A girl on the sleeve

Blooming Hits: Paul Mauriat and his Orchestra, Philips LP 1967

The first photographic album sleeves liked to go for classical paintings or the person who recorded the album.

Early on, Easy Listening artists worked out that a middle-aged bloke on the sleeve was less attractive than a good-looking female. We’re not counting albums by good-looking females with their own picture on the sleeve … they have a point. A “girl on the sleeve” picture should have no connection to the music, the artist or the content. It has to be gratuitous.

Boston Tea Party: Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops, RCA EP 1958

Boston Tea Party was a compromise. The ageing chap with white hair and a white moustache is on the sleeve, but surrounded with admiring pretty girls to improve the look. ‘So, what does a pretty young girl like you find attractive in an ageing millionaire bandleader?’

Swingin’ At The Cinema: Jonah Jones Quartet, Capitol EP 1958

This one, by Jonah Jones found an excuse in the title for a picture of the girls. This was to become common. The word SWINGIN’ in any title was a cue for designers to phone the model agency.

As the years went by, the girlie picture become the hallmark of the budget covers compilation … on labels like Hallmark and Pickwick.

Easy Listening

Gallery – click to enlarge

The face was enough for the milder end of the Easy Listening market. Lush versions of standards, a girl’s face. Sorted. If your music is instrumental, and recorded in a studio with blokes in white shirts, there isn’t much to see. As you move towards jazz, abstract patterns or illustrations dominate, but with the easy listening brigade, the female face was paramount, followed by the female form as the 50s moved into the 60s.

Buddy Greco Sings For Intimate Moments, Epic, USA, 1963
Soft and Gentle: Buddy Greco & Strings, Columbia UK 1963
The Romantic Approach: Stan Kenton, Capitol LP
Sail Along Sil’vry Moon, Billy Vaughan, Dot, 1959
Golden Waltzes, Billy Vaughan, Dot, 1961
A Strauss Waltz Concert: Billy Vaughan, Hamilton, US, 1965

Buddy Greco’s 1963 LPs have a sultry lass on the cover, though we’re sticking with strings of pearls and sophistication.

Bill Doggett had a degree of R&B credibility, but as an instrumentalist still had to find something. Dreaming conjures up a misty eyed lady in pearls. Swingin’ conjured up long legs, high heels and standing by the side of a road for Doggett.

Oddly, David Rose never put a stripper on the sleeve of The Stripper, but check out these MGM albums by Andre Previn and David Rose. The ladies do not appear in the music:

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert made Whipped Cream & Other Delights in 1965. It fails on referencing the LP title, so it isn’t gratuitous. Herb Alpert thought about his cover art – note the Picasso sleeve on the The Lonely Bull EP. This sleeve is famous though. They say it’s the most likely find in a US thrift store box of LPs, and it’s pretty common in UK charity shops too. It is definitely bought for the sleeve, so has a premium on other Herb Alpert LPs. It possibly inspired a book of photographs that was around in the 1980s, which was girls covered or decorated with food in strategic places, so maybe Herb was wise in choosing Whipped Cream to illustrate rather than A Taste of Honey. The idea was re-used for a 2006 remix album:

Whipped cream ‘Rewhipped’: Herb Alpert remixed, CD, 2006

Stan Kenton

Hair: Stan Kenton, Capitol LP, USA, 1969

This album pre-dates the budget obsession with girls by a year or so, though the face is almost the template for so many others, a Barbarella / Jane Fonda lookalike. Yes, you may ask what she’s got in her mouth, and why she needs five of them. I think they’re Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes, with their gold tip, though I think you’d need more than one pack to get five the same colour.

Are they supposed to show sophistication (that was the idea of the expensive cigarettes)? Are they supposed to show greed? Or did the photographer think they looked like joints, thus befitting jazz versions from a counter-culture stage show?

The Hi-Fi Stereo Sampler era

There were many hi-fi system demonstration type releases. Rightly guessing that most purchasers were male, a female image was popular.


Super Stereo Sound Sampler: Various Artists, Mercury LP 1968

The 1968 Mercury sampler has a lascivious looking lady with a glass of red wine who looks slightly drunk and as if inviting a listener to join her on the sofa. Thus she hasn’t noticed that the Philips (Mercury was part of the Philips group) record player has neither a power lead, nor connecting leads to the equally powerless amplifier. She hasn’t even noticed that the record isn’t going round. Hi-buffs should notice these details, but were perhaps too enraptured by the pleasures that their top end hi-fi stereo listening system was going to get them. Track 4, Love Is Just Around The Corner has them excited. Personally, I don’t think that Tritsch Tratsch Polka by The Wiener Hofball Orchestra will get our hi-fi buff a chance to exercise his wiener. I suspect a breakneck Orange Blossom Special by Michael Legrand will be too fast. Then Gay Ranchero by The Mystic Moods Orchestra may provide an alternative.

CBS Super Stereo

Thrill To The Sensational Sound of Super Stereo: Various Artists, CBS UK sampler, 1966

In 1966 CBS is careful to suggest that the lady with the come hither eyes is wearing nothing but her birthday suit, though you’d need a magnifying glass to be sure. The track list takes us from I’m Coming Home, Cindy to Love Me With All of Your Heart and Making Whoopee to a hoped for finale with Bim! Bam!! Boom!!! by Percy Faith.

Warm And Sensuous by Larry Egelhart had obvios images, but the three photo one is the UK copy from 1967, the single photo is Germany from 1967. AS on the sampler, she’s probably naked but we don’t know.

CBS in 1966 with the Super Stereo series were almost always inclined to girls on the sleeve. They were also inclined to show bare shoulders to indicate a state of undress. André Brasseur’s Tasty featured his multi-organ sound. Jokes on a postcard, please. The same designer stepped outside Super Stereo so that 1966’s Ray Conniff’s World of Hits also has the bare shouldered lady. Ray Conniff albums very often had a female face, but usually demure rather than potentially naked.

Music To Watch Girls By: Dan Hill & His Sounds Electronic, CBS 1967

The important think was to show breast and hip, but no nipples. Did they se the same photographer?

Gallery- click to enlarge

It’s notable that Exotic Nights by Andrew Kostelanetz varies . The left hand one was used in most countries with multiple images of exotica which fits the titles …Dance of The Persian Slaves, Brazilian Dance, Night of The Tropics , Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints. The Netherlands version with just the exotic looking woman narrows down the idea of exotic.

EMI Studio Two Stereo

EMI’s Studio Two Stereo series mainly eschewed the girls, but they had a few. These have not the remotest connection to content.

Gallery – click to enlarge

High Power Hammond: Harry Stoneham, Columbia Studio Two LP 1970
And I Love Her: George Martin, Columbia Studio Two LP
Zacharias Plays The Kits, Columbia Studio Two LP 1972
Hammond Hits The Continent: Harry Stoneham, Columbia Studio Two, 1973
Hawaiian Styled: Big Ben Hawaiian Band, Columbia Studio Two LP

We can only assume that Harry Stoneham had watched Girl On A Motorcycle too often.

Decca were always a conservative company, but they reverted to girls when no other ideas came. Soft & Wicked evoked a girl on a couch obviously. Then any label with ‘Latin / Latino’ in the title would have an exotic Hispanic on the cover. Moog Mania? Completely gratuitous.

Gallery – click to enlarge

Soft & Wicked: Ronnie Aldrich, Decca Phase 4
Strings Latino: Edmundo Ross, Decca Phase 4
Moog Mania: Rod Hunter, London Phase 4

Billy Strange, as Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s arranger and guitarist has considerably ore credibility. London licensed it from American label GNP’s Crescendo imprint. It’s subtitled The lusty sounds of the Old West.

Great Western Themes: Billy Strange, London 1970


Please Please Please: James Brown & The Famous Flames, US King LP, 1959

Soul singers preferred their own image, so James Brown in 1959 was the exception rather than the rule.

Bob Dylan? Freewheeling doesn’t count, because he’s pictured with his girlfriend, Suzy Rotolo. On Bringing It All Back Home, the posed photo has Sally Grossman, his manager’s wife, but it creates a fascinating scene which he’s part of, so I won’t count them.

Otis Blue by Otis Redding was the classic soul example:, as well as being one of the greatest albums ever.

Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, UK Atlantic LP 1965

Rock was raunchier.

Jimi Hendrix is said to have hated the Electric Ladyland gatefold sleeve, but it’s surely the iconic one for 60s rock and attractive girls. However this crossed the line on record label Page Three pictures, causing display problems in some record chains.

Electric Ladyland: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Track 1968

Juicy Lucy’s first album was a combination of Whipped Cream & Other delights and Electric Ladyland. So way more sexualized than the budget LPs to follow.

Juicy Lucy: Juicy Lucy, Vertigo LP 1969

I wouldn’t count either Indelibly Stamped by Supertramp from 1971, or Jorge Santana from 1978, as they focus on,er, a limited area.

Indelibly Stamped: Supertramp, A&M LP 1971
Jorge Santana: Jorge Santana, Tomato LP, USA 1978

Roxy Music

Roxy Music had a penchant for the girl on the sleeve. In their case, there was some illustrative point, in that the girl illustrated the album title. Some were more direct than others. For Country Life you may need to see a production of Hamlet, where Hamlet says to Ophelia, ‘Let us speak of country matters.’ So in Roxy’s case, not gratuitous use of girls on the sleeve, but some of the most striking.

Roxy Music: Roxy Music, Island LP 1972

Stranded: Roxy Music Island LP 1973

For Your Pleasure: Roxy Music, Island LP 1973
Country Life: Roxy Music, Island LP 1974

Siren: Roxy Music, Island LP 1975
Flesh & Blood: Roxy Music EG LP 1980


It’s the budget labels that made the girl on the sleeve an essential central item. The naffer the sleeve, the more collectable it is. Charity shops (some of them have noticed this) will increase the price for these albums of weak cover versions. I’ve seen some of these at £5.99 next to “proper” albums at 99p..

Marble Arch

Marble Arch was a long established Pye budget label, putting out cheaper versions of albums by their main artists a couple of years after the initial release. They also dipped a toe in the cover version market with the Chartbuster releases, and they went for the girl on the sleeve.

Chartbusters 69: Various Artists, Marble Arch LP


Fashionable (for girls( rather than half-clad (for boys):

Pye switched the Chartbusters series from Marble Arch to its own identity in 1971 as Pye Chartbusters, starting with a more explicit sleeve.

World of Blues

Decca’s World of … series was a budget, or rather mid-price label. When they got as far as blues, they did what budget labels do: put a girl on the sleeve. Did many girls buy blues LPs? I doubt it.

Hot Hits

The Hot Hits series was produced by EMI on its Music For Pleasure label. EMI had dipped its toe in the water of budget covers from 1967 on. The Hot Hits series started in June 1970 with Hot Hits, retailing at fifteen shillings (0.75p) or less than half the price of a normal full price LP. It was a response to the success of Hallmark’s Top of The pops series, which had had a two year start.

Hot Hits: Music For Pleasure LP, June 1970

Hots Hits 2-5
Gallery – click to enlarge

For just six months, August 1971 to January 1972, budget covers compilations were allowed to be placed in the UK chart. According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Albums, Hot Hits 6, Top of The Pops No 18 and Top of The Pops No. 20 got to number one. Hot Hits No 8 got to #2, with both Top of The Pops No 19 and Hot Hits 7 getting to #3. These charts were based on Record Retailer returns.

It certainly didn’t happen in The New Musical Express, which has published week-by-week books of all their charts. They started listing budget cover LPs on 14 August 1971 with Hot Hits 6 entering at #12. It fell to #18 a week later (these covesr were highly topical), but then Top of The Pops 18 joined it on 21 August. They stayed in the lower reaches of the Top 30 until late September. Top of The Pops 19 charted on 9 October 1971, and that seems to be it for budget cover LPs, at least in the New Musical Express.

Extrapolate from that that many of the series would have sold in those quantities.

The design choice from No. 6 onwards was girls in bikinis playing various sports. Was it an in-joke at EMI? There seems a sense of irony.

Hot Hits No. 6: Music For Pleasure 1971. UK LP #1

Hot Hits No. 7

Wow! Hot Hits 18 has a man on the rear sleeve!

We’re up to 1973 and we we’re down to fishing for our sports image.

Top Of The Pops

This was a Hallmark label, a branch of Pickwick International, specialising in LP covers of hits by anonymous artists. They launched in June 1968 ahead of Hot Hits and never put the numbers on the sleeve. The images were girls in then fashionable clothes, and designed initially to appeal to female pre-teens who might identify, in total contrast to Hot Hits which targeted salivating spotty males.

And all the girls walk by
Dressed up for each other
And the boys do the boogie-woogie
On the corner of the street

Van Morrison, “Wild Night”

An accurate observation.

Top of The Pops 2 – 15, by “The Top of The Poppers”

Gallery – click to enlarge

The next section is rather more like Hot Hits, from Vol 16 onward, through 1971. What happened? A change of designer? Maybe they had researched and found more male buyers? There is a distinct shift from girl’s fashion magazine to posing provocatively for the males.

Were they appealing to an older market now who wanted to vaguely hear stuff that was on the radio? There were lots of jokes about middle-aged dads watching the BBC TV Top of The Pops (no connection – the BBC had failed to copyright the title), then moaning about the music but drooling over the dancers, Pan’s People. When I see Top of The Pops LPs in charity shop boxes they’re often surrounded by “middle-aged” LPs of the era … Jim Reeves, Mantovani, Tom Jones.

Gallery – click to enlarge

They kept on coming, 1978 had Volume 60.

They went the Page 3 route. Here we are in 1981, (Volume 88) and in K-Tel stye they were squeezing sixteen tracks on and going for boy appeal

They stopped in 1982, but released the one on the right above (black swimsuit) in 1985.

Add a number of single artist tributes.

Add an annual ‘Best ofThe Top of The Pops’ LP:


Contour was a Polydor-owned budget label. This Easy-Listening yawn is about as gratuitous as you can get:

Fascinating Rhythm: Sid Phillips & His Band, Contour LP 1971

They’d put a girl on any instrumental stuff:

They also had a 1970s cover versions series of 16 Chart Hits LPs with (of course) girls on the sleeves. They ran to twenty-two releases between 1972 and 1975 with varying degrees of explicitness (#12 was totally nude). Lollipops were much liked by photographers. Volume 15 found a gun sexy. Then there were some with a focus on cuddly puppies. (Volume 14 and 16).

Gallery- click to enlarge


12 Top Hits: Alan Caddy Orchestra and Singers, Avenue LP 1969

Avenue (later Forest) specialized in 6 track budget EP releases, though they did a few 12″ LPs on a one a month basis. I’ve seen far, far fewer of them than the other budget series, but that might be regional.

Alan Caddy was the producer and arranger (he was in the Tornados for Telstar). Everything was recorded at Pye Marble Arch studios. Because they had to be topical, hard on the heels of the chartys, they had to guess likely hits, and as you can see they got some wrong. It is hard to imagine the same band rolling off versions of Cold Turkey and Two Little Boys, possibly on the same day.

Avenue / Forest EPs

Early on, Avenue went foe “Page 3” cover shots:

Avenue NEU 159

The one above is a particular favourite. Not only does it try to do The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, to me the model looks spectacularly pissed off.

They had trouble deciding to go for “wholesome” or “crude” too:

They used the same pictures as the EP price climbed from 25p to 30p to 35p:

Elton John appeared on at least fifty cover versions between October 1968 and August 1970, as lead vocalist, backing vocalist or pianist. He mainly worked for Avenue , Top of The Pops and Midi, and the EPs with Elton John on are sought after. There was no artist credit, but some he’s talked about, others are clearly his voice. In short order, over a couple of weeks, he sang on Love of The Common People, I Will Survive, Yellow River, Wandrin’ Star, Cottonfields and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.

England’s Top 12 Hits series, 1970-1971
Gallery – click to enlarge

The thing about Avenue was re-using the same models again and again. They had LPs at one a month with EPs in between, sometimes using the same cover art. I thought the lollipop was pushing their luck.

More Avenue LPs:
Gallery – click to enlarge

What happened to budget covers albums?

Maybe consumers became more discerning. LP and CD prices were effectively falling too, because they didn’t rise in price in line with inflation. A wealthier audience perhaps contributed.

The Now! That’s What I Call Music! series started in November 1983. The series was originated by Virgin Records, and created by Simon Draper. Virgin and EMI joined forces to allow hits from both to be on the same albums.

K-Tel and Ronco had done licensing deals for their TV advertised compilations, but squeezed thirty minutes on an LP side meaning appalling sound quality and low volume. Virgin / EMI went for double LPs and then double CDs.

In 1986, the Polygram group joined the Now! consortium, meaning they had access to many original versions. By 1989, the sales and chart shares were so large that a separate Compilation Chart was created to exclude them from the main charts.

In 1999 Now! That’s What I Call Music! 44 sold 2.3 million copies in the UK only. The cheap cover version had ceased to have a market.


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