Ramones presidential seal logo
An adaptation of the US presidential seal helped solidify the iconic style of the pioneering punk rock band.
The Ramones are often cited as the first true punk band and one of the most important rock groups of all time. Apart from their straightforward, hard-hitting music and classic denim-and-leather clothing, a large part of their iconic style can be attributed to contributions from their long-time art director and so-called “fifth Ramone”, Arturo Vega.
One such contribution is the now-famous logo Vega designed for the group, based on the official seal of the President of the United States. The logo, which Vogue described as being “almost as universal as the Nike swoosh”, replaces the text of the seal with the first names of the band members and incorporates a few other thematic variations. Vega explained some of the changes to Jim Bessman in the book Ramones: An American Band:
Instead of the olive branch, we had an apple tree branch, since the Ramones were American as apple pie. And since Johnny was such a baseball fanatic, we had the eagle hold a baseball bat instead of the arrows.
The pattern on the eagle’s coat of arms was inspired by a shirt from a store called Robbins that was a source for punks to pick up cheap clothes at the time.
Vega had used an eagle seal for earlier Ramones graphics – including on the back of their debut album – but the full seal most people recognize today made its major debut in 1977 on the back of their second album, Leave Home. That version replaced “E PLURBUS UNUM” on the original seal with the words “LOOK OUT BELOW”. Later variants changed it to “HEY HO LET’S GO” (a reference to the chorus of their song “Blitzkrieg Bop”).
The logo – which doesn’t even include the name of the band – has also changed in other ways over the years to accommodate changes with the lineup or other stylistic variants, but the basic format of using first names and an eagle has now been used for more than 40 years. (The approach of listing first names was also used by Experimental Jetset for their popular &&& shirts, which came full circle in a variant dedicated to the Ramones.)
The original seal on the back of Leave Home is set in ITC Tiffany Medium, designed just a few years earlier, in 1974, by Ed Benguiat (who sadly passed away last month). That first seal incorporates a few manual modifications to Tiffany’s glyphs that aren’t immediate obvious. For example, The J in “JOEY” is different from Tiffany’s normal J, as seen in “JOHNNY”. Presumably this is related to a shortage of J’s on Vega’s sheet of dry transfer letters – resolved in true punk rock fashion by simply joining the top of an I with the bottom of an S (or similar). Incidentally, there was an alternate J included with Letraset’s dry transfer sheets for Tiffany, but it was a descending variant that still ended in a teardrop terminal.
The first M in “TOMMY” also has a modified center vertex – perhaps a similar adaptation of necessity, made from pieces of an N or other glyphs.
Though it’s not perfect, the spacing of the letters is handled reasonably well considering the physical production methods involved. Vega is quoted about these kinds of manual design techniques in a wonderfully in-depth article about the logo by Sandra Hale Schulman, saying:
This is the way the original logo looked on the back cover of the second album, Leave Home. Yes, it’s before computers, and there was a lot of real cut-and-paste.
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2 Comments on “Ramones presidential seal logo”
Miss Debra says:Nov 5th, 2020 12:12 pm
Arturo Vega was a very good friend of mine and awesome human being and a huge talented genius. He and all the Ramones are missed. I was lucky enough to model the Ramones T-shirt for Arturo Vega for many years. I love and miss Arturo very much and as he says you cannot have art without Arturo!! 🖤🖤🖤
lalo quiñonez says:Mar 6th, 2021 12:29 am
I am Arturo cousin.
i am not sure if you remember me.
i meet you guys in ny in 1986
i had the opportunity to be with Arturo in his last days
was a great honor to share with him that moments.
i really miss him
he was a great human been