T-shirts have this unique way of introducing a small piece of yourself to the world without having to speak a word to those around you. Wearing a shirt featuring your favorite band, TV show, movie, or whatever it is that you’re into, is a great way to connect you with other fans. I can’t tell you how many new friends I’ve made with a phrase as simple as, “Hey, I like your shirt!”. And I’m here to help you keep that conversation going, at least when it comes to the most popular band shirts you’ll see people rocking. Chances are pretty good you have seen more than one of these classic t-shirts, if you don’t already own a couple yourself, but have you ever stopped to wonder how these iconic logos have come to be? Well I’m here to set the record straight (no pun intended) and give you a little insight into their history.
Ramones – Presidential Seal
Despite being an American based punk rock band, this iconic Ramones shirt can be seen worldwide, worn by fellow musicians and fans alike. Its creator was the band’s artistic director, Arturo Vega, often dubbed the 5th member of the Ramones due to his influence and presence. In fact, Vega was said to have attended nearly all of the band’s 2200 shows. Vega’s design was parody of the US Presidential Seal. It features, of course, each of the band members names, an apple tree branch to symbolize the band being as American as apple pie, and the eagle holding a baseball bat, a reference to their song “Beat on the Brat”. Vega himself was very fond of this emblem and even had a large scale version of the symbol tattooed across his entire back.
Nirvana – Smiley Face
Before the release of their song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Nirvana was just another angry 90s grunge band from Washington, but that all changed after the debut of their second studio album. This unmistakable smiley logo made its debut appearance on a flyer for the Nevermind album release party in Seattle on 9/13/1991 (Friday the 13th, of course). The album would boost this not so well-known garage band to the top of the charts, even taking Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” number one spot on Billboard’s Top 200. Cobain himself has been credited with its creation, which represented a nonconformist version of the black and yellow smileys popularized in the 70s.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Open any physics textbook to a chapter that discusses refraction and you’re likely to see an image similar to the one printed on this iconic band shirt. In fact, a physics textbook was exactly the inspiration needed for the graphic design team, Hipgnosis, who developed the concept for Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album, Dark Side of the Moon. The image shows white light passing through a prism, revealing a full spectrum of color. The band leaves it up to listeners to decipher the meaning behind this album art turned iconic logo. I like to think that they were hinting at the concept of “more than meets the eye”, possibly suggesting that their music holds more meaning if listeners are to take a closer look, or listen.
Rolling Stones – Hot Lips
The Rolling Stones “Tongue and Lips” logo, created by John Pasche, is said to be one of the most evocative rock music images of all time. It became an icon after being featured in the sleeve for their “Sticky Fingers” album and, ultimately, for the band as a whole. If you’ve seen a live Stones concert, the tongue and lips may be easily identified as Mick Jagger’s, but there was actually a bit more involved when creating this image. Jagger was intrigued by a picture he saw in the newspaper of the Kali, a Hindu goddess, and brought the idea to Pasche, who designed this famous logo for only $77. The goddess is known as being the keeper of death and time in Indian culture, but she also brings about a feminine energy. “Hot Lips”, as the logo has come to be known, is a visual representation of the sexual and rebellious themes present in their music.