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SEE: 12 Classic Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip

Thu, Aug 08, 2013   By Dan Watson, Executive Editor   
Robert Landau with Paul McCartney’s head from Abbey Road billboard, 2012

Robert Landau with Paul McCartney’s head from the Abbey Road billboard in 2012.

When Los Angeles author Robert Landau first published his book about classic rock ‘n’ roll billboards of the Sunset Strip, he made his readers an offer: pass along any info on the whereabouts of Paul McCartney’s head and you’ll get a free signed copy of his book.

As the story goes, a billboard featuring the Beatles walking across Abbey Road was constructed on the Strip in 1969. Shortly after its construction, some prankster climbed atop the structure and cut Paul’s head off.

More than four decades later, that prankster, now in his 60s, contacted Landau. “He took it when he was 16, and it was still hanging in his living room,” joked Landau, who traveled to the man’s home in the San Fernando Valley to pose with Paul.

For many, Landau’s book has stirred up memories of a celebrated time along the Strip, when 20 to 30 music billboards presented a one-and-a-half mile art gallery for LA’s car culture.

When Landau was 16, he remembers walking down the road from his home, a block above Tower Records. “And there were the Beatles,” he said. “Sixteen-feet tall, walking across Abbey Road.”

Landau, then a budding photographer, became fascinated with the hand-painted works of art towering above him. So he started photographing them.

“They were up one month, down the other; so temporary, so ethereal. Very few people saw them,” he said.

Now, they can. Landau’s photos will be on display at the West Hollywood Library, at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica, until mid-October. On Saturday, Aug. 10, Landau will talk about his book, which chronicles the history of the Strip through photos of its iconic rock ‘n’ billboards, at the West Hollywood Library at 5 p.m.

For a two-decade period, between 1967 and the early 80s — “while the recording universe revolved around LA” — record companies poured money into larger-than-life music ads along the Strip.

“It was a sign you had made it in the record biz,” said Landau. “Being on a billboard was like being on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone.'”

Today, billboards are much different. For one thing, they are digitally printed. During the 60s and 70s, they were hand-made and painted, giving them a unique, personal quality.

In Landau’s book, he tracks down the “unsung heroes” of those billboards, the graphic artists, art directors and designers, like art director Roland Young, who worked for Capitol Records, the company that released the Beatles albums in America. It was Young who went out to examine the Beatles billboard after Paul’s head was removed.

“He said, ‘Let’s just leave it like that, it’ll get more attention’,” Landau said.

The 80s brought the rise of the MTV generation. With it, record money suddenly went to music videos. Rock ‘n’ billboards were no longer the preferred way to announce a new record.

Today, a plethora of billboards still stretch across the Strip, many of them fashion related.

Recently, however, French electronic duo Daft Punk told its record company it wanted a Strip billboard just like the ones in Landau’s book. The result was something straight from the 70s; a striking billboard with only the image of a Daft Punk helmet and a black background. The Columbia Records logo was the only information shown.

For a fleeting moment, the age of rock ‘n’ roll billboards returned.

“West Hollywood has been tied to a lot of things, but it’s had a really special place in the record business,” said Landau. “It should be really proud of it.”

Below, check out some of the billboards from Landau’s book, and his three favorites.

To order Landau’s book, check out Angel City Press online, or Amazon.

LANDAU’S TOP 3

1. Beatles

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

Landau’s favorite billboard, which featured each of the Beatles walking across the famous Abbey Road in London, was constructed in 1969. Like many billboards of the time, the Beatles billboard did not feature any copy. “It didn’t have to say anything,” said Landau. “There was no hard sale to it.”

2. Tommy, London Symphony Orchestra, 1972

Tommy, The Movie, Billboard

Lou Adler was one of a handful of independent record producers who really accelerated the art of Sunset Strip billboards throughout the 70s. This board is for an orchestral version of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, produced by Adler, that tells the story of a blind pinball wizard. Adler commissioned graphic artist Tom Wilkes to create this amazing image of  chrome pinballs with eyes that glared down from the Strip for several weeks creating quite a buzz until the title of the project was finally added to the design.

3. Jackson Browne, debut album, 1972

"Rock 'N' Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip"

The billboard for Jackson Browne’s 1972 debut album was designed by Gary Burden and features billboard specific artwork that encompasses the album cover design on the front grill of a classic automobile. Burden created images that captured the look and feel of the music coming out of California in the 1970’s for artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and the Eagles to name a few.

9 MORE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BILLBOARDS

Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1977

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

In the 1970s rock stars left original 60s groups like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies to create new super groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash, seen here harmonizing in the night sky above a record store called Licorice Pizza across the street from the Whisky a Go Go.

UFO, 1978

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

Many billboards for rock acts in the late 70s reflected a sci-fi aura as space-aged imagery resonated with a spaced-out audience seeking escapist fare.

Sunset Strip with Three Billboards, 1979

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

This view looking east on Sunset Boulevard shows how the music industry had a lock on Strip billboards through the 1970s. By the mid 80s MTV had established itself with a new generation of music fans, and fashion advertising replaced rockers on the Strip as music marketing dollars were channeled into producing slick music videos.

Rod Stewart, 1977

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

In the stages of canonization rockers went through, from unknown artists to major stars, having a Sunset Strip billboard rivaled appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone. It was a symbol of having “made it” in the music biz. The use of plywood extensions on this hand-painted billboard allowed for Rod Stewart and his shaggy hair style to tower over the Strip.

Donna Summer, 1978

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

Donna Summer was one of the bright stars of the Disco era who kept urban nightclub crowds dancing to pulsating beats.

Marvin Gaye/ Live, 1977

rock and roll billboard of the sunset strip

Marvin Gaye’s billboard lit up the night for a while at a key intersection above the Old World Restaurant across the street from Tower Records. Certain billboard locations are better for viewing due to their visibility in long approaches as the traffic winds around the Strip, and this is one of the best.

Tower Records. Love Storm, 1977

Tower Records on the Sunset Strip circa 1980

Tower Records, located at the heart of the Strip among all the billboards, was more than a record store. It was a magnet, drawing music lovers from all over city who would spend hours going through the racks and listening to the latest tracks. The building itself was covered with so many signs for the current LPs that it resembled a giant rock billboard gone amok.

Cher, 1979

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

Cher, who has reinvented herself throughout a long and successful career, appeared in some kind of butterfly inspired headgear for her record “Take me Home.”

The Village People, 1979

Rock n roll billboards of the sunset strip

In their 1979 billboard, The Village People announced that they were indeed ready for the continuation of the disco era into the 80s.

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About Dan Watson, Executive Editor

Dan Watson is Executive Editor at WEHOville.com. Previously, Dan served as editor-in-chief of USC’s innovative digital website Neontommy.com, the nation’s most widely trafficked college news site. He also had a cup of coffee at the Los Angeles Times as an associate producer.

Prior to returning to school at USC to get a masters, Dan worked on California’s beautiful Central Coast as an assistant sports editor.

dan@wehoville.com

View all posts by Dan Watson, Executive Editor →

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