Cover Story – “Rolling Stones Tongue & Lips” by John Pasche

By Michael Goldstein

tongue.jpgSubject – “Tongue and Lips”, a logo designed by John Pasche and used as a principal design element on a number of LP/CD/DVD covers for The Rolling Stones, including Sticky Fingers, a recording released in April, 1971 on Rolling Stones Records (distributed by Atlantic Records).

One of the (if not THE) most-recognized band logos in the rock era, John Pasche’s “Tongue and Lips” design was first introduced to fans in 1971 as part of a record package that, according to a decree by VH1 in 2003, was the “#1 Greatest Album Cover” of all time. It is included in every book/article that chronicle the “best-and-most-influential album covers” as it was also a seminal (and quite controversial) work by artist Andy Warhol, featuring a Warhol photograph of a man (from the waist down) in tight jeans, the zipper of which was fully-functional. Unzipping the zipper revealed the subject’s underwear, imprinted with a saying – “This Is Not Etc.” (try doing THAT with a CD jewel case!). The design offended everyone you think might have been offended at the time, and so the record was also released with an alternative cover in some markets.

The band’s first release on its own label after having worked with Decca/London records since 1963, Sticky Fingers is also notable as it represents the first time that Mick Taylor was included as the band’s new full-time guitarist. With the band and their management now in total control of their music and its packaging, the resulting package featured extraordinary efforts in both music and art.

Reviews of Sticky Fingers focus on the fact that many of the songs are about drugs and drug use and, while this might be true (‘Sister Morphine’ being particularly drug-focused), it is a mix of music that really set the tone for their songwriting after this album, mixing the blues, rock and even a bit of country on ‘Wild Horses’ (which, interestingly, was written by the Stones but first released by Keith’s friend Gram Parsons and his group, The Flying Burrito Brothers).

The record introduced other Stones classics, such as ‘Brown Sugar’ (which went to #1 on the U.S. charts), ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ and the aforementioned “Wild Horses” and its combination of attitude (both playful and mean-spirited) and classic studio craftsmanship helped make it the first of eight straight chart-topping records for the band and one of the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ (#63) in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2003 listings.

Imagine, then, being a design student, still in college, and then being called upon to create identity graphics for one of the biggest acts in the world. Here’s John Pasche’s account of his first big gig, in his own words…

In the words of designer, John Pasche –

“In 1969, Mick Jagger’s office rang the Royal College of Art in London and asked if there was a suitable design student to come up with designs for their 1970 European Tour poster. I was recommended and on 29 April 1970 Jo Bergman, who was running the Stone’s office at the time, wrote to me to confirm that they had commissioned me to design a poster for their forthcoming tour. At this time, I was in my final year of a graduate design course. I was very honored when Mick Jagger turned up at the College to see my final degree show as the artwork that would ultimately be used for the poster was on display in one of the exhibits.

A short time later, I met with Mick again, who then asked me to design a logo or symbol for The Rolling Stone’s new record label. Mick showed me an image of the Goddess Kali which became the starting point to our discussion regarding the design of the logo. I was paid £50 for the design, which took me about a week to complete. In 1972 I was paid an additional £200 in recognition of the logo’s success.

The design concept for the Tongue was to represent the band’s anti-authoritarian attitude, Mick’s mouth and the obvious sexual connotations. I designed it in such a way that it was easily reproduced and in a style which I thought could stand the test of time. The first use of the logo was the inner sleeve for the Sticky Fingers album. The outer sleeve was designed by Andy Warhol, hence the mix-up with the credits (Ed. Note – many have attributed the logo design to Warhol, so we’re happy to clarify this here today!). The logo was not fully registered in all countries and a German jeans company registered the logo in Germany for their own products. This situation – and the fact that the tongue was getting used by unauthorized manufacturers of badges and t-shirts – prompted the proper registration and a merchandising agreement with myself to capitalize on the success of the logo.

The simplicity of the design lent itself to many variations which were done by other designers and not myself. Due to it’s immediate popularity, the Stones kept with it over the years and I believe that it represents one of the strongest and most recognizable logos worldwide. And of course I’m proud of that. The Stones ultimately bought the copyright but I still own the hand drawn & painted artwork which, by the way, is now on sale for £200,000.

My busiest time creating artwork for the Stones was from 1970 – 1974, which included creating four tour posters. This led on to work for Paul McCartney, the Who and many other artistes and bands through to eleven years ago when I started working as Creative Director for the South Bank Centre Arts Complex in London. I left this position last April due to the closure of the Royal Festival Hall for an eighteen month renovation programme. I am now 61 years old and work as a freelance designer from my studio at home – still enjoying rock music and working as a designer.”

About John Pasche (again, in his words) –

jpasche1969.jpg(Left) A 1969 photo of myself – a little more hirsute than I am now.

During the sixties, I was very interested in the Pop Art movement but also influenced by then current conceptual designers such as Bob Gill and by the works of the painter Magritte. In 1967, I was awarded a BA in Graphic Design from the Brighton College of Art and then a Masters Degree from the Royal College of Art in London in 1970. My career has included stints in the advertising world (Benton & Bowles Agency), freelance graphic design, 13 years in Art/Creative Director roles for United Artist (Music Division) and Chrysalis Records, Ltd., and then, most-recently, 12 years as the Creative Director for the South Bank Centre. I’ve also been a Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art.

My designs have been used on record packages for Art of Noise (one of ‘The Greatest Album Covers of All Time’), Go West, Sinead O’Connor, Steeleye Span, UFO, Jethro Tull, The Stranglers, Fischer-Z, Dr. Feelgood, The Vapors and many others.

Design Awards include the 1996 Communication Arts “Award of Excellence”, 7 Music Week design awards for “Top Single/Album Sleeves”, 11 Design & Art Direction Certificates, and NME’s “Top Album Sleeve” Award.

There are examples of my sleeves and other projects on my site –

– for your reference.

To see examples of John’s work in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click on the following link:

About “Cover Stories” – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday and syndicated the following Monday on The Rock and Roll Report, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.