Designing the Rolling Stones Tongue and Lips logo
John Pasche designed the Rolling Stones tongue and lips logo in 1971. Since then it has become an iconic trademark for the band
When the V&A bought The Rolling Stones Tongue and Lips logo for £50,000 in September 2008, there was a storm of interest from the public and the media. It is, after all, the best-known band logo of all time. It was designed by young art student
“I spent three years doing my BA degree at Brighton, and managed to get into the Royal College of Art from there, which was quite an experience, really because they were only taking very few students think at the time. It was quite a prestigious situation to be in to actually be admitted there. I think it was probably the best three years of my life. There was a fellow student called Storm Ferguson who was actually working with Pink Floyd at the time and he’d asked a chap, George Hardy, who was in the same class as me, to draw up the artwork for “Dark Side of the Moon.” So I was working on the Stones poster and he was working on the “Dark Side of the Moon” image, which I think is one of the most iconic pieces of the era as well. The commission that I had from The Rolling Stones while I was in my third year at the college and the college received a phone call from the Rolling Stones office asking if they could suggest a suitable student to work on a tour poster which was going to be the 1970 tour poster for Europe and they suggested that I go to London to have a meeting with Mick Jagger, which was obviously quite the experience.
So I went to London to his offices in Maddox Street and there was his manager there Joe Bergman, just himself, and we generally talked about design and art and we both found we had an interest in sort of 1930s and 40s tour posters. The response when I did the first design that I took into Mick Jagger to hopefully ok, was a bit lukewarm, actually, he said that he thought I could do better. I think it was possibly to do with the colour and composition of the one before. But I did, in the second, finished poster, add in some more interesting elements. I think the concorde, for one, was certianly appearing in a 1930s/40s tour poster, if you like. I think what he liked about it was it was getting away from what had been done before, in other words it wasn’t necessarily a picture of the band on the road, it was to do with touring and I think that was in line with the basic ideas that we’d talked about originally. Thankfully, he really liked the last version that I did and it went on to be printed and I think it turned out to be quite successful for the band and it lead on to the logo commission.
I received a commisssioning letter which was basically a follow-up to a phone call I had which asked me to go for a meeting with Mick Jagger, this time at his house in Cheyne Walk to discuss the new logo. It was quite a short meeting, really. He presented me with a cutting, it was actually something he’d found in a local corner shop. It was an Indian picture of the Khali goddess (the goddess with a sort of pointed tongue that came straight down). He said this is the kind of thing that I‘m into, you know, I quite like this. And we talked about it and I said I’ll just go away and do something and come back and we’ll talk some more. I think it was almost, really during that meeting that I just suddenly thought maybe just the use of a mouth…I just had an idea that that would be something I would base a lot of ideas on. I did some drawings which were very similar to what we had finished up with but just variations really of angles and tones and so on. He really liked it so I finished one up as artwork and he went to show it to the rest of the band and he said they were very happy with it and so I got my £50, which is what I was paid for doing it.
A lot of the artwork then was produced in black and white and then on layers of film so the different layers would be nominated a color and when it came to printing them they would then be printed in red and black instead of the two layers of black which is on the artwork.
A lot of people ask me if it was based on Mick Jagger’s lips and I have to say, it wasn’t initially, but it might have been something that was uncnscious and it also really dovetailed into the basic idea for the design. It was a number of things and I’m certainly conscious of the fact that it might have been influenced by Mick Jagger himself, yes.
I think it took about two weeks, in all. Obviously I was sitting there every evening working on it nonstop. But I think having got the sort of basic idea of what I wanted to do quite quickly, everything felt right about it, so it was a matter of trying to express it in a very simple and very easy to reproduce manner. Cause I was very aware that it would be used a lot of the time in a very small size so it had to be something that, as I said, was very basic.”
The logo was in commissioned 1970 to be used in writing paper and tour programs and was actually first used in 1971 as an insert to the album “Sticky Fingers.” It was such a striking image that it became the official logo for the band’s own record label, Rolling Stones Records, and has been used on every album they’ve released since.
“I think it has stood the test of time because it is a kind of a universal statement. Sticking out the tongue at something is very kind of anti-authority and protest, really, and I think that maybe young people of various generations have picked that up. When I’m out about on holiday it’s always a bit of a surprise when some people come around the corner wearing a t-shirt or whatever. I’m amazed now and probably always will be amazed that it has been merchandised so much and travelled so far around the globe.
I think it’s great that the logo has finally come back here because it is so close to where I started at the college. It’s comforting for me to know that it is somewhere where it is safe and it will often be exhibited and it won’t be sort of locked away or sold to someone else, which might have happened if I’d sold it privately.”
The Tongue and Lips logo has come back to South Kensington after a thirty-nine year absence, and is now hanging at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
John Pasche was still a student at the Royal College of Art when he was asked to design an image for a Rolling Stones tour in 1971. As Pasche explains in this film Mick Jagger invited the young designer to his Chelsea home to brief him. The logo was initially inspired less by Mick Jagger's famous pouting lips than by the Indian goddess Kali who is often portrayed with a protruding pointed tongue. The image was an immediate success. Pasche was paid £50 and commissioned to design a logo which has featured on every Stones album since.
While John Pasche was designing the Lips logo, his fellow student, George Hardy was busy working on an album cover design for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon