Pop Playground
Band Logos

every festival poster one notices these days features a litany of band's names rendered as logos. This seep of branding into the music industry has been subtle to the degree of invisibility. The overwhelming temptation is to view it as a wholly unwelcome intrusion of corporate advertising tactics—and there is certainly an element of that, but thankfully the history is more nuanced.

Today's corporate logos were pre-dated by icons like the Unity Symbol, the Cross, the Star of David and the Caduceus (the serpent wrapped around a staff—sign of the medical profession). A few of logos, possibly for less than altruistic purposes, have tried to perpetuate a magical relationship with our primal instincts.

There is a sense that the most effective logos strive to connect us with Jung's Universal Unconscious. For instance Raymond Loewy's pseudo-cosmic logo for Shell Oil or the Nike Swoosh, based by it's designer Carolyn Davidson on the wings of the goddess Nike. From this perspective the use of logos within music seems less inappropriate.

The history of logos hasn't always been one dominated by legendary designers like Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Lester Beall and Milton Glaser. Salvador Dali was commissioned by his friend sweets manufacturer Enric Bernat Fontlladosa to design the logo for Chupa Chups. Based on the shape of Daisy it too functions like an archetype.

In terms of popular culture the most important contribution to the development of the logo would have to be graffiti. Taki 183, Cay 161 and the legion of subway outlaws marched letters all over the New York Transit Authority's property. Lee 163rd allegedly the first writer to conjoin his letters thereby turning his tag into a logo.

In his book Gargangtua, critic Julian Stallabrass argues of graffiti that "In remaking themselves as brand names, these artists adopt a reduced form of identity exchanging humanity for fame.” However this dodges what Guy Debord termed "detournement" the subversive strategy of derailing the dominant hegemony's mores by manipulating and feeding back to it its own pronouncements. The idea of the subversive potential of logos was also raised at the end of the 1960s in Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" when an a graffitied logo of a post-horn was used to signal the presence of an alternative distribution network. The CND logo is another example of logo at war with the status quo, transforming itself over the years from a counter-cultural wisp to an armed glyph.

Though it had been visible since 1967 Graffiti style filtered into pop culture in the early eighties via the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. In spite of Graffiti's almost ubiquitous presence in music iconography surprisingly little has ever been made of it's language within the culture at large though the Stussy icon, and the maligned logo for London's 2012 Olympic Games are interesting examples. -

Though one of the earliest widely recognised logos, HMV's Nipper The Dog, was at the service of music industry it seemed to take a long time for the science of branding to seep down.

Brian Pike's logo for The Who, designed for their first gig at the Marquee was adopted more by their audience, often used on badges kick-starting a symbiotic relationship between logo and badge that came to fruition in Punk, than the band who never used it on their record covers. It might be one of the first and strongest examples of the logo within music. It is also interesting for being specifically tailored to the band, whereas the following three icons osmotically attached themselves to bands.

Andy Warhol's deterritorialisation at the boundaries of Art and Commerce is evident in his design for The Velvet Underground's first LP, which though not strictly a logo, has served as one de facto ever since.

Legendary art-dealer Robert Fraser visited Paul McCartney's house in the late sixties, and finding Beatle Paul engaged elsewhere left Magritte's "Le jeu de mourre" (depicting an apple) on his dining room table and showed himself out. The Apple was subsequently used as Apple Corp's logo. On some metaphysical level the tussle between Apple computer and Apple corps has, as much as over the word apple, foundered on control of this image and all it represents. There is, however, a distinction to be drawn between the untouched Apple (temptation) and designer Regis McKenna's Apple with a bite taken out of it (yielding to that temptation).

In 1971 in equally cosmic circumstances 1971 Mick Jagger showed 25-year-old John Pasche an image of the Hindu Goddess Kali, always represented with her tongue sticking out, and asked him to design a logo for their record company based upon it. Now the image is synonymous with The Stones themselves.

Art-Rock through-out the 1970s enjoyed playing with the logo. Progressive bands like Yes, Magma and Neu! devised logos full of Pop-Art panache. One can't imagine a band like Camel getting away with a sleeve like theirs for "Mirage" today.

The ABBA logo is worth mentioning for its sheer conceptual beauty mirroring as it does the pairing of couples Agnetha and Björn with Benny and Anni-Frid.

Koldo Barroso makes the excellent point that throughout the 1970s Heavy Metal bands were quick to grasp the importance of the logo highlighting KISS and ACDC's logos. Many other Heavy Metal bands sported equally notable logos, Led Zeppelin having not one (the cover of their first LP), not two (the Swansong Image) but six (all the band's icons from the cover of Led Zeppelin IV).

Logos within Funk were, compared to Rock, relatively scarce. The same applies to both Reggae and (perhaps surprisingly given its connection to Graffiti) Hip-Hop. Each which largely avoid, even through elaborate theoretical engagement, toeing the corporate line. In the case of Parliament and ZAPP their motivation is playful. Public Enemy's on the other hand smacks of media intervention. With the Ruff Ryders logo, a deliberately corporate mark, we come full circle.

Jamie Reid's design for the Sex Pistols logo was lifted from his cover for “God Save The Queen.” It is an exquisite example of iconographic terrorism, crafted to penetrate the media's consciousness at a time when the use of logos was still sporadic. Perhaps unsurprisingly John Lydon went on to explore the power of the logo. P.I.L were initially organised as a communications company, as "business radicalised.” Dennis Morris designed the logo based on "an aspirin.” It seems remarkable in hindsight that neither the Human League nor Heaven 17, self-styled corporate pop-entryists didn't manage to concoct logos for themselves.

Peter Saville's Factory Records logo is cut from the same conceptual cloth as the P.I.L logo. As such label logos are two a penny (from Trojan to EMI) and Saville didn't go as far as his colleague Malcolm Garrett's design for a logo for a band itself, the famous Buzzcocks mark which received a witty over-haul at Garrett's hands last year.

Early records by Swiss Art-rock band the Young Gods innovatively featured the same logo applied to a variety of surfaces, including one cut into flesh. Key to a band's relationship to a logo is their willingness to stick with it through thick and thin, long enough for its audience to latch onto it, and beyond.

Husker Du certainly passed the test!

Acid House spawned a thousand logos, most often in the shape of label identities, but it was surely remarkable for being the first entire musical culture to have a logo. Honorable mentions should go to the logos of the Aphex Twin, LFO, and Daft Punk. From the early nineties onwards the idea that a band should have its own identifiable logo was practically commonplace.

It's within this visual climate that we must consider Prince's decision in 1993 to represent himself solely as a graphic icon. This was possibly the last truly interesting intervention in the history of the band logo. With something like the Oasis logo one can almost, depressingly, imagine the record company handing out guidelines as to its correct size in print and which colors it shouldn't be rendered in.

By: Matthew Ingram
Published on: 2007-09-21
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