Apr 23, 2014

101 Kick-Ass Music Covers

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?”

As part of a special music issue, the editors of AdWeek asked me to put together a collection of the best magazine covers featuring musicians and bands, titled 101 Kick-Ass Music Covers. We gathered covers from 1937-2014, featuring a wide range of musicians and musical styles, as well as an extreme diversity in graphic and photographic approaches.

See the complete set of 101 music covers here.

(Above): Look, 1968. John Lennon photographed by Richard Avedon.