Shuffle: Rolling Stone Magazine's 50 Years On Display At The Rock Hall

May 4, 2017

John Lennon graced the cover of Rolling Stone's first issue in 1967.
Credit Rolling Stone Magazine

The iconic music and pop culture magazine Rolling Stone turns 50 this year. On Friday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opens an exhibit that takes music fans through the vast archives of photos and interviews.

For this week’s Shuffle, WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz talks with Cleveland Scene music writer Jeff Niesel about Rolling Stone Magazine at 50.

Rolling Stone Magazine was founded in San Francisco 1967. It was a big year for music, with major releases from bands including The Beatles, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. 

The publisher
The magazine was founded by Jann Wenner.

"He was very meticulous about retaining all of the artifacts," Niesel says. "You’ll see the desk in his first office and you’ll see the roach clip that they sent out to the first subscribers as a gift. It was handmade by the guy who would become the art director of the magazine."

A roach clip was given to early Rolling Stone subscribers as a gift

Interview section
"If you’re familiar with the magazine, it became famous for the Rolling Stone interview," Niesel says. "Long-form Q&A-style interviews."

"In one section of the exhibit they have a video that they’ve created that includes 17 interviews that were done by Jan Wenner. You can hear the audio of him talking to Pete Townsend of The Who or Bob Dylan. Then they take you to the story to see how it appeared in print. I don’t how often Bob Dylan does an interview these days so I think it’s really interesting to hear him speaking way back when."

The Covers
Rolling Stone's iconic covers over the years have became increasingly provocative. They're on display in the exhibit. "They're arranged in chronological order so you can see some of the early ones and how they've changed over the years and become very elaborate," Niesel says. 

Most notable: In 1993, Janet Jackson, topless with hands from behind covering her breasts. And back to 1980, a naked John Lennon curled around Yoko Ono – one of the last photos taken of Lennon before his death. 

The Critiques
Over the years, Rolling stone has become known for his album and concert reviews. 

Niesel references one particularly harsh John Landau concert review of the band Cream. "Eric Clapton broke the group up, famously saying, 'The ring of truth just knocked me backward. I was in a restaurant and I fainted.'"

"It goes back to a time when reviews had more of an impact. You couldn’t just go online and read 100 reviews of a record. It had a much bigger impact."

Niesel says some of Rolling Stone's most notable reviews are re-printed and featured in the exhibit. 

The future
"Rolling Stone has a certain access that the common blogger doesn’t have," Niesel says.

"They’re still going to get interviews with Taylor Swift and U2 that don’t do that many interviews. So I think they still carry a certain amount of weight. And the writers there have been doing it a number of years and are a step above everybody else."