The Story Behind an Iconic Rock n’ Roll Photograph

Photography can be a lot like fishing: you snag a great picture, by luck or by will, and then you start telling the story of how you reeled it in. Over time, the story may get refined—certain details are added, others are removed—until you’re left with the perfect narrative about how you got The Big One. With that in mind, listen to photographer Richard Crawley tell the story of how he captured one of the most famous shots in rock history:

Of course, it’s an improbable tale. Crawley couldn’t afford a ticket to see the Rolling Stones, so he forged a press pass—the “Blue Meanie Press,” a nod to the villains in The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie—and fought his way to the front. He runs out of film, buys a roll off another guy, there’s mayhem all around him, and suddenly everyone parts “like the red sea” and there he was: Mick Jagger, looking directly at Crawley, had his hands behind his head, tongue draping out of his mouth.

Crawley snapped the photo, and—wouldn’t you know it?—it was the last frame on the reel. He was out of bait but no matter, because Crawley had the catch of a lifetime. The photo became famous, with the mouth and tongue image going on to become the official logo of the Rolling Stones. Great story, right?

rock photography rolling stones richard crawley

Graphic designer John Pasche might take issue with some part of it, since he actually designed the logo Crawley’s taking indirect credit for. It first appeared on the Stones’ album Sticky Fingers in 1971, two years before the photo was even taken, after Jagger commissioned him to create different images for the band. It’s more likely that Jagger struck that pose precisely because they’d already been marketing themselves with that logo. But maybe I’m just nitpicking

There’s a reason this shot became so famous in the first place—and that we’re still talking about it 40 years later. Who am I to challenge a good story? Either way, Crawley caught himself one big fish.

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