Music’s Mad Men, Part 2
Vintage print advertising tells the story of popular culture (1960s to 2000s)
“For as long as America is torn by culture wars, the 1960s will remain the historical terrain of conflict.” — Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool.
While the 1950s was a decade of advances in music advertising and graphic design, the generation that came of age in the 1960s was most affected by them. It grew up under the spell of the tools and methods used to persuade and manipulate, grasped them, and by the end of the decade turned them against the old guard.
The Beatles were the first major musical beneficiaries of 60s mass marketing, appealing to the younger brothers and sisters of Elvis fans. Record companies were using album covers and sleeves as advertising for their rosters, which led to some interesting developments before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band turned LPs into pop artwork.
The Rolling Stones, for example, weren’t as much thugs in real life as they were in the imagination of Andrew Loog Oldham, who took over management of the budding blues band in 1963. Oldham was a fan of author Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, which had been published the same year the band formed. He discovered the book in 1964, and was inspired to communicate directly to the Stones’ fans on the back cover of Rolling Stones No. 2 (Rolling Stones Now! in the U.S.), where conventions of the day dictated album advertising would be found alongside record care instructions.
“This is THE STONES new disc within. Cast deep in your pocket to buy this list of groovies and fancy words,” wrote Oldham in a style intended to reflect the dialect of Burgess’ ultra-violent teen thugs. “If you don’t have bread, see that blind man—knock him on his head, steal his wallet, and low and behold you have the loot, if you put it in the boot, good, another one sold! Compare them to Wagner, Stravinsky and Paramour. I could say more about talent that grows in many directions. To their glory and their story, let the trumpets play. Hold on there, what I say is from the core of this malchik.”
The album appeared in stores with a new back cover pasted over the fruits of Oldham’s literary pretensions—Oldham later sought to make a film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange starring Mick Jagger as protagonist Alex. A precedent had been set of talking directly to emerging baby boomers as well as expressing contempt for the status quo accepted by their parents. Advertising and public relations copy would soon disappear from the backs of album covers and find a regular home on inner sleeves before being phased out of LP packaging altogether.
The Who took communicating through packaging to its natural extension with their 1967 album The Who Sell Out, satirizing the marketing of pop stars. A shirtless Pete Townshend applies underarm deodorant—a product that consumers didn’t know they needed until the advertising age—on the front cover, next to Roger Daltry cradling a giant can of baked beans, the British breakfast staple. The back cover shows Keith Moon covering a mutant facial blemish with acne cream, while John Entwhistle gets the girl as a leopard-skin-wearing satisfied customer of bodybuilding guru Charles Atlas. It was the band’s last studio album before embarking on a mission to create the first rock opera with Tommy, where seducing and manipulating the masses became a central conceptual theme rather than something to satirize. The advertising theme lent well to actual print ads, creating a sort of meta-advertising that had no precedent in pop music.
Artists also began to use print ads to fight back or make a statement. If a band didn’t like something said about it in the press or simply wanted to affect public relations, the record company could take out an ad in Billboard or Cashbox in the U.S. and Melody Maker or New Music Express in the U.K. The Byrds took on the music industry and prefabricated hype in song with “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” the same year The Who inadvertently invented product placement. Several years prior the band established itself by covering Bob Dylan, whose album cover photography in the first half of the 60s began to reflect the gravitas of his songs’ subject material as well as his audience’s expectations. They managed to release their hit version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” before Dylan himself did.
Dylan approved of The Byrds’ harmony-laden musical aesthetics, but the Byrds did not take as kindly to Cher’s version of Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do.” Prior to recording the song for a Cher solo release, Sonny Bono and Cher attended the band’s performances at Ciro’s in Los Angeles, and witnessed firsthand its rearrangements of Dylan songs. Subsequently, Bono helped Cher record a version of “All I Really Want to Do” at the same time the Byrds were preparing to release the song as a single.
“The Byrds actually took out an ad that, in a very indirect way, kind of criticizes them for doing that,” says author and music historian Richie Unterberg. “Even having read a ton about the Byrds, and a fair amount about Sonny and Cher for what that’s worth, I’ve never seen that ad referred to. It gives you insight into how the group was being publicized, but also maybe how they felt about probably what most people feel is an inferior version selling more records.”
Once Cher’s cover became more successful it was decided to flip the Byrds’ single and make the Dylan song the b-side to “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” an original composition by Byrds singer Gene Clark. Derek Taylor, the former publicist for the Beatles newly moved to California, made a statement on behalf of The Byrds in an ad that ran in the July 31, 1965 edition of Cashbox. “All we really want to do is remind you that America is a spacious country, and that Bobby Dylan is a large talent,” wrote Taylor in text that ran below a photo of the mop-topped band checking out a slide rule held by Roger McGuinn. “There’s ample room in the vast embrace of the nation’s record buyers and Dylan’s creativity for The Byrds, for Sonny and Cher, and a score more. Having made the point, we feel a whole lot better.”
Taylor would return to London in 1968 to work for the Beatles’ multimedia company Apple Corps Ltd, where his competitive approach would surface again in an ad for Apple Records artist Mary Hopkin: “Listen to Mary Hopkin sing ‘Those Were the Days.’ Listen to Sandy Shaw’s version, then buy the one you like.” A brazen dare was made to the buying public, but Hopkin’s version went to No. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K.
“If you go to the 80s and 90s and you look at how alternative rock bands are promoted, it’s very, very different [than the 60s],” says Unterberg, whose extensive research in the archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame led to the discovery of the Byrds ad (work for an e-book revision of his 2002 Turn! Turn! Turn!: The ‘60s Folk-Rock Revolution and its 2003 follow-up Eight Miles High). “If there’s any hype, it’s usually very sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek. It would be so damaging to credibility to advertise those groups like they were advertised in the 60s and even 70s. You see a shift not just in the music, but in the image that the musicians and the record companies wanted to promote.”
Unterberg’s research for the e-book, tentatively titled Jingle Jangle Morning, led to his finding a treasure trove of trade publications and music magazines from both sides of the Atlantic. He was surprised at how much he could glean about from the advertisements rather than the articles. A pair of ads promoting Janis Ian’s 1966 hit “Society’s Child” published seven months apart indicated how controversial the song about interracial dating was within its era. In the first ad, which ran in the October 1, 1966 edition of Cashbox (then Cash Box), Ian’s label Verve thanks 17 radio stations that played the “Society’s Child” single when many more would not. The second ad ran in the May 13, 1967 issue, and not only acknowledges that the song had become an even bigger hit due to 16-year-old Ian’s appearance on a Leonard Bernstein CBS television special the previous month, but features an apology from Los Angeles radio station KRLA for its “cop-out” in not playing the song upon its initial release. “A vivid illustration, then, of both the initial obstacles to the record’s success, and network television’s role in getting a key outlet to reconsider its stance,” writes Unterberg on his blog. “Then, as now, it’s rare for an institution of any sort to apologize for anything so publicly.”
Music advertising in the 60s reached a zenith in terms of both message and design, and as advertising art reflected life, the emerging counterculture would soon be permeating ads. “From its very beginnings down to the present, business dogged the counterculture with a fake counterculture, a commercial replica that seemed to ape its every move for the titillation of the TV-watching millions and the nation’s corporate sponsors,” wrote journalist Thomas Frank in his 1998 book The Conquest of Cool. “Every rock band with a substantial following was immediately honored with a host of imitators; the 1967 ‘summer of love’ was as much a product of lascivious television specials and Life magazine stories as it was an expression of youthful disaffection; Hearst launched a psychedelic magazine in 1968; and even hostility to co-optation had a desperately ‘authentic’ shadow, documented by a famous 1968 print ad for Columbia Records titled “But The Man Can’t Bust Our Music.” (See Part 1 for details on this pivotal ad).
Mass culture and counterculture were now squaring off, crossing over at times but maintaining an “us vs. them” relationship for the most part, with the former trying to understand the latter in order to relate (and sell) to it, and the latter increasingly grasping the methods of persuasion it was subjected to. Columbia had started off the decade signing one of the biggest heroes of the counterculture, Bob Dylan, as its flagship folk artist. Dylan rose like a rocket and his songwriting influenced the Beatles and The Byrds, whose innovations in turn inspired Dylan. His album art had benefited from the high standards employed by S. Neil Fujita, and reflected not only the artist’s growth via his changing appearance but state-of-the-art photographic compositions as well. When Dylan went electric at Newport, he set a precedent for both uncompromising vision in pop recording and experimental rock. Columbia, through Dylan, was accustomed to selling to the emerging counterculture. By 1966, it was the record company that had release Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
So how did Columbia fail to see how the youth movement would react to what became it’s most notorious ad? “In 1967 and 1968, advertising and menswear executives seized upon the counterculture as the preeminent symbol of the revolution in which they were engaged, embellishing both their trade literature and their products with images of rebellious, individualistic youth,” writes Frank. The counterculture’s perception by the establishment was being fed back to it beyond the point of saturation.
“The culture was so new and so pronounced,” says media consultant Abe Peck. “Advertising’s always tried to create demand and shape demand. What’s interesting about that ad is the context. That culture happened so quickly, and it happened from below. In 1965, ’66 maybe, if you went to the park in San Francisco, the bands in Golden Gate Park looked just liked the people who were listening to them, and also lived in the same neighborhoods. A year or two later they were on big stages and living in Marin. Initially there was no separation, and I think part of the reason that ad created such a furor was it used people who looked just like us to make a commodity point.”
Peck was involved with underground publication The Chicago Seed (1967–1974) during the clashes between radicals and police at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The Seed staff ran the ad—actually one of several similar concepts created by Columbia’s ad men—feeling condescension toward the central image and message while happily taking Columbia’s money. “It also played with the words ‘our music’ at a time when our music was less ‘ours’ from the point of view of the artist in the community. And then of course, the whole idea of ‘The Man can’t bust our music’… a lot of people were getting busted for drugs. The whole idea of trivializing a lot of people going to jail for smoking plants and other drugs was seen as offensive. It’s a very interesting ad in that it’s [inspired by] a moment in the history of a counterculture.”
Columbia dominated the market along with rival record companies Capitol, MCA, Philips, RCA, and Warner Bros/Elektra/Atlantic. According to Peck, Columbia’s fail convinced label head Clive Davis that the company needed a “house freak,” which came in the person of long-haired scenester and future gay activist Jim Fouratt. The concept of the A&R man began to evolve from the suit-and-tie guy to people that looked like they could be in a rock band, plucked straight out of the counterculture.
Some musicians didn’t suffer house freaks gladly. Frank Zappa was the quintessential independent artist of the 1960s, and after gaining notoriety with the Mothers of Invention following the release of their 1967 debut Freak Out! (which would be advertised in Marvel Comics) Zappa formed two labels, Bizarre Records and Straight Records, that would be distributed by Warner Bros. but retain their independence.
Zappa released his own music through Bizarre, while Straight signed Alice Cooper, the band, and released Captain Beefheart’s Zappa-produced Trout Mask Replica. Both bands were included on a 1969 ad that was ostensibly part of a series of “Bullshit Record Hypes.” Imagine Zappa as sardonic narrator for the ad copy: “Sometimes around the Ides of March, 1969, FRANK ZAPPA, Head Mother, and Herb Cohen decided the world needed another record company.” Alice Cooper, whose debut Pretties for You had already flopped commercially, was “a sharp group, as an awful lot of you know ‘cause the sales show you like it. In case any if you don’t have it, this is what it looks like so you’ll know… Now we could write you a lot of crap and tell you how freaky CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & His Magic Band is and blah blah blah…”
As the turbulent late 60s gave way to the cynicism and self-interest of the early 70s, the rock press came of age. Jann Wenner, who had been publishing Rolling Stone since 1967, persistently pursued relationships with the recording industry and could guarantee exposure to the youth demographic. Circus, Crawdaddy, Creem and Hit Parader all made it to the 70s, competing for the same ad dollars and raising design standards for would-be advertisers to insure the overall quality of the publication. Ads could be crucial in creating the first image of breaking bands such as The Doors or Led Zeppelin, but referring to “The Man” was passé by the close of the 60s and sometimes satirized, as in Capitol’s ad for Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 album Silk Purse. An outtake from the photo session that yielded the album’s cover—an alluring Ronstadt sitting among swine in a pen—has a thought bubble floating above one of the singer’s companions: “Not all pigs are your enemies.”
Ads, for the most part, were increasingly related to the album artwork, unsurprising considering advances in design. Why should Led Zeppelin, who eschewed personal publicity and avoided television appearances to enhance mystique, waste time on photo sessions for ads after becoming famous, when it had design elements from album covers to work with? Record companies were paying good money to designers such as Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell), who defined Pink Floyd visually, and Roger Dean, who designed fantasy tableaus for Yes album covers as well as that band’s enduring logo.
The logo took on the utmost importance during the 70s. Whether one loved or hated KISS during that decade, it was impossible to forget the all-caps four-letter word with its lightning-bolt double consonants. Van Halen took things to the next level with their simple winged VH, the most recognizable logo to ever grace high school notebooks. Album covers were art, and bands were brands whether the man could bust their music or not.
Add in loosening restrictions on sexual depictions in magazines and you have the 70s. The lessons of Herb Alpert’s suggestive 1965 album cover for Whipped Cream & Other Delights featuring an apparently semi-nude model had not been lost on the art departments of the record labels, and when permissiveness and a freer sexual atmosphere took hold, the results showed up in provocative covers from the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers to jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaria’s Greatest Hits. By 1975 the Ohio Players paved the road of excess for the cover of Honey by picturing a topless women dripping golden nectar into her mouth from a spoon, while the Stones 1976 album Black and Blue was promoted with a controversial ad depicting a woman in bondage. The image appeared on a Sunset Strip billboard, but protests led to its removal. The album cover photo, featuring the band members wearing dour expressions, became the main advertising image and now helps define a period for the Stones when their future was uncertain and their career had reached a creative nadir. Despite the controversy or because of it, Black and Blue topped the album charts.
Developments in design came fast and furious as the Reagan Era approached then took hold. Punk tore up the rulebook for graphic design, with Raymond Pettibon’s work for SST Records providing the most enduring imagery. Drafting tables gave way to computers, and paste-up would be rendered obsolete by desktop publishing, allowing visionary designers to do unprecedented work while giving amateurs access to the tools to create their own quarter-page, half-page and full-page advertisements. For major record labels, it became even more important to distinguish A-list recording artists with the work of A-list visual artists.
Even as albums were phased out to make way for compact discs with their compact artwork, image was still all-important. Madonna’s image changes during her 80s heyday are best reflected in the artwork of her albums that reflected her distinctly different periods. Nirvana’s Nevermind baby, submerged in a pool and happily grasping at a dollar bill dangling from a fishhook, now conjures the entire early alternative rock era. Consumers may have seen these images in ads first and instinctively assumed they were album or CD covers. On the other hand, indie rock and hip-hop acts that were denied mainstream press in the 80s and 90s often relied on a d.i.y. approach to define themselves, with print ads often a first step toward gaining attention for their music.
That changed with the advent of one of the most brilliant ad campaigns of all time, which first appeared on billboards then in print publications. The silhouettes of Apple’s iPod campaign—conceived by Susan Alinsangan of Apple’s preferred advertising firm TBWA/Chiat/Day and introduced in 2003—were unforgettable upon first look. Subsequent exposure on television and public displays burned the product into the collective unconscious in a way the Walkman, the personal audio phenomenon of the 80s, never achieved. The silhouetted iPod dancers expressed a mood and excitement for music that was universal in appeal, even if the dance steps in the video ads were beyond the abilities of the average consumer. The vivid monochromatic backgrounds popped from the page, screen, billboard or bus stop, and the white headphones and iPod itself were easily identifiable from a distance. Steve Jobs had found the product to integrate into his iMacs and MacBooks that would draw the masses into Apple Stores and create an unprecedented co-dependence between consumer and computer.
Digital downloads became the standard way of buying music, and packaging for physical media became practically insignificant. The kinetic iPod commercials — in which the music by Black-Eyed Peas, Jet, The Vines and eventually U2 provided the soundtrack — captured the public’s imagination, and the print ads became complementary to the commercials. Dylan, whose image was already used as part of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, received a huge career boost when he appeared in an iPod commercial singing “Someday Baby” from his 2006 album Modern Times. The counterculture had come full circle, the revolution digitized.
And once again, as at the dawn of music advertising, the medium arguably was more important than the media for many consumers. Albums ensured four or five songs from a new release would often be played repeatedly before flipping to the next side, and with CDs at least songs would likely be played in sequential order. Now playlists define the listener. Today’s iTunes interface isn’t that far removed in appearance from ads in which companies floated head shots of now-obscure singers and musicians around an illustration of a phonograph, gramophone or other brand of horn-amplified talking machine.
Artists now must take far different approaches than even a decade ago to pursue a career, with networking and self-promotion skills (or at least heightened self-awareness) at a premium. A viral video that can be clearly viewed on a cell-phone screen may be more important than a logo, and arcane methods of guerilla marketing can be crucial to success.
Where the current course of music advertising is heading is hard to predict beyond two years from now, but print will almost certainly not be a major plank in the promotional platform. It won’t be long before we think of print ads as artifacts, communicating a history of persuasion and perception that parallels the written remembrances, reviews, and Q&As published on the opposite pages.
Or maybe they already are.