Rock and Unroll: 10 Fantastic Music Posters

Rock posters have progressed from hasty handmade flyers for small nightclub gigs to cherished psychedelic masterpieces that are extremely valuable and highly collectible. The growth of the drug culture and it’s contribution to a culture of political alienation led to a brief but spectacular Psychedelic Poster craze in the United States. Teenage idols, sports celebrities, and figures from pop culture hung out on walls around the globe in the 70s, with the Zig Zag man, David Cassidy, Donnie Osmond, and Keep On Truckin’ leading the pack. And we’ve all seen one or more of the iconic posters that flash through assorted television programs, or movies like Saturday Night Fever and commercials or music videos. Think Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Pretty In Pink, or Dazed and Confused. There were a variety of rock posters found on television shows like WKRP and That Seventies Show and others that we can’t really place. We wanted to find out more about the history and the story behind these well-known creations. The choices are presented in random order without considering the item’s popularity or potential value.

1. Jefferson Airplane – Fillmore 1968

Wes Wilson has been acknowledged as the father of the 60s rock concert poster. In 1968, he received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts for “his contributions to American Art.” He pioneered what is now known as the psychedelic poster.

This Wilson work for a Jefferson Airplane concert poster at the Fillmore in 1968 is incredibly rare….and the opportunity to actually acquire one is even rarer. This stunning design relies on Wes Wilson’s unique lettering style, a real standout from the early days of Bill Graham’s phenomenal concert poster series. Less than 1000 pieces of this poster were originally produced, it is estimated that just 10% exist in any condition today, and most likely only 15-20 exist in undamaged condition today. The copy of this poster offered here is in mint condition and is very expensive.

Quicksilver Messenger Service debuted in late 1965 and gigged in and around the Bay Area and then went on an extended two-year tour of the West Coast. The outfit built up a large following but resisted deals to record, leaving those activities to San Francisco acid rock colleagues including Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Quicksilver eventually signed on with Capitol toward the end of 1967 and recorded their self-titled debut album the following year.

2. Nirvana Logo

Also undisclosed are the origins and meaning of the Nirvana “Smiley Face” logo. Most agree that it was created and drawn by Kurt Cobain, making its debut on this flyer for the celebration marking the release of Nevermind in September of 1991.

The band’s label, Sub Pop Records, was eager to cut costs regarding the first album from Nirvana. When it came time to decide on a logo the company told designer Grand Alden to choose one of the fonts already in use on his typesetter. It was a font called Onyx – which still endures on the band’s merchandise.

The obvious inspiration for the design – “the smiley face” – is disputed however the Smithsonian has credited American graphic artist Harvey Ball with creating the smiley icon in 1965 as a morale-boosting symbol for an insurance company.

The truth about the Nirvana version died with Cobain in 1994. But given his suicide and drug history, there’s conflict with playing in a band named after the ultimate goal of Buddhism and the ‘party on’ atmosphere the image projects.

It’s the combination of the two that give the poster its appeal, even though it may have faded from memory if not for the continuing resonance of Nirvana’s album catalog.


3. Jefferson Airplane – Fillmore 1966

Here is a fantastic example of an incredibly difficult poster to find. The bold design almost jumps off the paper and makes the viewer take notice of what was happening at the Fillmore that weekend in 1966. This poster exhibits ultra crisp paper with blazing white whites and very bold, fresh colors. The original poster was printed on vellum and measures approximately 14″ x 20″. The Union logo #72 appears in the lower left corner. The second print poster was printed on white stock and measures approximately 14″ x 20″. The second poster bears the Union logo #183.

Pioneers of counterculture-era psychedelic rock, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, and Grace Slick comprised Jefferson Airplane. Emerging from the San Francisco scene to achieve international mainstream success, performing at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s — Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969), and Altamont (1969). Their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow is regarded as one of the key recordings of the “Summer of Love.” Two hits from that album, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit,” are among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”


4. Woodstock

The promoters behind the Woodstock Music and Art Fair settled on the attractive slogan “Three Days of Peace and Music” assuming that including the word ‘peace’ would link antiwar sentiment to the event and to avoid any possible violence, they thought a slogan with peace in it would help keep order.

This promotional poster for the festival promised “hundreds of acres to roam on.” Poster artist Arnold Skolnick initially designed what was known as the festival’s dove-and-guitar feature as a catbird and a flute. “I was staying on Shelter Island off Long Island, and I was drawing catbirds all the time,” he said. “It sat on the flute for a day, and I finally ended up putting it on a guitar.”

Since the festival was moved from Wallkill to Bethel, promoters had hardly any time to get the artwork printed and distributed. It was four days before showtime when the posters arrived. Around 75 of them were hung on telephone poles and, amazingly, some were sold for $1.00 as souvenirs to attendees as they left.

Our Pinterest board Poster Parade!


5. Cat Stevens

Just before the end of 1967 Cat Stevens wrote and sold the hit single “The First Cut is the Deepest” to soul singer P.P. Arnold for $40. The song enjoyed moderate success and gained enough popularity to reach number 18 on the U.K. Singles Chart. One year later the 18-year-old musician signed a deal with Decca Records and soon released his first album, Matthew and Son. The title track was a major hit and missed landing at Number One by just one notch.

Although Stevens was experiencing success as a pop star, he wanted to release some of his early tracks. Decca declined, insisting that Stevens had been marketed to a teen audience and he should continue in this regard. The decision sent Stevens into a bout of depression and he began self-medicating with alcohol. The pressure of his newfound stardom and his hard-partying behavior impacted his health, and in 1968 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. A three-month stint in the hospital provided him time to reflect on his present path and to reevaluate his approach to life. Although Stevens had experienced success overseas, the American release of Tea for the Tillerman (1970) and the single “Wild World” made Stevens a true star in the United States.


6. Abbey Road

The cover design for Abbey Road was taken from a series of sketches by Paul McCartney. The celebrated album photograph was taken on August 8, 1969, outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road. In the image selected by McCartney, the group walks across the street with Lennon leading, followed by Starr, McCartney, and Harrison. McCartney is barefoot and out of step with the other members. On the original cover, McCartney holds a cigarette; in 2003 several U.S. poster companies airbrushed and otherwise removed the cigarette without permission from either Apple or McCartney. To the left of the picture is a white Volkswagen which belonged to one of the residents of the block of flats located across from the recording studio. After the album was released, the license plate was repeatedly stolen. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for $3,240 and in 2001 was on display in a museum in Germany.

7. Led Zeppelin – The Starship

In early May of 1973 Led Zeppelin began a tour of over 30 cities throughout North America. For rapid transportation, the band hired a small private Falcon Jet to shuttle band members from city to city. After performing a show at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco the small aircraft encountered significant turbulence on the flight back to Los Angeles. As a result, Led Zep hired The Starship – a former United Airlines 720B passenger jet – for the remainder of the tour at a cost of $30,000. With The Starship the band and crew no longer had to change hotels so often. They could stage themselves in the larger cities and travel to and from concerts within flying distance. After each show, the band members would be transported by limousine from the concert venue to the airport, as depicted in the concert film, The Song Remains the SameThe Song Remains The Same DVD. The iconic Bob Gruen photo from 1973 features the group relaxing in front of the airplane. The photograph, according to Gruen, “sums up the excess and decadence of the ’70s, the fact that here are these guys — they don’t even have to button their shirts — and they have their own plane.”

8. Jimi Hendrix – Eyeball

9. Jimi Hendrix – Psychedelic Avalon Ballroom

Jimi Hendrix and the Flying Eyeball are images indelibly linked in the psychedelic poster art of the late Rick Griffin. Griffin discovered The Eyeball, in a much more benign form, in the 1950s auto detailing the art of pinstriper Von Dutch. He reworked it over time to become the winged, bloodshot figure parting a ring of fire with serpent-like tentacles. The highlighted lettering, vibrant color, and sophisticated imagery display Griffin’s attention to the smallest detail and highlight the influence of Indian lore on his work. The poster on the right is another famous image of Hendrix in a psychedelic format. There is a flashing GIF version of this poster that circulates the web however it is quite distracting and somewhat annoying so we ain’t puttin’ it here!


10. Grateful Dead – Avalon Ballrom

After the music, the posters were the first popular art form to emerge from the Haight-Ashbury, and they not only chronicled the city’s vibrant music scene, they also documented the Dead’s early years. As Grateful Dead contributor and poet Robert Hunter commented, “I’ve come to realize that the art movement that accompanied the rise of the Dead is as much a part of what we became in the public eye as the songs and our playing of them.” Poster art is one of the most important aspects of the Grateful Dead phenomenon, and it forms a vital dimension of the rich visual culture of the Deadhead experience.

The Avalon Ballroom was founded by Robert E. Cohen, impresario Chet Helms and his music production company, Family Dog Productions, which had offices on Van Ness. Bands were frequently booked to perform at the Avalon on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Extraordinary posters advertising each event were produced by psychedelic artists, including Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley and Victor Moscoso.

The Grateful Dead played at the Avalon 29 times from 1966 through 1969, and recorded two live albums, entitled Vintage Dead and Historic Dead, in the autumn of 1966. Two tracks of the famous “Live/Dead” album were recorded there in early 1969, “The Eleven” and “Turn On Your Love Light”.

From teenage heartthrobs to flying pigs, rock music has been immortalized in the art world for many decades. The music posters of today are nothing like these 10 fantastic music posters from the 60s and 70s. On this we are not sure — we really do not pay attention to the current music scene. Sorry. And for more great music posters we recommend this ‘rock music posters‘ search on Pinterest.


One response to “Rock and Unroll: 10 Fantastic Music Posters”

  1. Remy says:

    thanks for taking me on a trip down memory lane.
    I have my bedroom plastered with posters just like these ones when I was a kid.
    I mean plastered, ceiling, doors and everything.
    My favourite was the 6 foot high led zeppelin remastered poster of the crop circles and the airship shadow but a lot of the iron maiden posters were great too. closely followed by zz top or my posters from band the cult.
    I had completely forgotten how awesome they were. Those times seem like a lifetime ago.

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