There was a time when the only people who would wear band T shirts were metal heads still loyal to their ageing rocker heroes, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin fans, who a decade on hadn’t bought any other new items of clothes, and Teenage Fanclub fans who’d give them a quick iron and pop them on each time their favourite Glaswegians hit their local venue
Then a few years back rock T shirts suddenly became cool in an ironic way. The Kate Moss set started wearing Ramones shirts and pretty soon you couldn’t move in Top Shop for vintage rock band shirts and disco diva fifteen year olds desperate to snap them up.
Things then got way out of hand and in parts of north London your pre school child wasn’t properly dressed without a Pistols or Clash T shirt.
One only feels sorry for those earnest aging rockers whose enquiries about Sonic Youth records to youngsters sporting the Goo t shirt were met by blank stares.
Nevertheless the band T shirt is back and is likely to remain a staple for both kids looking for cool designs and adults wanting to broadcast their musical taste.
So the other day we began arguing in the office about which is the most iconic band T short of all time. A couple of Flat Whites and bit of Facebook research later and we had a list of contenders.
Surveying the list it becomes obvious that band T shirts fall into one of four categories.
1 The classic band logo – This is the band’s whose ident is captured in one little graphic device. The band’s brand if you will and the illustration that appears on their drumkit, behind them at gigs and obviously on their merch. Band logos have included some of the finest and most iconic pop art emblems of the recent decades and not too surprisingly our list is dominated by them.
2 The classic album cover – Oddly there aren’t as many of these in the list as you might think. In fact if you peruse any list of the great albums of all time you’ll find that many near the top like The Beatles albums for example, have not been widely replicated on T shirts. The ones that work well tend to have designs that are either black and white or two basic colours. So Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures looks great on your chest, whereas Ziggy Stardust less so. I think The Smiths may have got lucky here. Morrissey famously designed most of their single and album covers or rather appropriated them from 60s films. For reasons of taste (or maybe even budget) they were almost always two colour affairs that look great as T shirts.
3 A logo taken from an album cover – This works occasionally. Think The Stone Roses whose debut album sleeve was covered in lemons – the exact same fruit that became the motif for their most iconic T shirt.
4 Something utterly off the wall that the band ends up championing – see number two.
Anyhow, here then is our list of the ten most iconic rock and roll T shirts of all time. It was close but sadly Ned’s Atomic Dustbin didn’t quite make the cut.
1 Rolling Stones Tongue
The most instantly recognisable band logo ever was designed by John Pasche in 1970. Apparently the pop art design perfectly encapsulated Mick Jagger's sensuous lips and the band's rebelliousness. It has been in continuous use by the Rolling Stones ever since. This T shirt has diamante tongue.