In our latest video, Hot Lips, we speak to John Pasche, the man who designed the most famous tongue in history.
Pasche was a student at London’s Royal College of Art when he was handed a pair of tasks: design a poster and then a logo for a rock band called the Rolling Stones. His latter creation is now one of the most famous logos in the world and synonymous with rock and roll. This is the story of how the ‘Stones found their famous tongue.
There are a few famous bargains in history. The Louisiana Purchase was, in hindsight, money well spent: the United States effectively doubled in size for a cool $15 million (even when adjusted for inflation, approximately $400 million, it’s a bargain). It’s not America’s only savvy purchase – they got great deals for the island of Manhattan off the Dutch and Alaska from the Russian Empire, both of which worked out very well.
Babe Ruth moving from the Red Sox to the Yankees for $100,000 was a steal for the New York outfit and cursed Boston for the best part of a century. Barcelona Football Club regained their investment and then some in a young Argentinian boy called Lionel Messi. EMI signing The Beatles in 1962 was some astute business, and it seems fair to say that Mick Jagger and company got decent value for the £50 they first slipped an art student to design a small logo for their band. A fair bit more money would come the Rolling Stone’s (and John Pasche’s) way as a result of those lips he created.
Few, if any, bands have a logo as recognizable as the Rolling Stones. There are certain fonts – take those Nirvana or ACDC t-shirts – but the bright red puckering lips and protruding tongue have endured some 50 years without any accompanying text necessary. The red lips are the brand, emblematic of the Rolling Stones.
“Without using the Stones’ name, it instantly conjures them, or at least Jagger, as well as a certain lasciviousness that is the Stones’ own,” Sean Egan explained in his book The Mammoth Book of the Rolling Stones. “It quickly and deservedly became the most famous logo in the history of popular music.”
Read More: The History of the Harmonica
“It represented anti-authority, like kids sticking their tongue out,” Pasche explains. “Rebellious, it fitted what the Stones represented at the time.” This remains true to this day, the lips remain as associated as ever as the iconic band prepares to release their first original material in 18 years, in the shape of their new album, Hackney Diamonds.
Despite popular belief that the logo was based on frontman Mick Jagger’s own lips, Pasche asserts otherwise. “Some people say to me that it was inspired by Mick Jagger’s mouth, but in fact it wasn’t. I always saw it as a woman’s mouth, because I wanted to use a very strong red to grab attention.”
Rather, when he met Jagger again they focused on the Hindu goddess Kali, with her bright red tongue sticking out, as the main inspiration. Pasche took this idea home and got to work on his second project for the band, trying, and at first struggling, to conjure a design of a set of lips he was happy with. After “three or four angles of a disembodied tongue, one of the designs seemed much better than the rest,” and it was this design that was submitted.
The design was first used on the inside of their album Sticky Fingers, but went everywhere after that. It has been adapted in size and changed color, appearing on everything from stage designs to t-shirts and clothing. So successful was it on clothes, it was voted number one in the 50 Most Iconic T-Shirt Designs of All Time. It beat out classics like the INY design, the Hard Rock Cafe shirts, and the silhouette of Che Guevara.
It will adorn another esteemed shirt later next month, when the logo is placed on Barcelona’s football shirt for their game against arch-rivals, Real Madrid. It joins musicians Drake and Rosalia in the distinguished company represented on the famous red and blue striped jersey.
As well as a new album, the second of ‘The Mick Jagger Series’ of custom-made harmonicas is out now on mickjagger.com, in collaboration with whynow Music.