101 Kick-Ass Music Covers

The most awesome, iconic and controversial magazine images of the last 80 years

Magazine covers featuring musical artists are inherently cool, whether the reader is a tween or a boomer. They come loaded with style, after all. (How many different looks—including varieties-not-found-in-nature of hair color—have Madonna and Bowie rocked on their many covers over the decades?) The result: memorable, provocative and sometimes flat-out crazy images of the stars.

But beyond the superficial, they also have chronicled the changes in the culture and the sounds of the times—consider Bob Dylan’s various transformations across 24(!) Rolling Stone covers. Not only have covers become part of music history and culture at large, but they also remain a potent tool for marketing artists.

Musicians have a way of grabbing our attention—often, it’s while peering out from a newsstand shelf, be it Time, Playboy, Vanity Fair or GQ. Recent controversial covers include a naked Miley Cyrus on Rolling Stone and Pharrell Williams sporting a 10-gallon hat on Billboard. But the single most talked about of late is the current Vogue, featuring hip-hop star Kanye West and his reality-TV personality spouse Kim Kardashian (“Kimye”). Music covers have the power to provoke, to inspire—and to fascinate. There is no doubt they have given us some of the most iconic images in the history of pop culture.

As an art director at a number of music publications over the years, I have seen fans obsess about who is on a cover and how they look. Readers have said to me: “You have to put [insert name of one-hit wonder] on the cover!” Or, “How could you put that no-talent [best-selling artist of the year] on your cover?”

We hope this compilation will, likewise, encourage a vigorous exchange of opinions.

 

• Eddie Cantor / Popular Songs / 1937

 

• Marian Anderson / Time / 1946 

 

• Billie Holiday / Ebony / 1949 

 

• Dave Brubeck / Time / 1954 

 

• The Everly Brothers / Dig / 1958 

 

• Max Roach / Down Beat / 1958 

 

• Ricky Nelson / Life / 1958 

 

• Frank Sinatra / Hit Parade / 1958 

 

• Elvis Presley / Dig / 1958 

 

• Fabian / Dig / 1959 

 

• Little Richard / Hit Parade / 1959 

 

• Ray Charles / Jazz Magazine / 1961 

 

• Bob Dylan / Sing Out! / 1962 

 

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Thelonious Monk / Time / 1964 

 

• Frank Sinatra /Esquire / 1965 

 

• Barbra Streisand / Sunday New York News / 1965 

 

• Louis Armstrong / Life / 1966 

 

• Leontyne Price / Opera News / 1967 

 

• Bob Dylan / Oz / 1967 

 

• The Who / Cash Box / 1967 

 

• James Brown / Jet / 1968 

 

• John Lennon (The Beatles) / Look / 1968 

 

• John Lennon and Yoko Ono / Rolling Stone / 1968 

 

• Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) / Teenset / 1969 

 

• Miles Davis / Rolling Stone / 1969 

 

• Aretha Franklin / Ebony / 1971 

 

• James Taylor / Time / 1971 

 

• The Jackson 5 / Ebony / 1971 

 

• David Cassidy / Rolling Stone / 1972 

 

• Jerry Garcia / Rolling Stone / 1972 

 

• Isaac Hayes / Ebony / 1972 

 

• New York Dolls / Rock Scene / 1974 

 

• Sly Stone / Blues & Soul / 1974