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Comments (52) Posted 02.14.05 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Tom Vanderbilt

Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design


Browsing recently through a collection of "band fonts," my memory drifted back to Middle School where I, plastic Bic in hand, would spend countless hours carefully inscribing the covers of my Mead notebooks with the logos and signature fonts of my favorite bands: the bewinged logos of Van Halen and Aerosmith, the Ace Frehley-designed all-caps "KISS" with its lightning-bolt "S" letters (that to some were too evocative of the Waffen SS), the Tolkienesque Led Zeppelin and the three-dimensional Judas Priest, the sort of blurred courier typeface logo for Cheap Trick, not to mention the Bob Defrin-designed "AC/DC" logo (with its "high voltage" slash).

      The logos and lettering tended to be campily Gothic (a procession of black letter fonts), enigmatically runic or otherworldly, all of which fit in well with my then worldview, heavy as it was on Dungeons and Dragons and the novels of H.P. Lovecraft and Terry Brooks. But what strikes me now is that those logos, whatever their originality or quality, represented one of my earliest engagements with graphic design (cereal box logos may have been the first). This being prior to the Macintosh, I did not then have much of a working knowledge of typefaces, yet I was captivated by these outrageous letterforms — often adorned with a strangely bewitching umlaut — and carefully constructed logos, which seemed to somehow perfectly capture the essence, the entire being, of my heavy metal heroes.

      Thinking back to some of those fonts and logos, it occurred to me not only that they seemed very much of the 1970s, but that I could not easily summon similar examples from contemporary music. Is there a "Modest Mouse" font? An Arcade Fire logo? I openly admit that the real problem here may be that my own musical coming-of-age has long passed, but my difficulty at mentally conjuring up contemporary iconography leads me to wonder: Has heavy metal graphic design run its course? Is the band logo as a species dead? And is there much of a future for the graphic representation of popular music itself?

Looking back, the extravagant logo and the instantly recognizable letterform seems a relic of the 1970s, akin to the massive arena rock show replete with pyrotechnics and garish props; or the black concert jersey with white sleeves, dutifully declaring the band's roster of appearances at the Houston Astrodome or Topeka Civic Auditorium. Rock was entering its apotheosis of influence, its high-imperial hegemonic stage, and the big acts of the 1970s functioned, in a sense, like corporations, with managers and private jets and "shareholders" in the form of fans — so why not have a corporate logo, a band-brand identity? We can roughly bracket this period by two designs by the renowned Roger Dean: The "Yes" logo, at the beginning of the decade, trippily organic, still breathing in the fumes of the late 1960s; and, roughly a decade later, the colder, more sci-fi like logo for the "supergroup" Asia, who themselves arguably represented the last gasp of 1970s arena rock.

      Logo and band font design was sort of lost among larger discussions of album cover design — which also peaked in the 1970s — and even today the origins of many logos are shrouded in mystery and misinformation. Andy Warhol is often though to have designed the famous Rolling Stones "lips" logo, and on the internet one often finds attribution credited to John Pasch, but the real creator is longtime record album designer Ruby Mazur. But in many cases, the logos were simply designed by the band members, often the product of art schools. The often schmaltzy character of it all was captured brilliantly in This is Spinal Tap, not just in the discussion of the cover concept ("How much more black could it be?"), but in the treatment of the umlaut added to the band's name. "It's like a pair of eyes. You're looking at the umlaut, and it's looking at you," as David St. Hubbins put it. The umlaut became de rigueur for a whole host of bands, ranging from Motörhead to Queensryche (which impossibly put it over the "Y"), and it was typically added as an afterthought, a hollow symbol of distinction that owed nothing to linguistic or cultural actualities (graphic designer Bruce Campbell notes that when Mötley Crüe played Germany, the literal-minded crowd chanted "Mutley Cruh").

      Punk and new-wave, the story goes, arrived in response to the excesses of the 1970s, and I wonder if, as a kind of corollary to the anti-consumerist ethos of bands like The Clash, the idea of having a single, marketable kind of logo suddenly became recherché. Indeed, the logo for Southern California punk band Black Flag was, ironically, an iconic anti-logo. Designed by artist Raymond Pettibon, the logo was a sort of shattered flag, represented by a series of four black uneven bars. It was blunt, rather anonymous, but forceful and memorable in its own right. It was also instantly legible, and indeed it became a rather popular tattoo.

      Heading into the 1990s and the present, the number of readily iconic band logos and typefaces seems, to me at least, to have substantially dwindled. Which leads to the thought underlying all of this: Will graphic design ever have as great a role in popular music, or indeed any role at all, in the future? I know that there continues to be a quite vigorous graphic design movement affiliated with "indie rock" and other forms, from the talented folks at Aesthetic Apparatus or any number of other rock poster designers chronicled at www.flatstock.com. More often than not, however, these works are boutique, one-off projects, done in letterpress or some other antique-feeling method; works of art thought they may be, they have not, like the bands they announce, broken through to any kind of mainstream national consciousness.

      The disappearing logo might just be the canary in the coal mine signifying the dematerialization of music. Sure, there are little JPEGs on iTunes that depict album covers, but the proliferation of digitally acquired music and the rise of "playlist culture" is a threat not only to the idea of an album as a coherent body of work, but the album (in CD or whatever form) as a package. The shift from album to CD represented meant the artist's canvas was reducing in size to less than a quarter of its original, and now, to essentially nothing. My iPod is filled with songs by artists whose album covers I have never even seen, who I know only by iPod font, so I would not even know if they had a logo, or any visual identity whatsoever. A few months ago, a leading designer, who has done some exemplary record packaging, told me, "the music business at the moment is really not the business you would want to be in, neither as a musician or a designer. The medium is changing so incredibly, and nobody really knows if music packaging is really going to be around in a few years." When I asked an art director at a record company what the future of album cover design was, his answer was simple: "It's disappearing. That's what the future is."

      And the covers of kids notebooks — what do they hold now? What will they hold tomorrow? Maybe it would be better if they were not drawing logos. My Middle School grades were terrible.
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Comments (52)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

I agree 100%, however, don't forget about the art form that came about just as big, beautiful LPs were becoming scarce: the music video. True, we may not know what Franz Ferdinand's album cover looks like, but I bet we can remember the Monty-Python-esque animation from the video for "Take Me Out." In this sense, it's just a relocation of the artistic resources, not the death of music-related art itself.
Feaverish
02.14.05 at 07:07

One area where the art of band logo design thrives is (sniff if you will) extreme metal (black, death, etc.), where a torturously illegible demonic conflagration of a band logo is a total must.
ZD Smith
02.14.05 at 07:15

I think there will always be a role for graphic design in the music business - posters, t-shirts, and buttons will always be with us as tribal adornments - but indeed the value of packaging per se may be dwindling. PR seems to have more value than advertising - witness Alex Kapranos on the cover of W, and how else did we all hear of The Arcade Fire, anyway? 1000 blogging podcasters can help music reach its most appreciative audience more cost-effectively than a "major label push" ever could.

This does pose an interesting, parallel problem for web designers, too. We slave over our pixel-perfect layouts, but then discover that most of the interaction is happening in text-only RSS...

While we're at it, can we kill "arty" Flash sites for movies and bands, and equally impenetrable DVD menu design, stone dead, please? I dare anyone to try to play the videos on Blur: Best Of without involving less than 14 button presses. And don't get me started on the Super Furry Animals...
aj
02.14.05 at 07:29

Slight tangent: check out the heavy metal umlaut entry at Wikipedia.
jkottke
02.14.05 at 07:59

Seems with ipod photo at least some nice color (slightly larger) thumbnails will become standard at some point in the future. And one can assume the screens will increase in size - so perhaps there will be graphics designed that will be little animations that replace album covers. Maybe the middle school kids will be replacing their ipod's font with one of their fav band's fonts.

Another slight tangent- thoughts on my jazz-related site about digital music and loss of album design as way to browse for music.
wayne
02.14.05 at 09:14

Since we are tangently sligthing: för thösë äböüt tö röck...

To me one of the best branded metal bands from the late 80s early 90s was Iron Maiden, whose brand revolved around a consistently disturbing illustration style and trying to find their darned signature somewhere in that illustration. Plus their typographic logo was quite rocking as well. No umlauts though... that would have cinched it.

Metallica should also go into the cannons of great metal branding, even though most of their covers were pretty lame.
Armin
02.14.05 at 10:04

In the latest Entertainment Weekly, Vaughan Oliver and David Carson evaluate some contemporary rock and roll logos, including those of the Rolling Stones (VO: "Just too comical." DC: "An obvious sexiness."); hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics (VO: "Needs developing." DC: "A little too polite."); Finnish goth band HIM (VO: "No real imagination, no wit." DC: "It would make a very good t-shirt."); and Black Flag (VO: "It's the no-logo logo." DC: "Wonderful.")
Michael Bierut
02.14.05 at 11:01

Here's my 2 cents worth
Anniee
02.14.05 at 11:26

one more time rock fonts
anniee
02.14.05 at 11:28

thing is . . . bands had logos: hand drawn, airbrushed, collaged, photographed, cut-up, hard edged or blurred under the pmt camera-those few letterforms comprising the name, a badge, a flag, a design for life . . . one-off things done with set-square and rotring just for those letters, for that album, for that moment. very definitely not fonts.

somewhere along the way (early-mid nineties), quite a few people thought that was the way to make typefaces.

object defeated.



graham
02.15.05 at 03:59

How can anyone mention band logos without also mentioning Malcolm Garrett? An early user of the Apple ][ and Bitstik to distort and shape type, he helped turn post-punk bands into brands. And when did bands stop putting logos on their big drums?
Fred
02.15.05 at 07:06

"And the covers of kids notebooks — what do they hold now?"

Um ... I thought kids use laptops now? So most likely they hold some company logo.
Steven K.
02.15.05 at 10:05

Certainly I'd say the golden era of band logo design survived classic rock, but just passed to more obscure artists. Punk makes a strong showing with carved-in-stone iconic logos for the Sex Pistols, Blag Flag (noted above), Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, Misfits, Germs, PiL, and perhaps the best band logo ever, Crass (which, twenty years later is still getting painted on the backs of motorcycle jackets today). I'd say the inability to 'easily summon' great band logos of today says more about what types of artists are popular and than the state of band logo design.
Tom Dolan
02.15.05 at 10:32

A positive side to the de-branding of rock bands, and the ever growing "playlist culture" is that musicians can exist on a similar level as most artists and designers, who are known (most of the time) for the work they create and not what they look like or how they market themselves. It's gratifying to hear a song that allows you to conjure up personal images, rather than the images in a music video, album cover or even seeing the band themselves play the songs to you.
gary
02.15.05 at 10:56

Does Modest Mouse have a logo? Not really, but they do seem to have a visual language they work in. The Arcade Fire? Well, they only have one album out, so it's hard to say where they will go with their visual artwork. But these bands are also very different than AC/DC, KISS, or Judas Priest. As most bands are these days.

I know that when I was in high school, you couldn't walk down the hall without seeing backpacks covered in patches with band logos: Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails (a brilliant logo), 311, etc etc. I would wager to say the same would hold true now, although I can't endorse the music (or these logos): Hoobastank, Linkin Park, Slipknot, Dave Matthews, etc etc.

I also believe that many current musicians (some of them now more pop-culture icons than practicing artists) have taken it to the next level. Yes, branding. Look at P. Diddy, Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez. They have entire lines of clothing, lingere, accessories, even perfumes. They no longer need a logo or even a music video. I would say in this sense that these musicians exist entirely for how they look and market themselves, and not for the art they create. And, for better or for worse, that's more powerful than any logo with lightning and umlauts.

Stefan
02.15.05 at 11:50

While it's fun to get nostalgic about umlauts and lightning bolt typography, I think we need to consider how music is promoted today to figure out why there isn't much happening with type as representation of a band. It would seem that most bands that are promoted through regular radio have a studio photo shoot and use that image for their cd cover. However technology has countered that image culture to some degree. As someone that is about far removed as one can be from a music insider, I look to stations like kexp through their streaming audio to get my fix of real music. On any day I can hear a dozen new groups that sound great - the music speaks for itself. Most of the time I don't have time to see what they look like, and most of the time I don't care.

Back to this tech thing, typically if we find something that is interesting we want to share it. Mp3 files are one of the easiest ways to distribute music to others. Aside from file sharing, I've encountered a new way of being introduced to a new muzak group. For an upcoming Hidden Cameras show, a friend passed me on a couple jpgs from a past show that his friend had taken with his digital camera. Included with those crazy images of them on stage was an mp3 attached of one of their songs and a mention of their show. I did know they were coming, however if I hadn't I would have gotten a good idea of what fun was to be had. It was basic word of mouth, but backed up with something a bit more tangible. No band logo was involved - it was more about the actual music and less about a packaged image.

Though with any next big thing (The Go Team, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, LCD Sound system and The Bravery), the "indie" design that is associated by looking somewhat removed from dtp will become the norm in music promo?
Michael Surtees
02.15.05 at 11:51

But in many cases, the logos were simply designed by the band members, often the product of art schools.

How can we expect bands nowadays to create visual identites for themselves if many of the big pop groups/individuals aren't even creating their own music? I understand that this was a trademark of these types of groups, but imagine the difficulty of designing a "brand" for group or individual that doesn't even know what they're singing about.
Lenny Naar
02.15.05 at 02:25

True, we may not know what Franz Ferdinand's album cover looks like . . .

Actually, Franz Ferdinand's graphic identity and their playfully consistent and consistently playful covers are a fine recent example of a contemporary, flexible approach to the band logo. It can still be done. Check them out here. I realise it's been a long time since a British rock band, especially an art rock band, made much of a dent on American musical tastes, but these boys are exceptionally fine pop song writers. (Why Green Day would get the Grammy is beyond me. So obvious. FF, on the other hand, are something special.)

Franz Ferdinand's ever so slightly gauche band logo - it's probably deliberate - is the only element on the cover of their first album and it's a self-conscious reference to their inspirations: "heroic" modernism - beautifully referenced in the "Take Me Out" video - and late 1970s/early 1980s British new wave art rock, which also flirted with modernism in a postmodern way. There's more than a hint of Peter Saville's Factory work in their typo/graphic purity, as well as Malcolm Garrett's late 1970s identity for Manchester band Buzzcocks, also fine songsmiths. This was in itself an admittedly rather raw and intuitive attempt to apply a "corporate identity" to a punk group. It's certainly not true to suggest that punk and the new wave saw the end of these typographic approaches.
Rick Poynor
02.15.05 at 04:12

I'd also point out that most jambands employ unbiquitous and very recognizable design themes, but shy away from a firm "logo." In much the way that the Grateful Dead had the skulls, the roses, the bears, and a few less-prevalent themes, you see Phish consistently employ some common lettering choices and fish/aquatic concepts, but no real standard logo. moe. has a solid design for their name (which you can see on the moe. homepage), but the rest of their branding makes use of several disparate themes that allow for a great deal of extensibility without sacrificing instant recognition. Even the color of the lettering can flex to the demands of different products. It seems like there's just as much design work going on, but it's constantly in flux, and never really made "official."

Not being a designer, I can't really explain why this might be, or how they manage to create such varied but recognizable themes, but I couldn't get the thought out of my head as I read this post, so I figured I'd put up my $.02 worth.
Chris
02.15.05 at 04:40

re: the Black Flag logo and jazz design - Check out this 1960 Blue Note cover...

wayne
02.15.05 at 05:21

i think graphic logotypes have slowly declined with record album art... and now CD covers are nearly moot.... hence the EW logo article- which we laughed hard at (has Carson ever designed a logo?)

best heavy metal graphic design culture has to go to Iron Maiden. Also- the third Eye Blind logo (really great - a shadow) was designed by the drummer. Rob Zombie- also a graphic wizard.
felix sockwell
02.15.05 at 10:52

my son is a junior in high school, and his binder is adorned with his own scrawl for his fave indie band, <<>>, and his own two "bands": "the caterpillar movement"[tm] and "native oaks"[tm].
melina
02.16.05 at 12:04

oops, the html got in the way of my post!

s/b: fave indie band, pinback.
melina
02.16.05 at 12:07

anybody who sez that 'rock logos" are dying out obviously isn't looking. open you eyes. go to a record store. go to a concert. hang out with somebody significantly younger than you. above all, stop hanging out with graphic designers. they don't pay attention at all anymore.

learn.
art chantry
02.16.05 at 03:55

I kind of agree with art chantry and others - there are still a lot of graphic identities out there. Modest Mouse has a kind of theme running, which is really more broadly interesting than just having the same logo reappear. I'm amazed nobody's mentioned Radiohead. They've employed the same guy over and over and keep creating a whole world of artwork that surrounds the music, in various covers, booklets, books, websites, video, etc. It's a whole style, or atmosphere, and it's both consistent and interesting. It's true that vinyl covers are gone, but there are new venues.
Bard Edlund
02.16.05 at 06:58

Black Flag and Modest Mouse, sure. But let''s go back: all of Barbara Streisand's early albums for Columbia featured the same type treatment: Century Italic. Columbia, home of John Berg and the ultimate rock corporate identity, really understood branding.
Michael Bierut
02.16.05 at 09:59

Michael, "ultimate rock corportate identity"? Logically impossible! Once Chicago's Greatest Hits came out, with that cheesy cover — quel schtick! — they ceased being rock and roll. Even my father had that 8-track; and he was the son of a Quaker.

If a band can issue a ten-minute free-form guitar solo; then 30 years later come out with an album titled Chicago XXV-What's It Gonna Be, Santa?... is that truly an understanding of branding? Logo consistency, yes. But the branding prize goes to groups like The Rolling Stones who have continuity of logo AND product.

...now back to my drawings of the Santana logo.
M Kingsley
02.17.05 at 04:10

-sigh- 22 comments and not even a single mention of the strikingly high-recall Doors logo? I know the 21-century effort is lame (the Doors without Morrison? Get real!), but hey...
andy
02.17.05 at 09:42

great article, God bless the umlaut...hmm fürïöüBall...
furiousBall
02.17.05 at 01:35

Cheers to Art Chantry and M Kingsley for the best posts yet. Very nice.
jb
02.17.05 at 01:58

Stop harking back to the 'good old days' of the branded band. Can't you see the possibilities laying in this play list culture? Graphic designers may even have more opportunity. Embrace this new technology, is there any point fighting it? Enjoy the new culture and make it a positive experience. Anyway, there's the counter, 'pro-print' niche culture to look forward to. Stop sounding so old, afraid of change, and dare I say it, out of touch. It's time to do some work.
shaun_morrison@hotmail.com
02.17.05 at 04:00

ok, ok - so, no "good" rock logos have been done since the 1970's huh? sure, john pasche's rolling stones lip logo and owsley stanley's (yes, THAT owesly stanley) grateful dead lightningbolt/skull logo may have become ubiquitous and (assumedly) authorless, but that's a fuction of culture, not design. it is popular culture that makes a logo famous, not how much "quality" there is in the logo design. isn't that obvious?

so, what about the dead kennedys logo by winston smith or shawn kerri's "skanking dude" logo for the cirlce jerks or her mohawk skull dude for the germs? what about gary panter's logo for the screamers? what about genesis p orridge's id's for throbbing gristle and psychic tv the creation of "industrial culture" to go with them? what about malcolm garret's wonderful "corporate id program" for that nasty punk band called the buzzcocks? what about the sex pistols' logo? the design of that one is either jamie reid's or helen worthington-smith's finest hour (depending on who you talk to). these were all designed over 25 years ago for underground bands that never broke into the mainstream, yet we all know their logos. what about the mainstream performers and their endless logos? they're everywhere. lisa orth & grant alden's logo for nirvana is elegent and memorable, sophisticated enough to lock into our collective memories at a glance (with a lousy name like 'nirvana', yet).

but, of course, prince rogers nelson's logo for himself during those ten long years he didn't (or couldn't) perform under his own name may take the cake for contemporary identity/logo design in music. but, there was even a precendent for that. back in the mid '80's there was an underground band who didn't have a name, they had a logo. it looked sort of like twin joined diamond shapes with wings and was 'pronounced' with a scream. that was it. you want a logo, you got it, i guess.

if you look around at your own culture, you'll notice wonderful histories and astonishing accomplishments in all sorts of cultureal branding that has taken place for years and decades outside of the auspices of "design culture". open your eyes.

ps - michael - santana? - nothing, dude! i had to re-design the doors logo!! (anything for a buck.) in fact, i figured out that it was originally done with presstype, because the "o"s were crooked. i straightened them when i re-drew it by hand. so it goes.
art chantry
02.17.05 at 05:37

sorry, mark. i misread the credit and thought michael bierut had written it. this computer stuff always bewilders my hand eye coordination.
art chantry
02.17.05 at 11:38

Hey Art, I too am intrigued by your work on the Doors logo. It was all over my notebooks in school and I'd love to see what you did with it.

...off I go to Google 'doors logo'...
andy
02.18.05 at 01:05

Off on a tangent: Art, the structure of these comments is confusing - it got me too. Because the 'Posted by' details are underlined you automatically assume that the line precedes its associated post, but in fact, the opposite is true. Is someone watching? I'd get rid of the dotted underline (and ideally remove the blank line above it) or change the structure so that the post comes after the poster details.
andy
02.18.05 at 01:19

andy -

i worked on a "rock calendar" back in the 80's (for a small promotions company). one of the calendars was a "jim morrison and the doors" calendar licensed by the estate and featuring a bunch of famous and unfamous photos. it was one of those initial periods of re-new fame for the dead band.

i needed a doors logo (and had to add "jim morrison and" to it). nobody had a working copy, so i photostated it off of than old record cover. it was a terrible repro, so i re-drew it. that's when i found the error. my new version now has both "o's" resting on the same baseline and i corrected the angles so that they properly mirrored each other).

since then, i've found my version of the logo being used as the official logo. they just lifted it and ran.

that whole process is one that i experienced repeatedly over the years. once i had to re-create the reprise logo for a record label. i tried to get a copy of the original logo (the steamboat), but nobody working at the label knew what i was talking about. i had to explain that it was the original "rat pack" label and that the kinks and sinatra and dean martin and even jimi hendrix recorded for reprise. everybody working there was shocked and awed. there was absolutley NO awareness that reprise had any history beyond a month or two.

so, i re-created the entire label and re-drew the steamboat. after that i began to recognize my version (which wasn't as good as the original steamboat) being re-used on subsequent releases. so, i had to not only re-create the original for their use unknowingly, but i had to re-educate them in their own history.

graphic design is the original emphemeral art.
art chantry
02.18.05 at 10:20

one last comment: that process i experienced with the doors logo and the reprise logo (and countless others) is extremely common in the music world, the phenomena where copyright by the record company is automatically assumed has been around forever. in fact, it has been so long established that legal precedent has to be overcome to win back your rights. in other words it's near impossible to control your work in the recording industry (without deeeeep pockets).

another great rock logo story - the monkees logo (we all remember that one distinctly) was originally done for a lunch box. before the band had even been created, they needed to start the product machine rolling and so, there was a children's lunch box commissioned. at the time the artist, nick labianco, didn't have anything to work with. the cast hadn't even been completely selected yet (he had to leave one space open and throw in a face at the last minute). so, he did a logo and based the whole luch box design on that. that logo became one of the more famous logos in television/music history. he didn't get paid for it.

the rolling stones lips logo was done for about $150. the nirvana logo was done for about $15(!). the grateful dead logo was done for free. nobody thought the things would take off, but they become icons of american culture. that wasn't planned by anybody, especially the designers of the pieces. success of the logo had almost nothing to do with the "quality" of the work. WE (as american culture consumers) made them "good" and "successful". not us designers. just the facts, ma'am.
art chantry
02.18.05 at 10:52

Art's right. "Rock Logos" are doing fine. You have to listen to good music to see them.
Peter Garbage
02.18.05 at 04:51

And then of course there's the "Artist Formerly Known As..." logo where we have a musician replacing his entire name with a mark.

And in a similar vein there's the band !!! whose name is three exclamation points, which is meant to be pronounced as any sound repeated three times (commonly "chick-chick-chick" or "click-click-click).

Really I think that there are a lot of bands out there (mainly indie and punk) whose visual aesthetic is a very important part of their music. The example of Modest Mouse I think is a good one, but I could name plenty of others like Lightning Bolt and Arab on Radar. Bands who care about the visual aspects of their music are still going to have great album packaging, or great websites, or great logos. I think that the recent dearth of memorable rock logos is reflected mainly in the state of mainstream music-- i.e. you've got some watered-down schlock matched with some watered-down design, both of which try to be as unchallenging and unoffensive as possible. The thing that I've been wondering though, is aren't there more interesting logos/identities/"looks"/whatevers inn hip-hop? Considering some of the most inventive music that's being played on mainstream radio and TV is hip-hop, why aren't their more great hip-hop album designs?
b. willen
02.18.05 at 05:02

Regarding hip hop design: the Public Enemy logo (the silhouette in the target) was actually designed by Chuck D. himself (who studied graphic design).

Regarding contemporary rock: Bjork's graphic identity, designed by M/M (Paris), is a good example of visual pop perfection. Including a custom-made font.
Claude
02.18.05 at 05:16

Mr. Chantry, just being curious: are you sure it was Gen. P. Orridge who was responsible for the TG graphics? I always figured it was Peter Christoffersen (Sleazy), since he was the one working at Hipgnosis. But maybe I'm wrong.
Claude
02.18.05 at 05:28

it was gen. sleazy worked for hipgnosis as a pphotographer, i believe.

actually, genesis may be one of the most important and unknown graphic designers of the past 35 years. he changed so much and led the way for so many styles. he's extraordinarily overlooked.

gen and jamie reid created to two halves of the coin that became punk design. jamie introduced the d.i.y. mindset (where the idea emerged that you don't need a designer, you should do it yourself with what you have) and gen introduced the perverse and subversive disguised as cold and corporate - the anti-graphic stance, the unacceptable portrayed as acceptable. without genesis, there would have been no peter saville or neville brody. there would have been no david carson. he's really that important.

seems to me that rick poyner should step in here and tell me i'm wrong just about now...
art chantry
02.18.05 at 07:16

i have to add that i really haven't done justice to the arguement in favor of genesis' role. jamie reid and genesis p. orridge and barney bubbles were the triumvirate that gave us the whole punk/new wave design world. in america you have to add the work of destroy all monsters (who gave us american trash culture as godhead) to complete to whole of the core of contemporary rock graphics style.

but this isn't the place for this story. perhaps one of these days i'll make the effort to carve it all out for you folks and you'll understand what i'm talking about. it really isn't the sort of thing you learn in design programs in our universities.
art chantry
02.18.05 at 07:26

Oh boy it's good to see Barney Bubbles name mentioned here. The Hawkwind records he did are a major source of inspiration.
Garrett, Saville and the rest were completely influenced by him.
I can see Destroy all Monsters and the crap culture connection, but for that time period we have to add Pedro Bell's name to the list. The tone and rendering of his Funkadelic covers are still the all time best.
Peter Garbage
02.19.05 at 04:49

I never thought I would find a forum recalling for me what my 6th grade school classmates in the 60s used to do - drawing "the doors" logo that is.

As there were few chances to see any actual band the logo of the band was the perfect departure point for a kids daydreaming pencil doodles during schooltime. To outline the letters and forms of the logo was also searching that unique "gesture" distinguishing the band from the others in that time. The logo was part of the bands syntax - the different outlines of the guitars, the clothing line, the playing line up, and so on...

Even before the animated-versions, bands always seemed more print graphic than tv -ready. It always seemed like the logo on the drumface - in the early Beatles version for example - was the title on a magazine article, and the uniform - but-slightly-different-figures on stage lined up as paragraphs, forming the body text. Their theater bow was more like a graphic, something necessary to close off each article before the next one begins.

With the punk/new wave moment the logo functioned differently, it was dissolved into the animated gestures it once contained - it was animation, if not exactly life, emblematized through D.I.Y. graphics - those names and images on the many pins that held the anti-uniform together. The philosophy was connected to new technology - photocopies or mimeographs to dj studio sound systems and of course audio casettes. As the packaged cassette for BowWowWow"C30C60C90" showed the interest was no more on the logo for the band but on packaging developed for the new habits of the listener/consumer. And similar to current situations, the short-sighted recording industry complained and tried to criminalize individuals habits at home (taping). Who was the outlaw rock n roller?

Playlists scrolling and ipod mixing nights culture, etc... all seems more potential instead of following what really seems like nostalgia operating within F_Ferdinands "references" et al.
Maybe rock / or band logos remain but arent so visual-culture oriented right now - as ringtone industry has simplistically introduced.

Designs for the ipods should soon mutate, allow the sounds nothing but a framework for a changeable, playlist-scrolling instrumentation. The culture that brought downloading ringtones offers downloading different instrumentation-designs, scroll-graphics, etc..the digital ipod graphic equivalent to flipping through stacks of cds or records, and of course, allowing in lots of alternatives.
frank
03.01.05 at 08:35

When I started reading this article, one modern band popped into my mind: Weezer. The band has a very distinct typesetting and it's used throughout all their merchandise. They also have a logo, which is the "w" with the wings(?). I remember being able to say "Hey, that guy is wearing a Weezer" even before I had listened to any of their songs.

Another example would be The Postal Service. They use a hand drawn loopy logo on most of their albums.

The Killers also use one specific logo for all their albums.

So I guess I echo Art's comment in that these logos still exist. You just have to know where to look.
Jamie Lasitter
03.02.05 at 08:37

There are indeed some great logos out there, the British based OOM Gallery colours conjure up a feeling of warmth and security...blue and red collide really well. Then we enter into the site and view Pogus Caesar's images 'WOW'!!!! And all the photographs made with autofocus cameras....'flying high in a friendly sky'
damon
03.14.05 at 01:31

i think one thing that should be mentioned is rave culture graphics, which i guess might be dead now (dont really go to raves anymore), a mixture of high tech "futuristic" graphics and vernacular logo appropriation. the flyer is still alive and well, and seems to have replaced the poster in terms of advertising musical events. the highly developed language of visual codes associated with raves seemed to happen organically. same with hip hop culture, at least what is now termed 'underground' hip hop. but the language of hip hop seems to continue strongly with references to sci fi, comic books, and graffiti. outkast is full of visual references in their packaging (older albums came with comic books and posters). you can also check the hieroglyphics logo here, which recalls a paul rand westinghouse logo almost. also, 'glitch' art, mentioned in the eye magazine article on alorenz seems to have a strong hold in european electronic music.

also, regarding 'playlist' culture, im not sure if anyone will find it interesting, but compilation albums seem to do really well. starbucks has a number of series of cds, all each with their own developed identity (not that i expect anyone to find it interesting, but it is an example of graphic design still existing in association with music).

to michael bierut: i remember the columbia house records identity. i used to subscribe to the columbia house mail order deal as a kid with my brother and mom that used to appear on the back of parade magazine (where you get 12 albums for free, then mail order 8 within the next 3 years). anyways, the subscription was a terrible financial deal, but i remember everything off of the columbia house records label being extremely uniform, at least for cassettes. the spines always had the band name in a bold red typeface, with the album name in small thin black type underneath. the cover was usually the album art shrunk down proportionally to the casette size, and the remaining space was filled with the same information on the spine, plus a track listing. i think these were different editions (direct market?) because id always see the store version and feel a little bit ripped off because the 'real' design seemed to exist there. but i did have an affection for that corporate identity as well, it was like a european book series or something of total uniformity.

manuel
03.15.05 at 01:13

"One area where the art of band logo design thrives is (sniff if you will) extreme metal (black, death, etc.), where a torturously illegible demonic conflagration of a band logo is a total must."

I was about to say the same thing, just look at works of art such as the Psycroptic logo, or that of Malevolent Creation.
Theo
03.19.05 at 12:51

Oh brother... first thing I would say to the writer is, change the title of your article - it's too general.

I think this article is written by someone essentially saying an era has past in a very sanguine nostalgic way, and is oblivious of much else that is going on. So he doesn't seem like a relic of the 1970s himself, I think he needs to go into the subject with more open eyes to current trends in the industries of entertainment and graphic design. He seems to be a bit too hardpressed to find a reason to be nostalgic of an era, not just an era in music, an era that defined what the designer had to be and deliver. But I think he is wrong on so many levels because the writer doesn't seem to look past the eighties, and the last remenents of the Uber-group until he mentions the iPod - what a chic culture reference for someone that seems distanced from the culture he is talking about, except through an unnamed art director working in the industry. An art director, not unlike the writer, that seems to be somehow disenfranchised by the twist of fate that is a progressive industry.

Superstar Heavy Metal was kinda the last reminents of Rock n Roll in general IMO, some would even say that it's chord structure and arena styled specticle wasn't really "rock" at all. The intrinsic design properties he is talking about was ONLY during that time of the specticle in rock music (previously the 50s-60s Jazz/Blue Note was very design oriented as well.. but with a specific look/feel for the label itself.. and after this era, Ivo Watts and Co. at 4AD recaptured the label identity in the form of thier house designers Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson, later known as v23 or 23 envelope - this is of course only one example of that graphic resurgence). The time where the SuperGroups were super gropes and defined thier own look-feel was long over at that point, replaced by a consumer and an industry with a different sense of design and different tools than just the logo, album and tee shirt.

You also have to understand that the art direction that was done in any professional sense in the mid to late 70s was mostly done by designers, artists and illustrators from the 60s cultural mileu - then in thier 20s and 30s. These, now aging, designers were highly influenced by a culture that needed it's heros (post Nixon) as well as thought D&D was the coolest - cause they read Tolkien way too much in college trying to ignore Vietnam. These designers were designing for bands, and oft times the bands themselves were designing from this iconic sense of themselves as some sort of medieval troubador cum moderne. Designers that were employed were often times doing work that had this psychadelic, medieval iconiclasm (look at Jethro Tull's complete set of albums - thouroughly medievalists) or space-exploration inspired illustration. But that is something that was the base focus, and a part of the times. People bought it, and they needed people to create it. Simple causal relationship. Logos were made cause that is what people did, and often times with the band giving at least the rough copy of that logo. Something most pro designers would scoff at now, not to mention record execs. Very seldom does a band or music soloist create it's own identity in the 21st century.

For instance, if you look at the now famous Boston cover you would never know what the art director had to go through to get it done with the band at the helm; as opposed to someone like Ashley Simpson who is being created by her label and MTV, music, ident and all; contractually and legally obligated to shut-up and put-out. Needless to say, these 70s metal bands were looking to define their identity and the corporate structure was such that they were able to drive the ship. The lead singer or whomever was the leader of the group really was not so indebted to the record company, and the record company didn't really start to get so involved with cover art until Prince's original Controversy cover and bold musical statements got so much mainstream attention, or much later 2 Live Crew and the infusion of the "Explicit Lyrics" warnings - before that you could have Carly Simon butt-naked for a hippie lovefest with out a censor about. She was an artist trying to convey a message. Even Led Zepplin was trying to do that - even if the message was the lead singer will gladly fuck anything that moves, for goddess or satan, whatever. Now messages are run by an agency and naked PR hotties behind closed doors.

So, maybe the issue is that the typeform and logotype is not so of so much interest to the new artist or designers trying to create an image. That the LOGO itself is the enemy, as he kinda iterated with the Black Flag reference - we have to thank Regan and the 80s for making us all too aware of that coalition of the mindless. With so many mega corporations invading every other aspect of our lives, music is as much an escape as the grocery Superstore's bookrack, why would our bands be behind just another logo. The consumer changed, the art changed, and the music changed.. which someone somewhere said can bring down architecture.

I think what the above article is trying to say is band identity doesnt have that classic formal sense that it did in the heyday of say Zepplin... but I bet you remember a Radiohead album or an Aphex Twin single's cover art because of the production quality, and the illustrative element - and the fact it says something to the consumer who's buying it. It is definatly a new era.

Photoshop and desktop workstations are tools not the fall of design principles. I don't think it matters that there are four or five typefaces that every designer in the industry uses It seems to me that the logo and tupography in general is downplayed for a different foci. I could be wrong... It could be because those typefaces work. Why don't we find current examples of Kiss's SS-instantly-recognizable-typeform - I think we will find it outside of typography, and as others have said.. in pure image. Simple semiotics. If you are catering to an international audience, you use as little native typography as possible.

Maybe the article is right, in the sense that that time is over... Thank you Nu-wave No-wave, Punk, Black Flag and others.. it was not over too soon. When I was a kid in school, the kids that listened to that Heavy Metal tripe were (and in a lot of cases if I'd see them on the street, continue to be) stoners, losers, and drop-outs. I think, outside of pop music tripe, our music has developed a different listener - a sophisticated consumer that expects a different package for their musical taste. If that is too optimistic, let's just say the market has changed.

And if the market has changed, so has the designer. We can hope that the desginer can focus away from a typical corporate ident peice, like a logo, when working with the identity of a music artist. But we all know that isn't the case. And lets face it, the only logos kids buy now days are sports identities, gaming and related items, as fashion. But the tee shirt has taken off and become it's own form, hasn't it. It still maintains, as does music packaging - even if the package is a digital one.

This writer may not be able to see the flowers for the trees... and definatly has a false pretense on what a designer's role is. A designer or art director can work in the music industry as a motion graphic artist for video, or actually shoot and direct video, can art direct a band's complete identity and drive photoshoots, and create collateral work, websites, or even just sit behind the scenes and be a down-n-dirty production jockey and do what they are told for a miriad of bands. Some of this pays the same advantage, if not more, and has the same essential role as the designer did in the supposed golden era of heavy metal band logos.

My suggestion to the writer: go to a record store. Look around. If you are reading this, you are on the internet. Look around.
voxpoet
04.03.05 at 09:18

Great article Tom. I used to draw all the logos over and over on my notebooks also
(Van Halen fo sure). But when I started to re-design "the ugly ones" myself, I knew I
was on to something. I know a lot of people who miss the real vinyl album covers,
but who ever thought we'd even miss CD covers? The only visuals related to todays
music would be tour posters, tour books and apparel merchandise. You don't even
need to go to the show anymore to own them, just go online or the mall at Hot Topic
or Spencer's Gifts type stores. My company still stays afloat doing this type of work
(9voltdesign.com if you're interested). I still get excited to see what the merch looks
like at a real rock show. It seems exclusive and cool, just like before. So all you kids
out there who've never bought a real vinyl album and stared at it for hours while
listening to the songs and reading all the lyrics...I kind of feel sorry for you. But you
can always draw your own poster, logo or tee-shirt! Keep the art alive...
roland hill
10.21.08 at 06:15

I think that the art does define what the music is. When I ask my friend to listen to the song and when I asked him what he thought about when he heard it he said it was very spacey and when I showed him the art work on the CD cover as well as the inside art work it was nothing but space. It’s like that saying that goes if you have money in your pocket than your going to buy it. Even though I agree with what he wrote about how people are buying music off line or even pirating music. I still think that you need to make something that’s going to be pleasing to the buyer eyes so that it will sell. People buy with their eye that’s what I’m saying.
JaymeLee B
08.30.09 at 06:51


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Vanderbilt writers about architecture, design, technology, science and other topics for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, Wired, The Financial Times, Smithsonian, Slate and Metropolis..
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