Rock ’n’ roll billboards flourished on the Sunset Strip from the late 1960s to the early ‘80s. Music videos weren’t yet a thing, and a hand-painted billboard, paid for by the record company, was a sign that a band had really made the big time. Photographer Robert Landau spent those years snapping pictures of the billboards in Los Angeles that advertised rock groups. It wasn’t all that he did, but those billboard images are still here while the billboards are gone. Landau published a book of them in 2012, and now his images are the subject of an exhibit opening March 24 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Collectors Weekly talked to Laundau about how he started photographing the ads as a teenager, and some of the strange experiences he’s had with them.
There’s a great story about that Beatles billboard. When “Abbey Road” came out in 1969, there were all these rumors going around that Paul McCartney was dead. People were playing their records backward, looking for clues, and even claimed that the image on the cover of “Abbey Road” was like a funeral procession. Realizing this helped sell records, the Beatles didn’t do anything to squelch the rumors. They just let it fly. At some point, while that billboard was up on Sunset, a couple of kids got up there with a saw and cut Paul’s head off the billboard.
At the time, Foster and Kleiser called Capitol Records, and their art director was a guy named Roland Young. Young went out to look at it and he said, “You know what, just leave it like that, it’s going to get more attention.” And in fact, it did. There were pictures in the papers all over the world. Nobody was too upset that the head went missing.
When my book came out, I posted on my Facebook page, “I’ll give a free copy of the book to anyone who could tell me what happened to Paul’s head.” The next day, I get a call from a guy named Robert Quinn, who is in his 60s now, and on his 16th birthday, he had climbed up there and cut the head off. He still has it hanging in his living room somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. I went out and took a picture of him holding Paul’s head. Thanks to him, a little piece of rock ’n’ roll history got preserved because the rest of the billboard is long gone.
Laundau has more stories about the bygone days of rock ’n’ roll billboards in the interview at Collectors Weekly.
(Image credit: Robert Landau)