NEW YORK – On what would be the last day of his life, John Lennon (search) posed for photographs with Yoko Ono (search) in a session with photographer Annie Liebovitz (search). One of the pictures, a naked Lennon curled around and kissing a clothed Ono, became the cover for Rolling Stone magazine's tribute to him.
That iconic image published a month after his December 1980 death has been ranked the top magazine cover of the last 40 years by a panel of magazine editors, artists and designers. Others on the list include images from the Sept. 11 (search) attacks, the Vietnam War (search) and of Katiti Kironde II, the first black woman on the cover of a national women's magazine, in the August 1968 Glamour.
The American Society of Magazine Editors announced the winners of the competition on Monday during the American Magazine Conference in Puerto Rico. The competition was held as a way to mark the 40th anniversary of the group's awards.
"Both the choice of a cover and the execution of a cover are crucial for any magazine," said Mark Whitaker, editor of Newsweek and ASME president. "Every editor wants their cover to stand out."
Coming in second was the shot of a very pregnant Demi Moore (search) on the August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair, followed by an April 1968 image from Esquire of boxer Muhammad Ali (search) with arrows in his body. The Saul Steinberg drawing of New York's West Side dwarfing the rest of the country, published in The New Yorker on March 29, 1976, came in fourth. Esquire's May 1969 image of Pop Art maven Andy Warhol drowning in a can of tomato soup took the fifth spot.
Other covers on the list include The New Yorker from Sept. 24, 2001, silhouettes of the World Trade Center (search) towers against a black background; National Geographic's June 1985 cover of an Afghan refugee girl with haunted eyes; People magazine's cover from Sept. 15, 1997 — a black-and-white portrait of a smiling Princess Diana (search); and Life magazine's image of man on the moon from 1969.
There were a few ties, leading to a total of 41 images chosen.
Magazine covers can reflect the society around them, by how controversial they choose to be, said Johanna Keller, professor of magazine journalism at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications.
"They're absolutely a societal barometer of what we find acceptable to look at," she said.
Good covers can range from funny to poignant, she said. "The ones that work best touch us in the same way that great art touches us ... stirring our very deepest human emotions."
The list was decided on by a panel of 52 magazine editors, design directors, art directors and photography editors.
Esquire, Time and Life each had four covers on the list. Eleven of the covers came from the 1960s, eight from the 1970s, three from the 1980s, 10 from the 1990s and nine from this decade. Thirty-two covers were photographs, while seven were illustrations and two were text.