He may be first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen, but on the covers of magazines in 1977 President Jimmy Carter - and his staff - were nothing less than sudden death.

All by himself, under the headline "What Price Energy?" he was Newsweek's worst seller. Together with wife Rosalynn and daughter Amy, he was the low point for McCall's. When his companions were Andy Young and Patricia Harris, he was Ebony's nadir. His two closest aides, Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, were the worst sellers on both Time ("The President's Boys") and Rolling Stone ("White House Whiz Kids"), and just to add insult to injury, fellow good old boy Cale Yarborough was the lowest man on the Sports Illustrated totem.

It fell to the late great Elvis Presley to redeem the honor of the South. Elvis was the top-selling Rolling Stone cover and performed the same feat at Photoplay, True Story and the National Enquirer, whose "Elvis . . .The Last Picture" cover sold over 6 million copies.

Other stars who shined less luminously were Julie Andrews, People's worst seller, Chevy Chase the low point for Esquire as he was for photoplay in 1976 (Michelle Phillips did the honors there this year), and the Fonz, who was the worst for Us.

Several magazines had old standbys for their bestsellers. Sonny Jurgensen did best for Washingtonian, Sidney Poitier for Ebony, Marlo Thomas for Ladies' Home Journal, a position she's had before, and even Charlie's current and former Angels weren't forgotten: Farrah Fawcett-Majors was the best for McCall's cover and Kate Jackson the best Us.

Sometimes what would work for one magazine in 1977 wouldn't work for another. "Roots" was Time magazine's No. 2 cover on Feb. 14, but by the time Reader's Digest got to its second "Roots" installment in May, it turned out to be the worst issue of the year. Atlantic's best cover was on Canada, Harper's worst was on Mexico. American Film's best cover featured King Kong, National Lampoon's worst was a Queen Kong parody. And while "How to Get a Job" was Esquire's best cover, a similar hardtimes story. "How to Feed a Family of 4 on $6 a Day," was the low point of the National Enquirer's year.

A bit less interesting are the magazines who know by what month it is how well their issues will sell. TV Guide, for instance, always reaches a low point at the July 4 issue and a high point for itself and all American magazines as well, in its Fall Preview issue, which this year sold 21,608,291 copies. And that's in the United States alone.

Also predictable were magazines ranging from Playboy, whose fat December issue is a pernnial winner - though this year's October Barbara Streisand cover did surprisingly well - to Redbook and Cosmopolitan, whose August fiction issues are always the best. Also helping Cosmo was its third Male Centerfold, the redoubtable Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Other best-selling magazines were:

Newsweek - "The Sick World of Son of Sam" on Aug. 22 which sold 40.000 more than the No. 2 Sly Stallone as "Rocky."

People - "Tony Orlanda's Breakdown" on Oct. 3.

Time - "How Man Became Man" on Nov. 7, featuring a phot of anthropologist Richard Leakey with a specially constructed model of Homo habilis.

Sports Illustrated - Bill Walton making himself very large and Philadelphia very small on a "Blazers All The Way!" cover on June 13.

New York - The year-end Dec. 26 "It All Happened Here" issue not only outsold any three other New York covers, it was the mag's top issue in the last 10 years. Second place went to "Gay Clout" and last place to "No News Is Bad News at The New York Times."

New West - Who out on the Coast could resist glamour photog George Hurrell's snap of John and Mo Dean on the Sept. 12 "Living With Fame" issue? Worst cover was "Secrets of Bountiful Living from the Wine Country" on March 14.

Ms. - Best cover was a slightly risque (for Ms.) naked back with the words "Why Women Don't Like Their Bodies" in September. Worst cover was "I Am the Mother of Eight, a Housewife, a Feminist and Happy." So there.

New Times - Why America Loves the "Star Wars' Heroes" was the best cover, "Drying Out in California" (not alcoholism, the real drought) the worst.

High Times - "Blondie, The Marilyn Monroe of Punk Rock," graced the bestselling June cover, while the hardnewsy "Dope Dictators" cover in March didn't get hardly anybody high.

Scientific American - The February issue, with a moon of Mars on the cover, was the top seller, running 36 percent above the average, while May, with a sweet woodcut illustrating a herbarium story, was the worst, going 27 percent below normal.

Harper's - Science triumphed here, too, with the February "Revising the Facts of Life" cover taking top honors.

Reader's Digest - June was best here, an issue that featured "New Findings From the Hite Report" plus "Teh Fastest Diet, Is It for You?"

New Yorker - A cheery bunch of paired animals by Edward Koren was the bestseller here on June 13, while the unseemly salmon color of the July 25 issue was the worst of the year.

National Geographic - no newsstand sales but reader surveys show the July issue had the most popular story, "Wild and Pure," a tale of rivers, while April had the least liked, "Warriors of the Wind," a description of Japanese kite fighting.

Penthouse Forum - September was the best month, featuring an unbeatable duo, "How Important Is Sex in Marriage?" (we'll never tell) and "Finally! A Cure For Uclers."

1977 was also the year in which Time and Newsweek went head to head - the same image on the same subject on the same week - a total of nine times on topics ranging from Rupert Murdoch to Idi Amin. While Times says it outsold its rival in number of copies, Newsweek comes back to say its sales were more efficient, that it sold a higher percentage of the copies it printed than Time. And so it goes. Help Wanted

When "tall, good-looking 35-year-old bachelor" Michael Block advertised for a wife, he didn't take out a teeny weeny classified ad somewhere, he spent $3,100 buying space on the illuminated signs next to clocks at 11 New York subway stations. Did he get any response? Did he ever.

According to the February Good Housekeeping, he got 4,000 letters from women 15 to 50, some of whom even enclosed spicy photos. These letters are stacked all over his "knockout" New York apartment, an apartment which Block apparently can't talk about without fringing his arms out and saying dramatically "But what good is all of it if I don't have someone to share it with?"

Better at putting out ads than answering his mail, Block has gotten around to dating only about two dozen of the women who agreed that they were as tired as he was of trying to find happiness at singles' bars. He hasn't found Ms. Right as yet, but he's still trying. "I've learned an awful lot," he says earnestly. "This experience has really been an eye-opener. Eat Your Heart Out

Robert Redford may look like nothing evil ever passes his lips, but according to an interview in the February-March issue of Mariah, a magazine of the outdoors, 'tain't so:

"I'm basically lazy, contrary to what a lot of people write about me that I'm sort of disciplined, energetic health freak. Not so. I'd love to be able to say that I eat vegetables and fresh fruits, and that I don't eat Twinkies and Oreos as much as I do yogurt. The thing is, I eat yogurt and Oreos. I drink too much beer, probably too much wine, and I eat a lot of other things that aren't good."

Don't we all, Bob, don't we all. Yummy in the Tummy

Speaking of yogurt, Consumer Reports trained its big guns on said food in the January issue, revealing among other things that the patriarch Abraham thrived on the stuff until he was 175, a helpful angel having given him the recipe.

Yogurt arrived in the United States about 1930, and it wasn't until the late 1940s that fruit preserves were added, strawberry being the current bestseller. Still, in 1976, only about 11 percent of our population ate the stuff regularly.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, CR is sad to report that it has yet to be proved that yogurt lowers blood cholesterol levels, helps the digestion or aids longevity. Nutritionally, yogurt is "no more of a meal than a glass of milk is," and CR adds, if you do eat it anyhow, you ought to try making your own. Coverlines of the Month

"Have We Forgotten How To Breathe?" from Bestways.

"First Time Ever: We Talk To Bacteria" from Science Digest. Inscrutable East

Japanese TV, says the Feb. 3 TV Guide, "is at least as bloody, brutish and frightful as its American counterpart has been in its most violent seasons." So violent, in fact, that the Waltons flopped over there after four weeks. Yet, American social scientists notwithstanding, real live crime in Japan is going down, not up.

If you are looking for an explanation of all this, go no further than Prof. Sumiko Iwao of Keio U. in Tokyo. "Mass media do not have the same impact in Japan," he says. "The family is still too strong, too influential in the lives and conduct of young people. In Japan, if a member of a family, even a juvenile, commits a crime, the act brings shame to all members of the family. This is a powerful deterrent to bad behaviour."

Japanese entertainment is so violent in general, TV Guide adds, that Japan Air Lines has a tough time finding even six Japanese films a year suitable to be shown on its international flights. Says the man who does the selecting, "If they are too bloody, American passengers complain. If they are too tame, the Japanese complain." S.O.S.

What's "the scariest and most dangerous of maritime phenomena?" According to the February Smithsonian, its the giant nightmare wave, sometimes called freak, rogue, solitary, phenomenal, episodic, pyramidal or the nicely understated non-negotiable. By any name, it can run to 200 feet of water, and that ain't hay.

What does one of these waves look like. Listen, if you dare, to oceanographer Blair Kinsman:

"Imagine a green-black mass, the height of a seven or eight-story building, maybe half a mile long, suddenly before you, rushing towards you at 50 miles an hour.You're on a roller coaster plummeting down into its trough; this monster towers above you, alive, shifting, breaking, roaring, hunching. There's no place to hide; then its on top of you. The top third breaks off. Thousands of tons of deadweight water hurtle down on you."

Next time, take the plane. Tidbits

The February Ebony's list of the 10 best cities for blacks includes Washington as well as, in alphabetical order, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Minneapolis . . .For those who are interested, "40.000 Men Tell About Their Sexual Behaviour, Their Fantasies, Their Ideal Women and Their Wives" in the February Redbook . . .U.S. News and World Report now has a spiffy new look, both inside and out . . .

Just arrived on newsstands everywhere is a giant-sized Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic book. No fair giving away the surprise ending . . .The Wall Street Journal reports that a paper shortage is in the wings for publishers of slick magazines . . .Those who want summaries of Supreme Court decisions and don't have the $240 a year it costs to get them in their entirety can spend $22 a year for the new weekly Law Times. Address is 792 Maple St., Manchester, N.H. 03104 . . .Washington Journalism Review reports that its current issue will outsell the single copy average of More and the Columbia Journalism Review . . .Over at Us, a whole new team of editors has been chosen, including Louise Lague, ex of The Star, who will be one of four senior editors . . .Andy Warhol tells People what he does for exercise: "I play jacks."