The 10 most iconic Rolling Stone covers featuring Canadian musicians
The U.S. publication has featured some important stories highlighting talent north of the border
On Nov. 9, 1967, Rolling Stone launched its pop culture publication and quickly became one of the key voices of authority in rock music. Over the years, scoring the cover of Rolling Stone meant exposing an artist to new audiences, reaching readers across North America. And while that kind of opportunity was invaluable to many up-and-comers in America, it was doubly important for Canadians trying to break into a tough U.S. market. A cover could solidify a Canadian musician's star status.
Of course, over the years, as digital media began to take over and print media started to shrink, magazine covers have lost some value to musicians who can easily curate their own images and stories via social media. But its significance is still evident for musicians trying to ensure their spot in pop's upper echelon. For example, in 2014, Toronto rapper Drake expressed his "disgust" at Rolling Stone for not putting him on the cover. (While the magazine did run a feature on Drake, it opted for a cover tribute to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had died recently.) So while artists have grown accustomed to molding their own narrative, cover stories and long-form writing remain a space that rising stars want to occupy.
As Rolling Stone turns 52 this year, we take a look back at 10 of the most iconic covers featuring Canadian artists, from Neil Young, who holds the record for the Canadian who has graced the cover the most, to Justin Bieber.
The Band (August 1968)
Rolling Stone launched in 1967, but a (mostly) Canadian act wouldn't make it onto the cover till the publication's second year. This 1968 article detailed the proper formation of the Band, which was made up by mostly Canadian musicians and lone American member, Levon Helm. It also dove into the origins of the Band's name, which Robbie Robertson claims wasn't of importance. "We just don't think a name means anything," he explained. "It's gotten out of hand — the name thing. We don't want to get into a fixed bag like that."
That name did stick, though, as did the Band's working relationship with Dylan, who wrote and co-wrote a number of songs on their hit debut, Music From Big Pink. (Dylan also painted the cover artwork.) Helm admitted that the band had "never heard of Bob Dylan" when the singer-songwriter first reached out to play together, but as the cover story showed, their histories are forever entwined.
Neil Young (August 1975)
"Just keep one thing in mind: I may remember it all differently tomorrow." This 1975 cover story by writer/director Cameron Crowe was billed as Neil Young's "first comprehensive interview," landing three years after Harvest and sandwiched between Young's two 1975 releases, Tonight's the Night and Zuma.
Though Young had technically been in a Rolling Stone cover one year earlier as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, this illustrated cover by Kim Whitesides was his first solo appearance. In the lengthy interview, Young talks about the first time he met Joni Mitchell ("What an incredible talent she is. She writes about her relationships so much more vividly than I do"), debunks some Buffalo Springfield myths ("How about the old hearse story?" "True.") and addresses the apparent tensions within Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ("Everybody always concentrates on this whole thing that we fight all the time among each other. That's a load of shit"). Young would go on to be on the cover of Rolling Stone three more times.
The Blues Brothers (February 1979)
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi premiered the Blues Brothers in 1976 during Saturday Night Live's first season — in a skit, dressed as bees — but they wouldn't make their official premiere as musical guests Elwood and "Joliet" Jake Blues on the show until two years later. Their Rolling Stone cover — the first to feature Canadian actors/comedians, and shot by the magazine's then chief photographer Annie Leibovitz — came after the world knew the Blues Brothers moniker but before the release of the star-studded, budget-plagued hit film of the same name.
The article blurs the lines between Aykroyd and Belushi and their Blues Brothers counterparts, with writer Timothy White travelling from the Manhattan bar where the two perform — and where, the night White attends, Keith Richards is guest bartending — to their opening gig on the opposite coast for the Grateful Dead. It ends with White recovering from an afterparty acid trip while being taken care of by Belushi and his wife, Judith Jacklin, which is a very 1979 ending for a Blues Brothers article, if you ask us.
Alanis Morissette (November 1995)
Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill in June 1995, shattering her "Too Hot" Alanis teen-pop image and re-emerging with an unapologetically raw introduction to her full self. Five months later she graced the cover of Rolling Stone — with the cringe-worthy words "Angry White Female" listed under her name — and detailed why she considered Jagged Little Pill to be her "real" debut. "There was an element of me not being who I really was at the time," she said in her interview with writer David Wild, of her first two albums. "It was because I wasn't prepared to open up that way. The focus for me then was entertaining people as opposed to sharing any revelations I had at the time. I had them, but I wasn't prepared to share."
There was no label bidding war for the woman who would go on to sell more than 30 million copies of her album and win multiple Grammy and Juno Awards, but Madonna's label, Maverick Records, snatched Morissette up when she appeared with Jagged Little Pill in hand. "She reminds me of me when I started out: slightly awkward but extremely self-possessed and straightforward," Madonna told Wild. "There's a sense of excitement and giddiness in the air around her — like anything's possible, and the sky's the limit."
Sarah McLachlan (April 1998)
By 1998, Sarah McLachlan had released two multi-platinum albums (1993's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and 1997's Surfacing) and she organized and headlined the previous summer's best-selling festival: Lilith Fair. But two years before her gorgeous Rolling Stone cover, McLachlan was $400,000 in debt to her record label because, ultimately, she was an artist who "writes songs, not singles." The answer? "You tour your ass off is what you do," she said.
While the wide-ranging profile is often a bit preoccupied with juxtaposing McLachlan's sensitive, "designer flower child" image with her blunt, down-to-earth self — "She sings delicate hymns to lost love. She also burps loudly and has bizarre sex dreams" — it is an in-depth look at how the singer slowly built her career. McLachlan opens up about being one of three adopted kids in a family that grew up in Halifax, describing herself as "this lonely kid who had been kind of dissed her whole life" at school, and how she jumped at the chance to head to Vancouver for her career just a year out of high school. "I feel incredibly loved and incredibly lucky," McLachlan told Rolling Stone, more than a decade after that fateful move.
Shania Twain (September 1998)
Shania Twain dominated the country music industry in the '90s, nabbing the title of best-selling female artist in country music history while her hook-filled record, 1997's Come on Over, sold more than 20 million copies and crowned the singer from Timmins, Ont., the country-pop crossover queen. Her Rolling Stone cover — shot in her then trademark bare midriff — detailed Twain's rags-to-riches story, the backlash to that story when her biological father was revealed, and how her celebrity image was at odds with her personal life ("On her videos, she was sassy, flirty, roundabout and sexually carefree. In private, she was none of these things").
Twain also addressed the rumours that her then husband, Robert "Mutt" Lange, was more responsible for her success than she was: "The reality is, it's just all me," she said, calmly. "The songs are as country and as rock and pop as they are because that's what I am. I pick everything I wear, everything I do, every move I make. I am directing myself artistically, period, no ifs, ands or buts about it." Parts of the article don't age well — "[Shania] paused for a moment, thinking about her looks. Like many beautiful women, she was canny about what she had and yet also keenly aware of her flaws" — but editorializing aside, Twain's matter-of-fact quotes are a breath of fresh air.
Avril Lavigne (March 2003)
When Napanee, Ont. artist Avril Lavigne made her mainstream debut, she was quickly branded as the antidote to bubblegum pop stars at the time like Britney Spears and Mandy Moore. This Rolling Stone cover story crystalized that by putting on its cover: "On the hunt with the Britney slayer."
Of course, many things mentioned in the story now read as outdated: Lavigne's reluctance to continue making pop-sounding records after her debut, Let Go, and her insistence on not cursing in her songs because of her devoutly Christian upbringing are just a couple of examples. But the profile also gave readers a thorough look at her entry into the pop world and her discomfort around the punk label she was given for her more rebellious image. "You can look kind of punky without listening to punk rock or writing punk-rock music," she argued.
The Sheepdogs (August 2011)
Saskatoon band the Sheepdogs made history as the first unsigned band ever to make it onto the cover of Rolling Stone after winning a contest they themselves didn't enter. According to the feature interview, a manager they'd met in Toronto submitted their demo and from there, the Prairie rockers went through four rounds of intense competition which included a performance at Bonnaroo and an appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The band, which had been together for six and a half years by the time the Rolling Stone contest came by, was on the brink of giving up on music but admitted that this opportunity "was a life preserver." After 1.5 million votes were cast, they scored the cover along with a record deal with Atlantic Records. Labelmate Kid Rock, who mentored the Sheepdogs, even told the publication: "They're exactly where rock & roll should be."
Justin Bieber (January 2013)
Justin Bieber became an instant celebrity as the first YouTube-turned-pop-star in 2010 when he released his mega-hit, "Baby." But he didn't grace the cover of Rolling Stone till three years later when he began his transition into young adulthood (or, as Rolling Stone questionably put it, he was "hot, ready, legal") with his third studio album, Believe. By then, Bieber was already settled into a life filled with screaming fans and paparazzi following his every move and his cover profile detailed the increasingly negative effects of that kind of upbringing for the Stratford, Ont. teenager.
"No one's ever grown up like Justin Bieber," manager Scooter Braun stated. "Ever, in the history of humanity." Though hyperbolic, Bieber has opened up in recent years about how early fame led him to make "every bad decision you could have thought of," including drug use. But, back in 2013, Bieber's demeanor simply came off as immature — "He's being a prick because he's a kid," Braun said, defending Bieber's sometimes selfish behaviour — which included an obsessive use of the term "swag" which was quoted in the piece, such as the fact that Bieber's entourage included a man who served as his "creative director and 'swagger coach.'"
The Weeknd (October 2015)
By the time the Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, had made the cover of Rolling Stone in 2015, he had already put out three successful mixtapes and was promoting his second full-length album, Beauty Behind the Madness. But, he had not granted many interviews up until that point. The Scarborough artist, who had gotten a significant boost in his early years thanks to Toronto star Drake's almighty co-sign, was a quiet figure who cultivated an "R&B mystery man" persona for a while, as Rolling Stone described.
In this extensive profile though, Tesfaye opens up about his rise to fame, his celebrity encounters (including a not-so-flattering story of pop star Taylor Swift "petting" his hair) and his model girlfriend at the time, Bella Hadid. While Tesfaye appeared grateful for his friendship with Drake — he called the rapper "my closest friend in the industry" at the beginning of his career — signs of tension between the two were present in the interview, hinting at a rivalry that's still ongoing today. "Apparently Drake wasn't even fucking with it at first," Tesfaye said, giving Drake's manager Oliver El-Khatib credit for pushing his music. "Oliver was the one vouching for me."