seeds. A tag of the blotting paper protruded below the record, and resting the disc on a glass of water with the paper in the water allowed the seeds to germinate and grow inside the record. When the prototype was taken through customs in Canada it was seized by the Department of Agriculture, making it not only the only real live album but the only record ever banned by the Department of Agriculture (alfalfa being a prohibited import).
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