Photographer Robert Landau captured stunning rock ‘n’ roll billboards in the late ’60s and ’70s. Primarily inspired by album art, the billboards were massive monuments that took on a life of their own. Reigning over the Sunset Strip, which was at the time the lifeblood of the music industry, the billboards became more than just advertisements. They were physical embodiments of a vibrant scene populated by colorful rock stars and tantalizing music idols.
In an interview with Collectors Weekly, Landau says, “There was a whole scene going on along the Strip, but it was really focused on rock ’n’ roll. The billboards captured all that energy, and also some of the excess of money and drugs.” The billboards themselves were anything but flat; at the time, they were hand painted using specific techniques to ensure they could be read from a distance.
Around the time billboards roamed the streets was also the height of some true album art artistry. “It was a joint process,” Landau says of the intersection of the two, “… in most cases, the musicians had already commissioned amazing artwork for their albums.” The tricky part was then translating the album art from a square sleeve to the more traditional rectangular frame of a billboard. The solution was to add an extra dimension to it, enabling figures and objects to burst out of the picture and become almost 3D in effect. Billboard artists got creative, lighting up 3D lampshades and creating silhouettes that seemed to loom like titans.
“It wasn’t about getting somebody to a cash register to buy something,” Landau says, commenting on the uniqueness of these everyday artworks. “It was about creating an image, and about a trust between the artist and the record companies.”
Even as people bemoan the death of the album, at least there are photos like Landau’s that remind us of a time when music was larger than life.