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February 25, 2012

24 Amazing Vintage Music Billboards on Sunset Boulevard, California From the Mid-1970s

In the pantheon of American roadside messaging, billboards are perhaps the most reviled. But in Los Angeles, where high and low culture are often one and the same, what elsewhere may be derided as “sky trash” can just as easily rise to the level of art. Since at least the late 1960s, a half-mile section of Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard known as “Sunset Strip” has hosted a menagerie of custom-built billboards designed for gawking, turning the winding east-west corridor into a testing ground for pop records and blockbuster movies. As the home town of most major record companies and film studios, Hollywood got special attention when it came to publicly marketing new media products. And in a time before music videos and MP3s, when album art was still a thing, the look presented by hand-painted billboards were a complement to many a rock star’s cultivated image.

These music billboards below were taken by Robert Landau on Sunset Boulevard in California between 1974 and 1975. Robert Landau is a photographer who wandered the Strip with his camera, capturing images of the splashy, ephemeral billboards as they came and went.

“In the 1960s and ’70s, hand-painted billboards were the state of the art, so they’d use them in places like the Sunset Strip and maybe a few other spots like Wilshire Boulevard or Westwood Village,” Landau told Hunter Oatman-Stanford of Collectors Weekly. “They were costlier, too, but with the hand-painted ones, you could add plywood extensions: If you’re painting Rod Steward’s head, his hair could stick over the top, or painting the Beatles for their Abbey Road album, their heads could extend above the frame of the billboard. It was just another way to catch people’s attention, something you couldn’t do with a poster billboard.”

There were billboards that lit up at night and ones that changed over time. Record companies spent fortunes on the billboards, which supplemented album art and built buzz for upcoming albums. Landau treasures his photographs as documents of a time before digital everything. “The painted ones have a sheen and depth to them, and a personal touch you only got from an artist hand-painting them,” he said.


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