Skip to main content

Thanks to smartphones, like the Nokia Lumia 920, taking photos at the right place at the right time has never been easier. And there are few occasions when this is more useful than when snapping musicians. Not only are their concerts often culturally significant, but – given the propensity of outlandish performers to die young – you might never have the chance to capture these legends again. Here’s five photos we think showcase both the moment and the musicians perfectly.

‘That’s Peanut Butter?’

Iggy Pop is notorious for many reasons but this shot, from Cincinnati in 1970, shows a total showman at work!  Whilst the Stooges belted out ‘T.V. Eye’, Iggy headed off into – and onto – the crowd! It is an audacious, fun and incredibly talented piece of theatre and this photograph captures all of it perfectly. Iggy eventually re-appeared from the crowd smearing himself in peanut butter. Rock and roll, eh…?


London’s Calling

If people start talking to you about f. stops and focus points, get out a copy of The Clash’s London Calling and watch as all of their arguments suddenly become null and void. If ever there was a music photo that summed up the feeling and energy of a performance, Pennie Smith’s 1979 shot of Paul Simonon destroying his bass guitar at The Palladium in New York must surely be it. Smith was initially unsure of using the image – precisely fearing that it wasn’t in focus – but in hindsight she must have been glad that Joe Strummer and designer Ray Lowry convinced her it was worth it. The shot is now regularly voted as one of the best rock and roll photos ever taken.  Not in focus? Who cares!

Strike a Pose

Madge has always been capable of strongly dividing opinion, but whether you love her or loathe her, you can’t escape the impact she’s had on popular music in the last 30 years. A controversial black Jesus, a big coffee table book of Sex, glimpses of S&M, touches of opera… there’s not many things Madonna hasn’t had a go at.

With so many iconic image changes along the way, there are plenty of pictures to chose from – although some we may not get away with here!  So we’ve plumped for this great photograph from one of her most famous songs: Vogue.

The Music World’s Most Famous Crossing

Shot in August 1969 by photographer Iain Macmillan, this image has generated mountains of speculation about its symbolic meanings and every detail has been investigated and tracked; (the American tourist in the back corner has been identified and even the number plate from the VW Beetle now resides in a Museum)

Speculative ideas picture John as the preacher, Ringo as the undertaker, George as the grave digger and Paul, who is barefoot, as the corpse. Conspiracy crazies go one further, having you believe that McCartney actually died in 1966 and everything thereafter was played by an imposter – hence the symbolism here.

The fact that these six stripes of white paint on a north London road have recently gained ‘Grade II listed status’ (indicating they are a monument of national importance) tells you a little something about the huge significance of this photograph!

‘Not Guilty, M’Lud’

In February 1967, Police raided Keith Richards’ West Sussex Mansion, Redlands, and the subsequent fall out saw him, Mick Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser charged with drugs possession offenses. The trio opted to be tried by jury and were promptly found guilty.

There followed the inevitable uproar from the press, fans and fellow musicians who saw the three month sentence as ridiculously harsh. In an act of solidarity, The Who rush-released a single containing two Stones songs and artist Richard Hamilton later executed a print to raise money for ‘Release’, an organisation for people who had run into trouble with the Police. In this famous shot by Stanley Sherman, Jagger is cuffed to a warder and being driven from Chichester Crown Court to Lewes Prison.

These images and their related stories have become part of the classic iconography of music history. But which others would you choose to add to the Rock and Roll Hall of photo fame?

Image credit: MaAtE