Vintage Musicians #3: Bands Without a Face

In the 1960's, record companies would have never dreamed of not attaching a face to a band. They made sure you knew exactly what The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles looked like. All of The Beatles early album covers were simply photos of the band. It wasn't till The White Album that you didn't see their mugs on the cover (they were on the Magical Mystery Tour cover, but in costume - so this may or may not count). However, even The White Album came with 4 big glossy pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Somewhere in the mid-70's, record buyers started caring a lot more about the music and a lot less about their faces. Could you pick a single member of Supertramp out of a lineup? Hell no - no one could. They were faceless.

Bands like Chicago, Kansas and King Crimson had been relying on their music rather than looks to move records, and by the time Boston came around in 1976, that was all she wrote. Who gave a damn what Rush or Styx looked like - their tunes were kickin' and that's all that mattered.

It's ironic that punk was a rebellion against this prog and album oriented rock, since punk was supposed to be all about music over image. Yet, that is exactly what bands like Yes and Blue Oyster Cult were - faceless, and just about the music. The Sex Pistols hated Pink Floyd with a passion - but IMHO their hate was misdirected.

When I compare The Sex Pistols to the prog rock band Curved Air (see below), I can understand why Johnny Rotten might be repulsed by these bands.

On the other hand, their looks and wardrobe shouldn't be important if you care about the music. Punk was far more concerned by outward appearances than these prog and AOR bands.

Of course, by the early 1980's both AOR and punk were dead. They were both replaced by a kind of music that openly and unashamedly embraced image over music. Goodbye Foghat. Hello Duran Duran.


  1. Punk was all about image and attitude and not really about the music. Most of which is awful. Though some good came out of it.

    I hadn't thought about the bands disappearing from the covers, but I had noticed the death of the liner notes on the back of albums. My folks' albums all have several paragraphs that combine music criticism, hype, and commentary on popular culture. I always get a kick out of reading them.

  2. I disagree about punk being about image. I think that British punk was about image, that's what it was all based around. But American punk like The Ramones, Dead Boys, Real Kids, Television, Heartbreakers, etc.. was about brining back 3 minute 50's rock 'n roll.

    My favorite faceless band would have to be ELO!

  3. Punk was a case of anti-fashion becoming fashion similar in vein to how the Dadists anti-art became art.

  4. It is interesting that you namecheck King Crimson in this regard, because their 1974 album, Red, which is perhaps the best regarded Crimson album, actually does have a photo of Fripp, Bruford and Wetton on the cover.

  5. atom kid- I agree that brit punk was definitely about image, whereas in the US it was less so. The Ramones were rebelling against the 18 minute Emerson, Lake & Palmer keyboard solo more than an overstuffed image.

    puppetboy- moral to the story: popular music is theater. Embrace this fact like Bowie or live in denial.

    mporcius- OK, but look at all their album covers. Court of the Crimson King and Lizard are my two favorites, and no bandmembers to be found on the covers.... you would've never had that in the 60's with the Beatles, Stones, or Monkees,etc.

  6. Procol Harum was another band which avoided pictures of themselves on their covers until their 4th record, Broken Barricades.

  7. I admire the groups who don't use their photos on every album cover. I wonder if that is always a selfless decision or if they realized they were musicians and not models and might sell more copies if their faces were not on the cover?

  8. Good article.

    It is interesting that today you go see a "Chicago" concert and have no idea if any of these guys even met the original band, let alone were members.

  9. Led Zeppelin and YES were basically super bands that avoided images of themselves on album covers in general. Led Zep IV and Houses of the Holy had no lettering or even a serial number on the original covers. YES sported all those groovy Roger Dean covers. And yes Chicago always had those covers that had the band logo in some theme or another. My favorite album by them is still that 1st one with Terry Kath (sp?)all over the place on a wicked and heavy Gibson SG guitar.