4 Must-See Selections from the Rolling Stones' 'UNZIPPED' Exhibition

The international showcase runs at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, ON, until February 27
4 Must-See Selections from the Rolling Stones' 'UNZIPPED' Exhibition
Following stints in Europe, the United States and Asia, the Rolling Stones will now get UNZIPPED in Canada. The international exhibition, now open for its Canadian debut at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, ON, takes stock of the Stones' collaboration and influence in music, art and design, fashion and film across their rocking career of 50 years (and counting).

Boasting over 300 original objects from the Stones' personal collections — including instruments, stage designs, rare audio and video footage, personal diaries, iconic costumes, posters and album covers — the exhibit also features original works from artists and designers including Andy Warhol, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Dior, Martin Scorsese and more.

Ahead of flashing your backstage pass to one of the most celebrated rock bands of all time, Exclaim! has rounded up must-see exhibit inclusions from UNZIPPED, instrumental to the Stones' inimitable sound and style.

A Legacy of Lip

Fifty years on from first lick, the Rolling Stones' tongue and lips logo has all but transcended the band itself, standing as one of the most iconic symbols in popular music history. Conceived for use on a letterhead or a programme cover, the logo has gone beyond record labels and packaging to inspire live set and stage designs, and be plastered on myriad merch items. It both announces the Stones' live concerts and is around to take photos with at your respective date, dressed for the occasion.

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Searching to commission a designer for a 1970 tour poster and a band logo, the band approached the Royal College of Art in London in search of an artist, and were recommended John Pasche. A Master of Arts student in his final year at the time, Pasche recalled to The New York Times in 2020 how Mick Jagger was in search of "an image that could work on its own… like the Shell Petroleum logo. He wanted that kind of simplicity." During a meeting with the frontman at his home, Pasche was shown an illustration of the Hindu deity Kali with an open mouth and protruding tongue, and he "just immediately picked up on the tongue and mouth."

Any Rolling Stones record collector will tell you that the tongue and lips have been featured on every one of the band's releases since 1970, beginning with 1971's Sticky Fingers. Its inclusion led the creation of a slightly modified logo for packaging of the album's North American release, with a more narrow, highlighted tongue, a black outline and more visible throat compared to Pasche's original design. Done by illustrators at Craig Braun's Sound Packaging Corporation, this version remains the official logo of the band.

Originally designed in black and white, Pasche's logo has been thought by many to be inspired by Mick Jagger's mouth. Though the favourite feature of many Jagger caricature artists, the artist has said that they were not intended as the basis of his work. Victoria Broackes, a senior curator at the UK's V&A Museum, told The Times that upon meeting Pasche after buying his original design from a Chicago auction house on the museum's behalf, "I said, Surely those were Mick Jagger's lips!"' She said the artist "looked rather nonplused and said, 'Well, maybe subliminally, but no.'"
UNZIPPED features Pasche-designed tour posters from 1970, 1971 and 1972, as well as iterations of the logo by him — which also he feels carries an anti-authoritarian spirit. "It's the kind of thing kids do when they stick their tongue out at you," Pasche noted to The Times last year. "That was the main reason I thought it would work well."

Stones Style

For their first-ever television appearance in 1963, the Rolling Stones got dressed up in matching checked jackets. Perhaps inspired by the style of the Beatles, the outfits didn't exactly scream rock 'n' roll rebelliousness, and as the Stones began crossing over in the US in the mid-'60s, their dress became much more daring.

The band's fashion sense — one in constant evolution, particularly when it came to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards — is chronicled through the years by UNZIPPED, delving into the minds and materials that shaped the Stones' style. "You want to be new, you want to be eye-catching and yet elegant, but yet crazy, because you're onstage," Jagger told The New York Times of his style choices in 2016. "It's not just five blokes in bluejeans going on with a lot of amps, you know what I mean?"

Sections "King's Road" and "Glam," respectively named for the West London street and style the Stones helped pioneer, showcases the irreverent and eye-catching clothes found in shops including famed psychedelic boutique Granny Takes a Trip, and from designers including Tommy Nutter, John Stephen, Giorgio di Sant' Angelo and Ossie Clark, the last of whom is behind Jagger's '70s-era velvet jumpsuits.

"These kinds of jumpsuits, they were really easy, you didn't have to make any decisions," Jagger told The Times in 2016. "You were just like, 'Is it going to be this color or this color,' then put a scarf over it and you're ready. They were very comfortable to wear. They were, like, sexy, and you could move in them."

Never wanting to associate with one designer, the Stones continued to experiment in the decades to come, their taste in design changing with the times and their own star status. In a section titled "Spectacle," UNZIPPED highlights work with Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Christian Dior and Saint Laurent Paris, while "Sympathy for the Devil" centres on six flamboyant costumes worn by Jagger during live performances of the song, designed by Prada, L'Wren Scott, Gianni Versace and Hedi Slimane.

"There are so many ghastly awful ones," Jagger would concede to The Times of some of his closet choices. "But at the time, everyone loved them, you know what I mean? You always have to go further and go to more to the defense of the ridiculous in fashion," he said. "You have to go and take chances, and people are going to laugh, and maybe it's not going to be a success. But there is no success without risk."

Cover Controversy

Both the Rolling Stones' tongue and lips logo and their fashion exploits show that the band held image-making and design in high regard when it came to their identity as a group, and that mindset carries over to their record covers. In UNZIPPED, an entire section devoted to "Album Design" features inspirations and various of favourites from the Stones' studio catalogue, collecting photos, posters, artwork, original albums and more with firsthand accounts from the band and designers.

Of course, some of the group's artistic ambitions were not without controversy. Along with their logo debut, 1971's Sticky Fingers is also renowned for its Andy Warhol-designed cover art, featuring a close-up of a man's crotch, with a functional zipper on the LP version. Undo the zipper, and the record holder finds a Warhol model in some clean, white briefs that many have mistaken for Jagger, but whose identity remains unknown to this day.

Apart from the suggestive Sticky Fingers covers rankling the sensibilities of more prudish pop culture observers, it also caused problems with the record itself. While initial pressings of the LP were packed to ship with protective cardboard between each unit, the zipper from one record would dent the LP it was next to, making the grooves of B-side track "Sister Morphine" unplayable.
Even with a piece of protective cardboard separating each album, the first shipment of records arrived at retailers with some damage. Because of the weight of the stacked albums during transport, the zipper pull from one record was denting the vinyl on top of it, making the microgrooves unplayable.

In order to keep Warhol's design intact, artist Craig Braun, whose Sound Packaging Corporation was behind the Stones' modified tongue and lips logo, found a solution. As he recalled to The New York Times in 2015, "I got this idea that maybe, if the glue was dry enough, we could have the little old ladies at the end of the assembly line pull the zipper down far enough so that the round part would hit the center disc label… It worked, and it was even better to see the zipper pulled halfway down."

In 1978, the Stones offered up another bit of bold album design with Some Girls. Designed by Peter Corriston with illustrations from Hubert Kretzschmar, the LP's die-cut cover featured the band's faces and those of various celebrities humorously mocked up in a hair product ad, its coloured segments varying depending on which market the album was sold in.

The Some Girls cover was in turn met with threats of legal action by some of the famous women depicted — Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett, Liza Minnelli (representing her mother Judy Garland), Raquel Welch and the estate of Marilyn Monroe among them — who alleged their likenesses had been used without permission. The sleeve artwork was subsequently changed to have those famous faces removed, replaced with coloured shapes and the message, "Pardon our appearance, cover under construction." Only one non-Stones celebrity remains: George Harrison can be spotted in the sleeve's lower righthand corner.

The Mighty Mobile

In addition to its focus on style, UNZIPPED doesn't forget to examine the sound of the Rolling Stones, chronicling the global slate of studios the rock icons cut their timeless tunes in, including Chess Studios in Chicago, RCA Studios in Hollywood, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama and Dynamic Sounds in Jamaica. The exhibit even features a complete studio recreation that captures an early-era setup they would have used at a facility like Olympic Sound Studios in Barnes, West London.

Of course, the minds behind UNZIPPED would be remiss not to feature a formative band contribution to recorded sound technology: the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, the first-ever professional mobile recording space. Looking to free themselves of the constraints that came with traditional studio use, band pianist and road manager Ian Stewart suggested they adapt a recording studio control room to fit in a vehicle. Equipped with a custom Helios recording console, "the Mighty Mobile," as the Stones called it, was initially created for their own use, but soon caught the attention of their peers.

Outside of its work in capturing songs for Sticky Fingers and 1972's Exile on Main St., the RSM has had a hand in the creation of some of rock music's most enduring tracks and albums. Most famously, it is immortalized in the lyrics of Deep Purple's timeless rocker "Smoke on the Water," in which the band recall taking a trip to Montreux, Switzerland, "to make records with a Mobile," later referring to it lovingly as the "Rolling truck Stones thing."

Along with its use on Deep Purple's Machine Head and Burn, the RSM was also used in recording Led Zeppelin's III, IV and Houses of the Holy albums, Dire Straits' 1984 double live album Alchemy, and the beloved 7-minute live version of Bob Marley & the Wailers' "No Woman, No Cry," captured during a London, UK, performance released as 1975's Live! How prickly of the Who's Roger Daltrey to recently deem the Stones a "mediocre pub band," considering that band's invention captured the Who's explosive "Won't Get Fooled Again" during sessions for 1971's Who's Next.

"It was the only independent mobile recording unit around," Keith Richards writes in his 2010 autobiography, Life. "We didn't realize when we put it together how rare it was — soon we were renting it out to the BBC and ITV because they only had one apiece. It was another one of those beautiful, graceful, fortuitous things that happened to the Stones."

UNZIPPED brings the RSM to life through video footage, tape boxes, ads and brochures, while the unit itself is still in operation to this day in its current home of Canada. In 2001, the National Music Centre (then the Cantos Music Museum) in Calgary, AB, acquired the RSM, and restored it for recording use. Late NMC electronics technician John Leimseider deemed it "the Sistine Chapel of rock 'n' roll."

Celebrate the Rolling Stones' artistic collaborations in music, art, design, fashion and film with UNZIPPED, now open at Kitchener's THEMUSEUM from November 30, 2021 through February 27, 2022. For more exhibition information, visit unzippedkw.ca.