Before the internet was around and before televisions were in every loungeroom across America, where could music be advertised in full, populated view of the people? On the Sunset Strip, of course, as larger-than-life, hand-painted billboards that flecked the highways in advertising that doubled as total homages to music.
Author and photographer Robert Landau was there for it all, and in 1969, as a 16 year old, turned his camera lens to the skyline and captured some of music history’s most iconic and memorable ads.
He’s now put a collection of the images together for the first time in a 208-paged book, handily titled Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards of The Sunset Strip, which gathers a collection of his photographs that have capture the 70s glory days of Los Angeles, and have been exhibited in and around LA.
Speaking to The Orange Country Register, he calls the towering billboards a “missing art form.”
Landau’s introduction to his hobby was none other than the famous Abbey Road shot of The Beatles. The billboard contained next to no text to identify the group or its brand new album, “they had just put their images up there,” says Laundau, “they were so universally known.”
For the next 15 or 20 years, Landau kept shooting rock billboards as they were painted and pieced together — and then taken down soon after. His collection ends somewhere in the mid-80s, when the music industry stopped using them altogether. Saying that it was video that killed the billboard star.
“What I’m figuring is that MTV came along and all of a sudden they had somewhere else to spend their money,” he speculates. “ELO spent $50,000 once building this elaborate space station that was on their billboard. They had all this money. But then MTV came along and all that money started going there.”
His favorites were usually the ones that broke the rules of traditional advertising, using offbeat or mysterious means to build buzz around an artist or an album.
“When Pink Floyd did The Wall, before the record came out, they had a billboard erected that was just all these bricks and nobody knew what it was about,” he remembers. “Then little by little they took the bricks down and eventually revealed The Wall.”
But the photographer has a favourite: one of a Crosby, Stills and Nash billboard.
“It was taken at night on a tripod, so the headlights on the cars are streaking in it, and it was right over one of the old record stores called Licorice Pizza,” Landau says. “And the three of them are just harmonizing on the billboard with the night sky behind them.”
You can view a selection of Landau’s Rock Billboard photographs below.