Rolling Stone Covers

WYEP’s Rolling Stone Covers Day

November 9th, 2022

Rolling Stone magazine was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and Ralph J. Gleason. The magazine was originally focused on music and popular culture. However, over the years, it has come to be known for its political reporting and commentary as well. In fact, Rolling Stone has had some major scoops over the years, including an exclusive prison interview with Charles Manson and the revelation that David Crosby was the biological father of Melissa Etheridge’s son.

The magazine has also been home to some of the most iconic photographers and music writers of all time. Photographers like Baron Wolman and Annie Liebovitz, as well as writers such as Hunter S. Thompson, Cameron Crowe, Jon Landau, Greil Marcus, and Lester Bangs, have all contributed to Rolling Stone’s legendary status. And, of course, the magazine’s infamous album reviews have launched many a career (and ended just as many).

Being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine is a badge of honor worn by some of the biggest names in music and entertainment. From Bono to Beyonce, these artists have achieved the ultimate recognition for their talent and success. But what does it really mean to grace the iconic cover? One could argue that it cements one’s place in history as an influential figure in the industry. It’s a signal to fans and critics alike that you’ve made it to the top and have earned your spot among legends. Of course, being on the cover also brings with it a certain level of “street cred.” Who wouldn’t want their face plastered over a magazine that has long been associated with rock ‘n roll? So when those famous words “On the Cover: [insert musician here]” appear on stands, it’s not just another magazine issue – it’s a symbol of prestige and cultural significance.

On November 9th, 2022 (the 55th anniversary of the first issue) from 6 am to 10 pm, we’re going to take some time to appreciate this iconic publication by playing only the artists who have graced its cover. We also asked the WYEP DJs to tell us which cover(s) they think are the most iconic and why. Check out their answers below:

A naked John Lennon and clothed Yoko Ono on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine Issue #335 from January 22nd, 1981

Rosemary Welsch’s Pick:

Host, Weekdays – 2p to 6p

Issue #335 | January 22nd, 1981 | John Lennon & Yoko Ono

The world was still reeling from the loss of John Lennon when Rolling Stone published its January 22, 1981, issue featuring the ex-Beatle and his wife, Yoko Ono. It was a gut punch of a cover, driving home the knowledge that John Lennon was truly, irrevocably, pointlessly gone, taken from us by a deranged act of brutality.

Annie Leibovitz took the polaroid of the couple just hours before Lennon was gunned down in front of his home at The Dakota. With John, naked, wrapped around a fully clothed Yoko in a near fetal position, the couple resembles a human Ying/Yang, so indicative of their relationship. John’s nakedness made him more a man, less a legend, his physicality no match for piercing metal bullets. Yoko’s clothing becomes nothing more than a thin veneer of protection; within hours their sense of security would be shattered as a man who lived with fame would become its victim.

Kyle Smith’s Pick:

Host, Weekdays – 10a to 2p

Issue #1185 | June 6th, 2013 | Daft Punk

It was quite a surprise to see one of the more influential, critically acclaimed, and commercially successful electro-dance bands in history grace the cover of Rolling Stone just after Random Access Memories was released in May of 2013. 

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter were known for keeping their identities secret by dressing as robots in public, limiting interviews, and generally staying focused on their studio creations.  This issue became their most revealing interview ever, and Random Access Memories became their 4th and final album.  In 2014, the band went on to win 5 GRAMMYS, including Album of The Year and Record of the Year.

Daft Punk famously released a video in February of 2020 announcing, in their own unique way, the end of the band.

Joey Spehar’s Pick:

Host, Weekdays – 6a to 10a

Issue #665 | September 16th, 1993 | Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson appeared famously on the cover of Rolling Stone a couple of months before my 10th birthday. I vividly remember seeing this magazine on the shelves back when magazines were everywhere. Picking up some prescriptions with Nana at Phar-Mor? There’s Janet Jackson. Stopping in Walden Books at the mall? There’s Janet Jackson. Hell, I think they had that magazine in church that fall. 

At the time, I was aware of Janet Jackson’s music, but never really considered what she looked like. I heard “Miss You Much,” “Escapade,” and “Rhythm Nation” about a billion times on B94. But, 1993 was the year I had a major awakening, discovering rock-n-roll and my musicAlthough, now that I write it down on paper, maybe 1993 was the year I had more than one awakening…

By chance, the issues both post and prior to the Janet Jackson cover featured artists (Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg and Jerry Garcia, respectively) I’d come to discover and love soon after. 

Liz Felix’s Pick:

Host, Weekdays – 6p to 10p

Issue #1028 | June 14th, 2007 | Amy Winehouse

The cover’s maybe not as memorable as the story within. I remember really loving “Back to Black,” but also feeling disturbed by the real-life turmoil surrounding its singer. She had such an outlandish look that it’s not surprising that she ended up on the cover of Rolling Stone just a few months after her second record was released. Although her life and career were sadly cut short by 2011, she’d already solidified her place in the canon, and this cover happened at the height of it all.

Amy-Winehouse-Rolling-Stone-Cover-June-2007-Issue-1028

Clara Kent’s Pick:

Part-Time Host

Issue #1035 | September 20th, 2007 | 50 Cent & Kanye West

Two controversial figures in hip-hop, 50 Cent & Kanye West. This cover was one of the biggest cultural shifts in Hip-Hop culture, showing a transition from street rap into an era of multi-genre hip-hop.

The marketing and hype were electric in the mainstream world as well, and both artists dropped some of their best work to date during this time. This created many debates and commentary that led to a full pivot in the direction of Hip-Hop culture and rap music.

Honorable Mention:

Issue #994 | March 18th, 2004 | Outkast

Outkast went diamond in less than a month with Speakerboxx/The Love Below! A phenomenal feat, especially for two Hip-Hop artists from Atlanta, GA. We got multiple hits like “Hey Ya,” “Roses,” “The Way You Move,” and “Prototype,” with features from Roy Ayers, Nora Jones, and Isaac Hayes. This is still considered one of the best Hip-Hop albums of all time from a group/collective.

Mike Sauter’s Pick:

Host, Slacker Rewind – Fridays -10p to 12a

Issue #628 | April 16th, 1992 | Nirvana

Kurt Cobain appeared multiple times on the Rolling Stone cover: four times by himself (all after his untimely death), four times in photo montages, and only twice with his band Nirvana. But few of these were as memorable as Nirvana’s first cover featuring Kurt wearing a hand-lettered T-shirt with “corporate magazines still suck” peeking out under his cardigan sweater.

The cover marked a key transitional shift in culture, in which the mainstream music world—represented by Rolling Stone—was suspicious of this vanguard of emergent bands but needed their street cred. Meanwhile, the alternative rock underground—represented by Nirvana—was wary of the music industry yet wanted the popular attention. Kurt’s shirt on the cover was exhibit A of this uneasy truce in a torch-passing moment of rock history.

Gretchen Unico’s Pick:

Part-Time Host

Issue #375 | August 5th, 1982 | The Go-Go’s

If we want to get into the more negative behaviors of Rolling Stone, this is an example of their tendency to treat women vs. men very differently for the cover shoots (i.e. women are often some level of undressed with racy headlines, and though it’s presented as “edgy” and “empowering,” it’s not often the artist’s decision to present themselves that way).

For this issue, the Go Go’s showed up in outfits they had personally picked out and were told upon arrival to put on plain white underwear and t-shirts instead. The headline on the cover ended up being “The Go-Go’s Put Out,” and the band felt humiliated. Kathy Valentine talks about the experience here.

Honorable Mention:

Issue #352 | September 17th, 1981 | Jim Morrison

The Doors were going through a major revival in 1980, and this article helped bolster public interest in the band, which ultimately made them much bigger than they ever were when Jim Morrison was alive in the ‘60s.

Brian Siewiorek’s Pick:

Host, The Grooves – Wednesdays – 10p to 12a

Issue #2 | November 25th, 1967 | Tina Turner

Rolling Stone broke a lot of barriers by putting Tina Turner on the cover of their second issue. 

Bruce Mountjoy’s Pick:

Host, Sundays – 8p to 11p

Issue #1 | November 9th, 1967 | John Lennon

It seems a little trite, but it featured one of my favorite musicians, John Lennon, who was beginning to break out of his purely “Beatles” identity by appearing in Richard Lester’s “How I Won The War” wearing his iconic NIH-issued glasses for the first time.

Steve Morse’s Pick:

Host, Saturdays – 7a to 10a

Issue #668 | October 28th, 1993 | Pearl Jam

I had been gifted a subscription during the holiday season the previous year. It was so exciting to get new issues out of the mailbox. My parents liked a lot of the artists and music featured, just different ones than me. It was something we talked about often in the car or at meals.

I would read each issue cover-to-cover while listening to the radio in my room at home as a 13/14-year-old. A friend’s sister got Spin Magazine in the mail and we used to trade copies. Pearl Jam was my very favorite band at the time and I made sure I got this one back. I wanted to be like Pearl Jam when I was that age and still do. 

Kerem Gokmen’s Pick:

Host, Dubmission – Sundays – 1a to 5a

Issue #488 | December 4th, 1986 | Run D.M.C.

So many memorable Rolling Stone covers over the decades. Having grown up in the 80s, the most iconic cover for me was the issue which featured Run D.M.C. on the front page. Not only was it the first time that a rap artist graced the cover, but it also helped pave the way for hip-hop to be recognized as more than lyricism from the streets of New York.

Barb Steinberg’s Pick:

Host, Sundays – 2p to 5p

Issue #131 | March 29th, 1973 | Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show

Issue 131 with a caricature of members of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. It says “What’s-Their-Names Make the Cover” after their song “The Cover of the ‘Rolling Stone'” went to the top 10 in 1973.  It’s still all about the music and that song is an earworm.

Rolling Stone Cover #131 
March 29th, 1973
Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show

Sean Fogarty’s Pick:

Host, Saturdays – 10a to 2p

Issue #551 | May 4th, 1989 | Lou Reed

Issue 665 (Janet Jackson) is iconic, and two of the covers with Prince are memorable (I’m partial to issue 394 featuring Prince and Vanity).  But while the cover photo of issue 235 (Fleetwood Mac) partnered up in the same bed in various states of undress is memorable for many reasons, I’m going with issue 551 in which Lou Reed is dressed in a leather jacket and sunglasses in the dead of night looking like The Terminator.

Erin Dawes’ Pick:

Host, Sundays – 8a to 11a

Issue #683 | June 2nd, 1994 | Kurt Cobain

This was two months after he had died. I remember that iconic black and white cover photo of him. 

Dave Blaushild’s Pick:

Host, Thursdays – 12a to 4a

Issue #1196 | November 21st, 2013 | Lou Reed

Lou Reed passed away on October 27, 2013. One of the most influential writers and musicians of our time, Lou established the Lou Reed/Delmar Schwartz Scholarship for Creative Writing at his alma mater, Syracuse University.

Rob O’ Friel’s Pick:

Host, Rollin’ & Tumblin’ – Saturdays – 9p to 12a

Issue #335 | January 22nd, 1981 | John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Here is Beatle John, naked as the day he was born and literally just hours before he would be brutally murdered. If a picture was ever truly worth a thousand words, it is this one. Was this John the Emperor who needed no clothes?  Or was this John, fetal, naked, and vulnerable as the day he was born (on the day he would die)? 

What makes this cover so iconic is that while the picture is worth at least a thousand words, no words were used on the cover when it ran. Nobody had to be told, and nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed.

A naked John Lennon and clothed Yoko Ono on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine Issue #335 from January 22nd, 1981
A naked John Lennon and clothed Yoko Ono on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine Issue #335 from January 22nd, 1981

Gary Crouth’s Pick:

Fill-in Host

Issue #335 | January 22nd, 1981 | John Lennon & Yoko Ono

There are so many Rolling Stone covers that are memorable, great, beautiful, and meaningful. But I believe the most iconic is #335. With the Rolling Stone masthead as the only text, the cover lets the photo tell the story: John Lennon, in love, curled in almost a fetal position, and so vulnerable.

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Looking for a gallery of Rolling Stone Covers? Check out this one here.