Hall of Fame Inside the Artwork: The story behind Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘I Had The Blues, But I Shook Them Loose’

Joseph Sterling’s ‘Age of Adolescence’ photography series is the ideal match for this exuberant, youthful debut.

Did seeing the ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ artwork splashed across Topshop T-Shirts make you angry? It would be difficult to blame you. After all, who enjoys seeing an image that means something to them personally commoditised by a high street super-chain? It takes a little bit of the magic away doesn’t it?

Maybe, though, there’s something more to it. Maybe the moment that image went up on clothing racks across the nation’s high streets, it marked the moment those four gawky Crouch End teenagers truly became part of the UK’s pop culture. Some people might see a cool image, but to others, they saw an image that truly evoked the carefree, restless and rapturous spirit of ‘I Had The Blues, But I Shook Them Loose’. The artwork for Bombay’s debut is, if stared at while you listen, is just like the opening credits for True Detective Season One; a dazzling marriage of imagery and music. Bombay’s debut artwork screamed of the hungry, upbeat youthful energy and boyish romance - evident on tracks like ‘Lamplight’ and ‘What If’ - that pumped through the veins of Bombay’s first album. It was a perfect fit.

Texas-born Joseph Sterling made his name photographing teenagers during the late 1950s through to the early 1960s. His collection ‘The Age Of Adolescence’ perfectly captured the period’s hedonism and experimentation, from brilliant haircuts to bicep inking. It’s all about hanging out on beaches, in fast cars and in milkshake bars. As Sterling himself put it, “the world of the adolescent is totally interlaced within itself and incapable of freeing itself… It whirls, rolls, and engulfs what it is allowed to engulf.” ‘The Age Of Adolescence’ is a beautiful, powerful collection - is it possible to look through without sharp pangs of jealousy? Can you gaze at those photos and not yearn to relive, or be a part of that era? It all looks so… cool.

The album artwork came into Bombay’s hands through a graphic designer sending through some photos, and the band chose the limb-flailing one we’ve all come to adore today. Unfortunately, Joseph Sterling passed away a year after the release of Bombay’s debut in 2010. With the permission of Bombay Bicycle Club’s management, we are publishing an email Joseph sent to them detailing the background info on the photo:

“I took the picture in the early 1960’s along the Lake Michigan lake front in Chicago,” wrote Joseph Sterling “It was in an area where a lot of kids hung out. A large group would take a blanket, holding it all around the edges, one guy (or girl) would lay on it and then the group of kids would lift and then “drop” it to almost the ground repeatedly and build up power and then throw the kid on the blanket very high in the air. Then they would catch him as he came down and probably do it again. It looked like a lot of fun but you had to have a lot of trust in your friends! It was a pretty popular thing at that time. I don’t know if kids do it now. It can be VERY DANGEROUS! (But they were doing this on a sand beach)”

For more information on Joseph Sterling and his work, check out the Museum of Contemporary Photography. For the rest of DIY’s Hall of Fame coverage, head here.

Tags: Bombay Bicycle Club, Hall Of Fame, Features

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