It is one of the bands biggest hit in hard rock historywith 200 million albums sold over almost 50 years of history and a good handful of songs that have become anthems of the genre, but it has been its logo, whose design was based on the letters from the Gutenberg Bible, which has transcended the world of music, becoming over time a popular culture icon.
A logo is today a crucial element in a world in which image is increasingly important. For decades now, especially rock groups, they understood that That emblem was an essential means of transmitting their identity and musical style.. And also to differentiate themselves and be recognizable in any of the stages or countries where they performed or where their records were sold.
In the case of AC/DC we must go back to 1973, the year in which the Young brothers, Angus and Malcom, arrived in Australia with their family from Scotland fleeing poverty, decided at the suggestion of their older brother George to create a band. of rock.
The sewing machine
The name of the group was chosen by Malcom and Angus after reading the AC/DC acronym on the back of his sister Margaret’s sewing machine. As simple as that. It was a simple inscription on the surface of the device, which indicated that it had an adapter that transformed the alternating current from the wall socket of a house into the direct current it needed to function. And that electric and energy aspect fit perfectly with his musical style.
In the band’s first video clip, which dates back to 1974, the group’s name already appeared in a somewhat rudimentary logo, probably made by themselves, on the drums. The initials AC and DC appeared separately, each of them inside a cube (geometric figure) and with a lightning bolt in the center, but above the initials, without dividing them. At that moment, although for a short time, the band’s vocalist is Dave Evans. In his place would arrive a few months later the always remembered Bon Scott.
With the appearance of his first album, High Voltage (1975), which was initially released only in Australia, the logo was already experiencing a little sophistication. It was now thick black letters, very close and consistent. An orange lightning bolt appeared in the middle of the two parts of the name.
A year later, the group released their second album, again only in the Australian market, T.N.T. (1976). The logo appeared this time on Orange like the letters that result from blurring a spray on a surface using a template. The hand of a creative was not yet appreciated. The team seemed to be more focused then on already enjoying some success in their country.
Signing for Atlantic Records
It was precisely then when the knock came on their door from Atlantic Records, a record company that would from that moment help the Australian band expand their music throughout the international market. Meanwhile, Albert Records would continue to be in charge of its local distribution in Australia for the moment.
An important figure at the American record label Atlantic Records was its creative director, Bob Defrin, who worked for decades with the Young brothers as responsible for the design of their album covers. Defrin contacted a young 24-year-old graphic designer to create a typography that would give personality to the group’s initials. It was about the Californian Gerard Huerta, who had previously worked for CBS records designing covers for renowned groups. His is the logo that appears in the international edition of High Voltage in 1976, which brings together songs from AC/DC’s first two works already published in the Australian market. Now, the letters return to black and have a green border, the AC and DC parts are inclined in opposite directions and the ray that divides them is white with yellow borders.
1977, the key year
It was a more substantial, less crude work, but it would not be the definitive one. The key year is 1977, when with the appearance of the new album Let There Be Rock, Gerard Huerta hit the key and designed the AC/DC logo that has survived to this day. The letters became angular, including a rhomboid finish of the letter A. But where did Huerta’s inspiration come from that turned out to be so long-lasting and successful in the end? As the creative himself recognized, from the Gutenberg Bible, therefore, although the work and the model were strictly earthly, a kind of celestial illumination or inspiration could not be denied in their origin.
The young creative chose gothic lyrics because he thought they would go well with the cover Defrin was working on, with the band playing under a dark sky. “When I was at CBS, I did some lyrics for the cover of an album for Blue Öyster Cult called On Your Feet Or On Your Knees. For some reason, I connected the idea of using biblical letters for this logo, but representing it with a bevel and in metallic. I had made these lyrics inspired by Gutenberg and when it came time to make the lyrics for AC/DC, I used Gutenberg with a twist. It’s orange, it has bezels and there are all straight lines. There are no curves. It’s very sharp“Huerta narrated for the portal Smashing Magazine.
In some way, the AC/DC logo contributed to Gothic typography became a kind of model for groups and artists of the genre.. This is what his designer herself acknowledged some time later: “I went back before that to see if something like that was done and I really haven’t seen anything. It became the defining aspect of the heavy metal“.
However, and despite the fact that his work has appeared on millions of covers since 1977, Huerta, who acknowledges that he still has the order and the invoice for the order, did not receive more than a single initial payment. And he has never claimed copyright or other compensation for that design. AC/DC was not his only recognized work. Huerta, which is still active today, has designed logos and album covers for notable artists and groups such as Boston, Foreigner, Chicago, Ted Nugent, Willie Nelson and Blue Oyster Cult. In addition, he has stood out for his typographic creations and logo creation for companies such as HBO, Calvin Klein or Pepsi, and for publications such as Time, People y PC Magazine.
Some more changes
Although AC/DC would change their insignia in his next album, Powerage (1978), opting on that occasion for an electrified white logo, would return in his following albums and permanently and definitively to the one created by Huerta. Emblematic covers like Highway To Hell (1979) -which included a version censored by the record company in the United States-, Back In Black (1980) o For Those About To Rock (1981) would already carry that hallmark that has been preserved intact to this day.
There was only one striking exception: the cover of the international edition of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1981), which had previously been published in Australia in 1976, was made by the prestigious graphic design studio Hipgnosis, founded in 1967 by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, who had already collaborated with groups such as Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd.
That cover was a very big conceptual change (and daring, considering the already marked style of the Australian group) and included the letters AC/DC in a fuchsia that were more associated with psychedelia, glam or the surf sound than the forceful rock that their unmistakable riffs guitar
It must be taken into account that the vinyl covers They were a fundamental space when defining the entire visual and brand strategy of the groups. For Huerta himself, that space “was the place where you had to be if you were an artist, illustrator or photographer.” That is why the work of Bob Defrin, the art director of Atlantic Records, was also fundamental in the case of AC/DC. “A good cover is not going to help a good album, but a bad cover can kill it,” he acknowledged in the podcast. AC/DC, beyond the thunder.
14 albums and 43 years later, the legendary formation of hard rock of Scottish origin continues to show as an unmistakable personal mark those letters that today appear not only on the covers of millions of records but also on t-shirts and sweatshirts that can be found every year in major fashion stores all over the planet. Those four simple gothic characters separated by a lightning bolt have transcended rock, and even music, and now constitute an icon of popular culture.
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