Over the years, tour posters have become increasingly collectable. They represent some of the most important moments in music history and are often successful artworks in their own right. That’s why we’ve decided to collect our favourite posters of all time in a handy top five list that includes some of the world’s greatest bands. We kick things off with the beautiful harmonies of The Beach Boys...
1. The Beach Boys - 1988 World Tour
By 1988, The Beach Boys had long been recognised as musical innovators and pioneers, paving the way for a more complex and melodic form of pop. Their revolutionary psych-surf sound had inspired generations of rock artists and the stories and controversies surrounding the band had grown to almost mythical proportions.
All was not well with the group, though. Its earlier commercial success had begun to falter, Dennis Wilson had struggled with addiction for many years, then drowned in 1983, and tensions between the remaining band members were at breaking point. The 1988 World Tour was something of a last hurrah - an opportunity to put the arguments aside and focus on the music.
With its simple print stylings and blocks of colour, the 1988 Tour poster was a work of genius and perfectly captured The Beach Boys’ surf origins and sun-soaked melodies. While the Tour did coincide with the band’s first US number one single in 22 years, it also marked the beginning of the end. The next decade would be marred by disagreements and lawsuits, culminating in a final break-up in 1998.
2. Mötley Crüe - Shout at the Devil 1983-84
The Crüe’s 1983 album, Shout at the Devil, was the record that brought them screaming into the mainstream. While it would eventually go 4x Platinum, the original release was marred by controversy. Not that the band were strangers to that. Criticised by conservative pundits for its supposed ‘glorification of satanism,’ the group’s use of the Pentagram and heavy make-up was part of the theatrical nature of their performance. This clever approach would encourage an audience hungry for hair metal to go out and buy 200,000 copies of the album in the first week alone.
Towards the end of 1983, the band went out on tour to publicise the album. At this time, the group’s offstage antics attracted more attention than their onstage performances, feeding their growing status as heavy metal legends. While some aspects of the tour were a success - Ozzy Osbourne picked up on the band and asked them to open for him on his 1984 tour - others were a disaster. Confrontations with the law were becoming increasingly common and the band’s reliance on illegal substances eventually culminated in Vince Neil crashing a stolen car while under the influence, killing his passenger.
However, for many, Shout at the Devil is the band’s finest moment and an album that stands amongst the best records in the genre. The 1983-84 tour also caught the Crüe on the cusp of something bigger - a band that sensed things were about to change but had yet to fully succumb to the egoism and self-parodying excess that so often come with rock ‘n’ roll success. The poster captures this moment in time well - just four glamorous, androgynous rockers ready to take on the world.
3. Led Zeppelin - US Tour 1975
Led Zep’s 1975 US concerts came on the back of an 18-month break from touring. It had a lot to live up to.
The band were at the height of their powers - adored by millions, regarded as one of the greatest bands of their generation and having just broken the Beatles’ record for playing to the largest audience in the world.
Their previous Tampa Stadium show squeezed in 56,800 screaming fans, eclipsing the Fab Four’s historic Shea Stadium performance and allowing Led Zeppelin to claim a place amongst the rock ‘n’ roll immortals. They were, by all accounts, the biggest band in the world.
However, the 1975 tour did not get off to the best of starts. Jimmy Page had slammed his finger in a train door, breaking it and forcing him to develop a unique three-finger playing technique that was deployed for the first portion of the tour. Robert Plant also suffered severe flu symptoms for the first few dates, causing him to struggle with vocal duties and impacting his performance until the end of the tour. The combination of the long break, the injuries and the illness resulted in a band that was rusty, ill-prepared and unable to hit the heights of the early ‘70s.
Despite this, the band continued, gradually becoming tighter, slicker and more polished as the tour progressed. By the end, they were back at full strength and unleashed some of the most critically acclaimed performances of their careers. For the tour’s promotional poster, the band used the winged figure they’d introduced as their record label’s logo a few years earlier. The image would be associated with the act for the rest of its existence and go on to become one of its most iconic symbols.
4. AC/DC - Highway to Hell 1979-80
Highway to Hell was the album that cemented AC/DC’s status as giants of hard rock. While their most memorable single and best-selling album, Black in Black, would be released at the end of 1980, Highway to Hell remains the connoisseur’s choice. It was more serious than previous efforts but still retained the quintessential AC/DC sound and continued to rely on Angus Young’s deceptively simple riffs.
Unfortunately, this period of considerable commercial and critical success would soon be sullied by the untimely death of the group’s lead vocalist, Bon Scott. Though his replacement, the immensely popular Brian Johnson, ensured his legacy lived on, the band had suffered a great loss.
The Highway to Hell tour was the last time the original full lineup performed on the world stage together. The poster featured the new iconic image of a snarling, devil-horned Young, backed by his bandmates. As promotional images go, it’s up there with the best.
5. Guns N’ Roses - Use Your Illusion Tour 1992-93
The final poster on our list is for Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion tour in 1992-93. One of the longest world tours ever organised, it racked up a total of 194 shows, spread over nine legs and the best part of two years. And the band never saw a cent of profit, thanks to the extravagant stage show and the ridiculous logistics involved in travelling with a 130-person tech crew.
While the tour is rightly remembered for some spectacular performances, it’s also infamous for the controversy the band (but especially Axl) courted wherever they went. In one instance, a concert was cancelled because of an outstanding warrant in Axl’s name. The band were also accused of inciting a riot, broke audience records, left fans waiting for hours before playing and Axl attacked reporters and photographers on multiple occasions. Despite this, the Use Your Illusion tour was Guns N’ Roses at their peak. The coming years would see the band succumb to problems with substance abuse and Axl Rose’s combative personality. Though there would be moments of glory, the group would never be quite the same again.
Well, that’s our list of the top five tour posters of all time. What do you think? Have we left any obvious contenders out? Do you disagree with any of our choices? Drop us a comment and let us know whether we’ve got it right and what tour posters would make your top five.
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