The Stories Behind 10 Rock Band Logos

Back in the early 1960’s, rock band logos were never quite as important as they are today in this age of branding.  Over the years, official logos became an essential item that every band needed to have in order promote their band.  Nowadays, picking a band logo seems to be one of the first things the average band does as they embark on their journey as professional musicians.  Here's a look at some of the band logos that have become legendary over the years.

Here’s the story behind The Beatles iconic logo from the fastcompany.com website: “Basically, for the band’s first few years, there was no Beatles logo. It was never featured in any of the band’s original albums recorded in the U.K.  The logo started its life on the bass drum of Starr’s Ludwig drum kit in April 1963, three years after John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Starr got together in Liverpool and formed the most influential music group of all time.  Starr got this Ludwig set from a shop, Drum City, on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. Founded by a guy called Ivor Arbiter in 1929, the shop was a popular destination for jazz drummers. Arbiter later recalled the encounter with a certain ‘Ringo, Schmingo, whatever his name was, at that time I certainly hadn’t heard of The Beatles.’  But when Starr entered the shop alongside the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, The Beatles were already quite popular, having released their debut studio album, Please Please Me. the month before. They weren’t known around the world yet, but the single that gave the album its name became No. 1 on the U.K. charts, and the album itself was No. 1 for 30 weeks, which was unprecedented at the time.  Perhaps that’s why, despite Arbiter’s later claims, he agreed to give Starr his last £238 Ludwig Downbeat kit in oyster black pearl finish for free as requested by Epstein, with the condition that the band keep the Ludwig brand on the front. Apparently, Arbiter had an exclusive distribution deal with the brand, and he wanted to give it some publicity.  Epstein agreed–as long as the band’s name also appeared prominently. Arbiter then proceeded to sketch a logo on a paper, making the “B” bigger than the rest of the letters, and extending the “T” in the way we all recognize today.  Then, for £5, Epstein paid Drum City to paint the logo on the bass drum. Arbiter gave the logo to a local sign painter, Eddie Stokes, who finalized the logo.  The logo stayed in that form until a performance at Paris’s Olympia Theater on February 4, 1964.  The next version of the logo, used for the first time in the drum kit at famous U.S. appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, was slightly different and more powerful.”

 

“The logo, painted again by Stokes, occupied most of the drum’s face and used a bolder typeface. That logo was used for the band’s first U.S. tour.  After that, the logo evolved slightly several  times between 1963 and 1967… The funny thing is that, having never appeared on any of the band’s original albums covers, a version of The Beatles’ logo that combined all the drum heads was only registered as a trademark by The Beatles company Apple Corps in the 1990s.”  

Today The Beatles logo is the cornerstone of the Beatles’ brand

and is featured prominently on their website and various products.

I’ve always loved The Who’s logo which features the colors of the Union Jack aka the British national flag.  The logo was created by noted painter and artist Brian Pike.  The colors, the lettering and the target shape of the logo reflected the mod culture of the early sixties. The arrow on the ‘o’ is intended to represent masculinity and the combination of the two h’s were meant to symbolize unity.

I have a personal connection with The Who's logo.  In 1965, I was an Army brat living in Verdun, France and have many pleasant memories of the time that my Dad took us all on a trip to visit London England.  I went down to Carnaby Street to purchase some Beatle Boots but couldn’t find any boots my size.  However, I saw a t-shirt bearing The Who’s logo.  Being a rabid Who fan, I immediate purchased the shirt.  I vividly recall leaving the clothes shop and seeing a poster on the wall of a building which was for a show at The Marquee Club featuring The Who.  The poster contained the striking lettering of the band’s logo.  Shazam!  It was a rock & roll moment I will never forget.

 

Here's the background story behind the Grateful Dead's Steal Your Face logo from the complex.com site: "Over the years a number of logos and designs were used to promote the Grateful Dead, the biggest band to emerge from San Francisco's psychedelic scene. Images such as the Dancing Bears, Skull and Roses, and Uncle Sam Skeleton, all helped in a continuous-motion of branding. None of those logos are considered more popular than the "Steal Your Face Skull" which first debuted on the Steal Your Face double-live album in 1976.  Stanley Owsley, a soundman for the Dead (and,a recreational pharmacist), conveyed the initial idea to Bob Watson. Watson's original sketch consisted of a lightning bolt within a circle. A short time later the evolving logo was made into a spray-paint stencil by Ernie Fischbach to identify equipment easier. The skull was a later addition to the circular lightning bolt, with the latter replacing the top of the skull."

 

Here's the rundown on the logo used by The Doors from the onthescene.creativeallies.com site: "Any respectable shortlist of rock & roll’s most iconic band logos would have to include The Doors’ logo. The simple, bold geometric shapes; the reflective double-O’s; the tiny but essential psychedelic THE. That simple one-color logo is by now one of the most recognizable images in rock history.  We found one forum thread on TheDoors.com where a poster stated 'I’m pretty sure it was designed by the Art department at Elektra in New York, which was headed by Bill Harvey at the time.'  Another poster noted the similarities between the lettering used for The Doors and Elektra Records’s E logo from the same time period. It seems likely that the same creative team, headed by Bill Harvey, developed both logos.  We came across a brief biography of Bill Harvey on Answers.com (a Wikipedia search came up empty). In it, we learned that in the 60s, independent folk/rock label Elektra was highly revered for the inventive, high-quality graphic design of its LP sleeves. (You can cycle through an amazing interactive timeline of Elektra album art from the 50s to the present HERE)"

 

I would venture to say that the Rolling Stones' tongue & lips logo, which was first used on the band's Sticky Fingers album, just might be the most popular band logo of all time. It was created by John Pasche, an art student at the Royal College of Art in London in 1973 when Mick Jagger was looking for a logo for their new record label, Rolling Stones Records.  Upon recalling his first meeting Jagger to discuss a possible design, Pasche stated, "Face to face with him, the first thing you were aware of was the size of his lips and his mouth."  Pasche ended up coming up with a striking design that was a unique combination of Mick Jagger's mouth and Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Time, Creation, Destruction and Power. 

 

"The original name of the logo is Tongue and Lips, which some have shortened to Hot Lips. In an interview with Adweek, Mash Bonigala, who runs an image consulting firm Spellbrand said, 'It's really the most evocative logo of any band. By distilling the essence of the band into one single visual reference, the designer was able to create a logo that worked superbly well for 50 years.  Since the creation of the logo, it has been a prominent feature of the band and their identity. Appearing on posters, t-shirts, concerts, it must without reasonable doubt be one of the most universally recognisable logos is in rock or even branding history. They even adapt the logos and customize it for the country they are going to play, almost like a hat tip from the band to their fans."' (scoopwhoop.com)

 

Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin's logo: “After all this crap that we’d had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it’d be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used,” 

 

Jimmy Page is represented by the symbol "ZoSo".

Traced back to the year 1557, this symbol is associated with Saturn.  

 

The symbol for John Bonham (Led Zeppelin's Thunder of the Gods drummer)

consists of three interlocking rings, which represent the mother, the father and the child.

 

Bassist John Paul Jones’ symbol resembles a circle intersecting 3 vesica pisces (a triquetra);

it symbolizes a person who has confidence and competence.

 

Singer Robert Plant’s symbol is a feather inside a circle and was designed by him.

The feather is an emblem of a writer (aka song lyrics)

which is based on the lost civilizations and continent of Mu. 

 

Arturo Vega

When it comes to punk rock, the most vibrant band logo of that particular era is the one that was created for the Ramones by artist Arturo Vega. In an interview Vega revealed how he created the band's memorable logo: “I saw them as the ultimate all-American band. To me, they reflected the American character in general. I thought the great seal of the president of the United States would be perfect for the Ramones, with the eagle holding arrows – to symbolize strength and the aggression that would be used against whoever dares to attack us – and an olive branch, offered to those who want to be friendly. But we decided to change it a little bit. Instead of the olive branch, we had an apple tree branch, since the Ramones were American as apple pie. And since Johnny was such a baseball fanatic, we had the eagle hold a baseball bat instead of the arrows!” 

 

From the complex.com website: "Queen's crest-styled logo is easily one of the most overlooked band logo designs in terms of how detailed and symbolic of the band's members it is. The logo, which contains the zodiac signs of each original member, was designed by Freddie Mercury prior to the band releasing their self-titled debut album. Both John Deacon and Roger Taylor are represented by the two lions symbolizing Leo, the crab that sits atop the "Q" represents Brian May's Cancer sign, and the two angel-like fairies represent Mercury's Virgo symbol. The logo also appears to be heavily influenced by the Royal Coat of Arms. Within the crest is a huge phoenix-like dragon and crown, the latter directly attributed to the band's name."

 

The AC/DC logo, which is one of the most recognized logos in rock history, was created by two artistic collaborators; Atlantic Records’ art director Bob Defrin and renowned graphic designer Gerard Huerta. The logo made its debut on  Let There Be Rock, their fourth studio album.  Gerard Huerta came up with the Gothic lettering which was discovered as a font in the Gutenberg Bible. As fate would have it, Malcolm and Angus Young chose the name AC/DC for their band after seeing it on their sister’s sewing machine. AC/DC is an abbreviation for alternating current/direct current. These are references to electric signals and voltages which explains the bolt in the logo design. 

 

There are multiple stories surrounding the creation of Nirana's logo.  Some folks feel that it was inspired by the Lusty Lady, a Seattle strip club.  Other fans claim that the face image is Kurt Cobain's drawing of Axl Rose (of Guns 'n' Roses) while there are many sources close to Cobain who insist that that the face drawing in the logo is Kurt Cobain's representation of the  crowds of Nirvana fans who stared at him while he did his thing onstage.  The first appearance of the logo was on a wall in an apartment where Cobain was living in Seattle.  The logo made its first official appearance on in September 1991 on a flyer promoting the release party for Nirvana's Nevermind album.

Alrighty then!  These were the most famous band logos I could think of at the moment.  I'm sure some of you out there might feel that there are some band logos that should have been included in this list but perhaps we'll revisit this in future blog post, eh?

 

Billy "The Mountain" Cairns

Ooh la la!  I just remember another logo!  Here's a logo that was used for the Freelance Vandals, a popular Long Island band that I was in during the 70's & 80's.  The band's logo was created by our drummer, Billy Cains (pictured above) in 1979.  The bold stencil style of the logo was very popular with our fans and we used it frequently on gig flyers, websites, newsletters, bumper stickers and various singles and albums.


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