Beginning in 1968 and running for some 92 volumes through into the eighties, the Top of the Pops albums formed one of the longest series of record releases in the U.K. Issued every few weeks, each new Top of the Pops album brought together a dozen or so quickly recorded cover versions of the chart hits of the day. Priced to sell, the albums quickly became massive sellers, bought by people who wanted to have the hit records but weren’t so worried about who they were by – understandable in an era when several groups would often rush out versions of the same song.
The albums were transient and would probably have been all but forgotten today except for the sleeves. The Top of the Pops girls were memorable and set a trend for cover albums which was soon followed by many other budget labels. Sadly the name of the Hallmark designer who knocked together the first LP in the series remains unknown, but the pattern was followed for every subsequent edition. Other labels may have pushed the boundaries of acceptability further, but the Top of the Pops girls were rarely over-exposed, relying more on a cheeky hitch of a short skirt for their appeal.
“This is a swinging, catchy, groovy disc that will set your fingers snapping and your feet tapping. It’s bouncy and breezy and bright. So grab this album, take it to a rave-up – and have a ball!”
The paragraph above appeared on Vol 2. The writer of these words, one H. Jung, had every reason to sound pleased with him or herself as Vol 1 had sold enough to prove to Hallmark that the formula would work.
The cover girls on the first ten discs were a mixed bunch, though mercifully whoever was responsible for the cutting out of the poor woman on Vol 1 didn’t last long.
If there was a theme it was contemporary head-gear – hats, headbands and scarfs adorn the first six models. With Vol 7 the pulses quickened with a glimpse of a leather mini-skirt and on Vol 8 the first bikini – albeit a vaguely Christmassy affair made from white fur!
And it was true; Top of the Pops albums were starting to make the industry take notice, as people could buy a dozen potential hits for around 13s 11d. Several of the discs here went to Number 1 in the album charts. The cover girls also began to get a little more provocative as Hallmark gained confidence. So in 1970 the skirts got shorter and the poses were certainly less inhibited than before.
As 1971 came round, they risked all and went with the first glimpse of nudity initially with an open shirt (Vol 15) and then a see-through top (Vol 16) which, with the colors reflected in the cover titles, was one of the best sleeves to date. The bullet belt on Vol 20 was a must have fashion accessory at the time too – Lemmy still wears one.
There seemed to be no stopping the series now. The cover images became a little more professional too, but alongside the models the basic layout of a simple border design with titles inside, plus the Top of the Pops logo which had adorned Vol 1, remained the same. It was this generic feel which contributed to the series’ success (and which seems to have made them the most collectable of the cover albums today). Fashion historians can also deduce from Vol 23 that 1972 was the year Hot Pants really came into style (and yes women really did walk around in these!).
Volume 25 saw the proud boast of four million sales worldwide for the albums to date, with the discs now licensed abroad to Europe and beyond, adding to the U.K total. This did mean that the cover images had to take into account attitudes to pin-up sleeves in countries more conservative than the U.K and this batch of sleeves sees the models modestly clad, though the model on Vol 27 seems to be trying to push things a little further. We still don’t know if Hallmark were having the covers shot specially by this time, or whether they were relying on photo agencies for the images. The rival Hot Hits cover albums credited the photographers but this never happened with Top of the Pops, although some of the photographers have been identified and will be listed in the book.
Another batch of releases taking us through to the tail end of 1974, with the albums starting to appear on 8 track tape and cassette as well. By Vol 40, total sales had reached an amazing six and a half million albums, half of those being sold in the last two years. Fashion wise a varied selection; some obviously dated shots (the cover of Vol 35 for example) coupled with up to the minute heart motif covered tops and denim shirts decorated with Boy Scout badges. And dig the Pickwick Top of the Pops promotional t-shirt being displayed on Vol 37 to great effect!