There’s a bit of a myth floating around in the public sphere, which is to be expected at times when a symbol takes hold of the public’s imagination and seeps into the ennui of popular culture. Such is the case with the famous tongue and lips logo which has become synonymous with The Rolling Stones and their innumerable mischiefs. The myth is that the logo was created by Andy Warhol, which isn’t the case.
The logo was designed and rolled out for the Stones’ 1970 European tour, and then a different version came about for the American version of their 1971 Sticky Fingers album. Ever since then, it has become a symbol of rock ‘n’ roll freedom and an unadulterated attitude.
The artist who was commissioned to make a logo for the band was John Pasche who was attending his final year at the Royal College of Art in London. Pasche was recommended for the job when the Rolling Stones’ head office contacted the college. Initially, Pasche’s first idea got rejected by Mick Jagger who met with the artist a week later.
John Pasche said in an interview with The New York Times in 2020, “I thought, That was that, then.” However, Jagger gave Pasche another shot, saying to him, “I’m sure you can do better, John.” Jagger was looking for a logo design based on the Indian Hindu deity, Kali. After Jagger showed Pasche a picture of Kali, what stuck out to the London based artist was Kali’s tongue which was, well, sticking out.
Pasche’s second logo would include a Concorde turbojet poster with the small version of the logo on the plane’s tail. This would prove to be a bigger hit, and the artist was subsequently contacted by Jo Bergman, the Stones’ personal assistant. In a letter addressed directly to Pasche, he was then commissioned “to create a logo or symbol which may be used on notepaper, as a programme cover and as a cover for the press book.” Jagger and the rest of the Stones wanted an identifiable logo, one that became synonymous with the band and everything it stands for.
Pasche’s logo – or at least a version of it – would be used on the Stones’ brilliant 1971 album, Sticky Fingers. For the American release, due to time constraints, the logo had to be faxed over to the States (remember, this is before the internet) to Andy Warhol and Craig Braun who were designing the album artwork for Sticky Fingers. Because of how everything was rushed, the logo ended up coming out of the other end in the States, all grainy. Therefore, Braun redid the logo, creating more of an elongated version of it, with different line tracings in the tongue.
Ever since, Braun’s version has become the official one, but, because of Andy Warhol’s association with the album artwork for Sticky Fingers, who was trying to develop the zipper feature on the record, most people have come to associate the tongue and lips logo with Warhol. According to Blake Gopnick, author of Warhol: A Life As Art, he said on the confusion that Warhol created the design; “It has nothing to do with the look of his art, especially the conceptual framework that he always worked in.”
“Everything adheres to him. And he made no attempt to clarify matters.” Gopnick continued, “he preferred factual confusion to clarity, so the idea that he be credited with the logo would have been something that he would have absolutely encouraged.”
However, the logo is, of course, most notably associated with The Rolling Stones and is probably one of the most successful symbols ever created. The logo has made the Stones hundreds of millions of dollars. The logo has seeped into countless commercials, merchandising and other items of popular culture. It speaks volumes of the power of mythology and symbols. During the 2006 American Superbowl championship, one of the most lucrative ventures globally, the Rolling Stones performed on a gigantic stage designed after the logo.
As was probably expected, Pasche did not exactly get a cut from the millions made off the back of his work. He was initially paid £50 for the logo plus a bonus of £200. However, in the mid-80s, Pasche was able to obtain royalties but would then sell his copyright to the Stones for approximately £26,000.
The original design by John Pasche can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Art in London.