Five Genres of Rolling Stone Magazine Covers

People have been buying Rolling Stone for years because of the fantastic covers, even when the articles are uninteresting and poorly written. Sometimes the cover literally jumps off the newsstands at you, compelling you to buy the magazine. (Other times the cover features Christina Aguilera or the cast of The Hills, and you might opt for an issue of Tiger Beat instead.)

Some issues are so iconic they’re worth money. You can buy Issue 1 (November 9, 1967) on ebay for the nominal price of $900. There’s also a bound collection 0f 250 issues for just $5850.

In some cases, an iconic cover makes the issue legendary, and there are some issues that our worth money. It just goes to show whoever said “you can’t judge a book by its cover” was not a Rolling Stone subscriber!

Rolling Stone covers can be divided into five distinct types:

  1. The work of art cover
  2. The memorial cover
  3. The political propaganda cover
  4. The scandalous cover
  5. The startlingly insightful cover

The work of art covers are bright and visually appealing. Be aware they aren’t all created equal. Snooki riding a phallic-shaped rocket into the heavens doesn’t quite measure up to the super awesome Green Day cover.

Memorial covers are nearly always black and white: they’re really very beautiful, and it’s too bad people have to die before they can get one. I can think of one instance when there was a color photo, and that was when Amy Winehouse died. I don’t understand it: the cover dedicated to her looked like something to promote a new album. What’s the use of being famous and talented and dying young if you can’t even get an awesome cover? Nobody would blame her if she came back to haunt the Rolling Stone editorial staff.

Political propaganda covers at Rolling Stone are a relatively new and unfortunate trend. I don’t know if Rolling Stone was always bankrolled by corporate interests seeking a direct channel to younger voters, but they sure are now. Politics was always part of Rolling Stone, but they were at one time critical thinkers (rather than expert copy-and-pasters) of campaign propaganda.

The associated covers feature glowing politician portraits or buffoonish caricatures, depending on who Rolling Stone supports. Barack Obama has been on six covers during his term to date. Bill Clinton was on a few. George W. Bush was lampooned several times, Mitt Romney’s been featured once, looking eerily similar to the Monopoly guy. Even Silvio Berlusconi (the Italian prime minister) was on a cover. Would it kill them to do something a little punk rock and feature somebody besides the Corporate-interest Candidates?

obama propaganda

Rolling Stone occasionally features a scandalous photo on the cover.  You know them when you see them. The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame has a handwritten letter on display from Charles Manson to the Rolling Stone editor, requesting magazines be sent to him in jail. (He didn’t get them.)

Finally, you have covers that are uniquely insightful, and capture someone’s whole essence in a a single image. These are the best Rolling Stone covers, in my opinion.

Michael Jackson’s cover is titled “Life as a Man”.

They were probably alluding to the fact he was a grown up child star, but it does sound more like he’s finally come to terms with his love for pink and white striped shirts and subtly shimmery lip gloss.

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