Fact: Any band that uses Times New Roman on its album cover isn’t going to make it in the music industry. (Feel free to prove us wrong, though.) Smart typography selection is as important to a band’s image as having a memorable logo.
In 1937, industrial designer and typographer Gerry Powell designed an extremely condensed typeface called Onyx that became very popular among advertising type in the 1940s because it allowed more characters to be used when space was limited or costly.
Cut to present-day and any ’90s kid will identify Powell’s Onyx typeface* as the “Nirvana font,” thanks to typesetter Grant Alden. According to nirvana-legacy.com, Alden was paid $15 to assist the graphic designer originally hired to create the cover art for Nirvana’s Bleach in 1989. (Nirvana’s signature smiley face, drawn by Kurt Cobain, is another “mental shortcut” to identify the band.)
Time to test your typography knowledge and the following bands’ branding skills. Can you identify these famous acts by their typefaces?
See also: Take Our Andrew W.K. Party Tip Quiz!
1. Founded in 1977 in New Jersey, this band is often credited for creating the horror-punk subgenre.
2. Unfortunately, a member of this metal band from Sacramento died in 2013, after being in a coma. The band released a track from a shelved album as a tribute, but the video was removed by Warner Bros. Records two days later, citing copyright infringement.
3. Despite their short career, which produced only four singles and one studio album, this band is regarded as one of the most influential acts in the history of popular music.
4. This alternative metal band has grown tired of comparisons to Alice in Chains, which the lead singer has cited as an influence.
5. This English band is considered one of the most successful heavy metal bands in history. According to the New York Times, they have sold over 85 million records worldwide.
6. This alternative rock band from the U.K. has been compared to Radiohead, and is often associated with space-rock and progressive-rock genres.
7. This band recently announced its founder won’t be returning to the group due to his battle with a prolonged illness. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald: “he has been moved into full-time care in a nursing home facility in Sydney’s eastern suburbs specializing in dementia.”
8. This English rock band is one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums selling over 10 million copies in the U.S., and has sold more than 100 million records wolrdwide.
9. The lead singer of this California-native band is also a talented ink and watercolor artist whose new work will be exhibited at the Rossmut Gallery in Rome this month.
More typefaces on the next page
10. A Zeeland, Michigan, high school assistant principal described this nu-metal band’s music as “indecent, vulgar, obscene and…insulting” after giving a student a one-day suspension for wearing a shirt with the band’s logo on it. The band responded by giving away hundreds of free band T-shirts outside the school.
11. “Listen, lads, you can’t say [you’re the next version of us],” a member of this legendary band once responded to an infamous Oasis statement, “because it’s probably the kiss of death!” He was right.
12. Mushroomhead claims this band, whose members notoriously wear creepy masks, “stole their image.” Also, a few criminals have blamed this band’s lyrics for causing their disturbing behavior.
13. Nobody is supposed to know what this duo looks like, but we can certainly identify their typeface (usually in silver), and signature headgear.
14. This band, sometimes referred to as the “Bad Boys From Boston,” are the best-selling American rock band of all time; they’ve sold more than 150 million albums worldwide.
15. The lead singer of this Los Angeles band became the first rock artist to be arrested onstage during a concert performance in 1967, after he disrespected a police officer.
16. The lead singer of this quirky alternative rock band took a break from the music industry to study literature at Harvard in 1995.
17. This rock band, regarded as one of the most influential and important of the modern era, released only three full-length studio albums.
18. This American rock band from New Jersey has performed more than 2,700 concerts in over 50 countries for more than 34 million fans.
Answer key on the next page
3. Sex Pistols
5. Iron Maiden
8. Def Leppard
11. The Beatles
13. Daft Punk
15. The Doors
18. Bon Jovi
* Although, in Michael Azerrad’s Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, the typeface is identified as Bodoni. Fight amongst yourselves, Nirvana-font nerds.