November 1972 cover
Krugozor Magazine was a Soviet culture and music magazine published monthly between 1964 and 1993. Every issue included six flexi discs with reportage and music. Krugozor is not well known outside the former USSR, and it deserves to be more widely appreciated. Keep reading below to learn about the magazine, view a selection of spectacular covers, and hear the wonderfully diverse sound of Krugozor in a 72 minute music mix.
I support Ukraine. This webpage is an appreciation for a certain era of Soviet aesthetic culture -- a stunning and unique and multi-ethnic aesthetic. I intend no appreciation for Russian imperialism.
Growing up in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, I fully absorbed the simplistic image of an “Iron Curtain” separating the West from the USSR, impenetrably isolating Soviet consumers from the pernicious influences of Western culture. Thus, I was rather surprised to learn that, in 1971, Soviet authorities were distributing a magazine with three Astrud Gilberto songs and a Russian-language bossa nova duet. And Paul McCartney in 1972; Roberta Flack and Pete Seeger in 1973; John Lennon and George Harrison in 1974; Ringo Star, Odetta, and Edith Piaf in 1975; Wings in 1976; both ABBA and Elton John in 1977; Boney M. in 1978; and Pink Floyd in October 1980. And on and on; those are just a sampling from the issues I’ve collected. The image I had of the USSR in 1974 did not include Moscow teenagers listening to Philly pop opera crooner Mario Lanza in an official Soviet publication released in July that year.
I discovered Krugozor magazine in hunting online for music from my favorite Russian children’s singer, Klara Rumyanova. I was stunned to discover Krugozor was a monthly news, culture, and music magazine with six flexi-discs published in the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1993. The Iron-Curtain-piercing inclusion of Western artists was the most immediately surprising fact, but I soon discovered the real treasures lay in the beautiful, unique covers and the startling range of fascinating, accomplished USSR and other non-Western music included on those flexi-discs.
About Krugozor Magazine
As a physical object, the magazine was a brilliant piece of design. Each issue was the size of a 7″ single, and contained between its covers typically 8 double-sided pages of related text and images in addition to the flexi-discs. Most ingeniously, the magazine had a hole punched in the center and the flexi-discs could be played by flipping the pages over, like a notebook — no need to tear out the discs.
The best source of English-language information about Krugozor I know of is an entry in the out-of-print book “Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design” (Rizzoli, 2011), written by Michael Idov. It’s a delightful and erudite book featuring scores of Soviet consumer products, and Idov — unlike myself — actually speaks Russian. Idov describes Krugozor’s offerings in this way: “Issue after issue hid gem after gem: a recording made in outer space with songs written by cosmonauts, an interview with Dimitry Shostakovich, a ‘fono-film of a Spanish corrida,’ obscure folk music from Yemen. With the very first issue of the magazine, the editors introduced a new genre of creative reporting: the ‘song story,’ which was both a journalistic piece and a musical composition (space travel and labor were favorites).”
(Here is a link to a 99% Invisible radio program about Made in Russia — they interview Idov and discuss the “unbelievably cool” Krugozor magazine from 3:50-5:02.)
According to Wikipedia, Krugozor “was in immense demand by young Soviet consumers, who would form long waiting lines in stores and kiosks during release days.” The technology to make the magazine was brought to the USSR from the West after Nikita Khrushchev saw a magazine with a flexi-disc during a Western visit. Writes Idov, “In 1964, Soviet authorities procured from France a machine that pressed thin, floppy vinyl discs, and charged a group of people working at All-Soviet Radio with the task of forming an editorial board.” The magazine was printed by the state publishing house (Pravda) and the flexi-discs were produced by the state music label (Melodiya). Issues I have from the early 1980s state a circulation of 500,000 copies.
In addition to the magazine’s merits as a complex aesthetic and design object and as a 30-year historical document, I think Krugozor is also fascinating for the pluralistic, innovative, and equitable image it projected of Soviet society (unlike what Russia projects today). That image may not have reflected reality, but it nevertheless is an intriguing, if propagandistic, aspirational statement rooted in specific stories included in the magazines.
Until recently, there very little information about Krugozor on the English-language internet, but in October 2022, the website thevinylfactory.com published a very interesting piece written by Kateryna Pavlyuk. I found this perspective fascinating: “The Soyuzpechat [‘Soviet press’] kiosks where you could get hold of an issue were ubiquitous but not equal in their offering. The more remote your address, the slimmer your pickings. [An interviewee] raised in Soviet Ukraine, mentions his good fortune of growing up near Olesko Castle, a popular tourist attraction, which meant that his local kiosk got all the good titles—including Krugozor. Even so, he had to pull some strings. His kiosk only got two copies of every issue and the director of the local art gallery always bought one… Costing one, and later 1.5 roubles, when a monthly salary was 100 roubles, [Krugozor] wasn’t cheap. But with a ‘proper’ vinyl setting you back 10 roubles, and at risk of serious consequences if you were seen selling or buying a Western one, Krugozor’s blue flexi-discs were more accessible than any alternative.” I recommend you read Pavlyuk’s whole article, which focuses on Krugozor as a means of accessing Western music. Interestingly, the piece does not reference the quality of the covers or the non-Western music, which are ultimately what I find most fascinating.
(As an aside, my research and collecting does not entirely support all of the statements in the Vinyl Factory piece, which asserts, “by the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, some big names from afar made tentative appearances: Duke Ellington, Barbra Streisand. Towards the ‘80s, the ratio of Western tracks cranked up—slightly, still one or two per issue–and the blue discs were occasionally grooved with tracks from The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Elton John and Madonna. In 1988, an issue even included The Beatles, formerly fiercely forbidden.” In fact, as referenced in my opening paragraph, far from tentatively, Western artists were regularly included in the magazine in the early/mid 70s, including solo material from all the former members of the Fab Four between 1974-1976.)
One of the most striking things about Krugozor magazine is the fascinating and beautiful cover art. In the 1960s, most covers were photographs, some more artistic than others. Covers in the 1960s also included drawings, paintings, and etchings. Starting in the 1970s, many of the covers had a colorful pop-art quality, with some stunningly creative graphic design. The themes reflected on the covers generally included labor, industry (including science and agriculture), folk culture, sports, and revolutionary imagery.
Here are photo albums with some covers from my personal collection organized by theme (you can see more by following me on Instagram @krugozormagazine):
To start, examples of revolutionary-themed covers:
Next, industry-themed covers:
And, finally, other visually creative, almost psychedelic, covers:
Based on my review of the issues in my collection, the first three discs were typically news reportage (often with sound effects) or interviews, and roughly the last three were music, including both music from the USSR and Western (and some non-Western) music. Although the discs could be played without removing them from the magazine, it seems often the last three discs (the ones with the music) were cut out of the magazines.
I was surprised to find Western musicians included in Krugozor, but the most exciting aspect for me is the discovery of musicians from the USSR and satellite states. The range of genres included is broad: folk rock, vocal pop, choral folk and pop, ethnic folk from across the USSR, bossa nova, bouncy instrumental tunes, classical piano, children’s music, soundtrack music, etc. I was already familiar with some of the artists from past explorations of Melodiya releases, such as Klara Rumyanova, charming voice of the beloved animated character Cheburashka; sophisticated pop singer Edita Piekha; and psychedelic Estonian folk ensemble Collage. But there are innumerable new discoveries, such as Romanian pop singer Aura Urzicha and poet-musician Novella Matveyeva.
Although the styles have Western analogues, the Soviet music in Krugozor is infused with a distinctive drama, mystery, artistry, and/or wildness. For Western ears, Krugozor is a whole new world of sound. Click below to hear a 72 minute, 27 track streaming music compilation that I made including selections from 18 issues published in the 1970s. All the selections are from the USSR and Soviet satellite states, representing a wide range of styles. Although the styles have Western analogues, the Soviet music in Krugozor is infused with a distinctive drama, mystery, artistry, and/or wildness. Songs with identifiable origins are from Russia, Romania, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria.
Krugozor, or кругозор in Cyrillic, means “outlook” or “horizon.” Michael Idov, the author of Made in Russia, says it is “a beautifully subtle pun … that incorporates the word for ‘circle’ or ’round’ (‘krug’).”
Other Sources of Information
There is an incredibly valuable, seemingly official, Russian archival website, http://www.krugozor-kolobok.ru / (title to first page: “We invite you to the pages of the magazine ‘Krugozor’!”) that effectively documents many aspects of the magazine. A rough online translation of the website’s introductory text is here. There is some variation in how the magazines are documented, but, very usefully, there are images of all the covers arranged by date on the left column of the website. And if you click to explore particular issues, you may be able to see images of all the pages and recordings of the various flexi-discs. (NOTE: The website was down for several months with an expired domain registration, but it is back and I’m hopeful it will remain up.) Another Russian archive is here — it has larger images of the cover art and it appears one may be able to download images of the magazine, although there are no recordings. Here is yet another site with the album covers. And this site contains many digitized recordings of music in Krugozor.
As noted previously, I have not been able to find many English-language websites about Krugozor. The Vinyl Factory article discussed above is the most informative, and there is also another blog post here (with a handful of nice cover scans). And I found a tweet and a Facebook Soviet Film Posters group post (just images).
Some other Krugozor factoids: Apparently the 1985 run of Krugozor was about 500,000 copies; I have not seen estimates of the size of the earlier runs. Krugozor was published at Pravda publishing house; the location is currently a hip looking bar.
Finally, and rather randomly, in April 2020 a Chicago theater company was slated to put on a play called Krugozor! The fundraising page describes the play as “the story of Svetlana and Vitaly who grow up in the waning days of the Soviet Union, obsessed with Western Rock music, trying to find their place in art, life and government, and reconcile their dreams with reality. Krugozor! brings the real life story of one magazine and its impact on a generation through music.” Of course it was interrupted by the pandemic, but the company got back to work on it in 2022 and it just completed its run on February 4, 2023!