Long before Spotify or even MySpace, and before anyone wanted their MTV, there was another effective outlet for promoting musicians’ latest albums and concerts: billboards.
The outdoor ads of the late-’60s through the early ’80s were as artistic as the album covers they were mostly based on. Photographer Robert Landau started shooting those rock and roll billboards on Kodachrome slide film when he was 16. “I was living a block above Sunset near Tower Records, so the Strip was like my back yard,” Landau says. “I noticed that the billboards would change every few weeks and would disappear, and I wanted to show my friends who didn’t live in the area what I was seeing.”
Now, with his new book, Rock and Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip, the photographer is poised to show a much larger audience what saw back then.
Rock and Roll Billboards supplements all the old Kodachrome images with interviews Landau conducted with the artists, record producers, and designers who helped make those old billboards what they were. By tracing their lineage and decline, he also sheds light on the impact rock music was having on the culture at the time and vice versa. Without music videos and social media campaigns, a surprising amount of creative talent and money went into launching billboards that approached the spectacle of today’s art installations.
“The billboards in that period, primarily the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s were all hand painted by professional artists employed by large outdoor advertising companies,” Landau says. The average billboard took from a week to 10 days to complete, and then it was displayed for a single month. The process for putting it together was intricate and labor-intensive.
“They would start with a scaled printout of the final artwork to the long horizontal dimensions of the billboard,” Landau adds. “That print was photographed and projected up to large rolls of paper and the key outlines were traced using an electronic device that created a series of burn holes in the paper and creating a giant stencil that could then be placed over the whitewashed wooden panels of the billboard and then dusted with a charcoal compound that would leave an outline of the design on the wood. The painters would then take over and paint in the image using the small-scaled printout as their guide.”
Have a look through some of the best billboards in the slide show above.