Yep, Chris Blackwell’s Island Records is 50 years old. What begun as a Jamaican label fostering slightly dodgy deals the business grew into one of the greatest of all independent record labels, right up there with Stax, Motown, Rough Trade, Virgin and Postcard.
There is a good page on the history of the label on its website which is well worth a read.
Like all great labels it was easily identifiable by a great logo which was redesigned around about 1974, and unlike certain other rebranding exercises they didn’t balls it up.
To celebrate, here’s an Island Top 10. Very much a personal selection (so no U2), I thought this would be a piece of cake, then researched exactly who Island have released. The list is pretty extensive so I’ve restricted myself to one release per artist as I could have filled it with Pulp and Roxy alone.
1. Traffic: Paper Sun ~ After having claimed yesterday that Cilla’s Step Inside Love is as good as anything recorded in the 1960s I make the same assertion for this wonderful piece of English sunshine psychedelica. Dig the pop video too ~ knocks spots off anything done by Duran Duran and made with a tanners change out of five bob.
2. Jethro Tull: Living in the Past ~ The greatest ever psychedelic folk pop single, not merely because it’s the only one in the genre. Have always loved this and nothing else they ever released. In 5/4 time apparently to deliberately make it uncommercial. It was a huge hit in the UK in 1969 and in the US in 1972.
3. Sit Right Down: Toots & The Maytals ~ The Greatest reggae star. Yes, Toots Hibbert is the man in my book, reggae’s greatest vocalist. This track is the opener on the great Funky Kingston album. Island made its name with reggae, helped distribute Trojan Records in its earliest days, brought it to the world and cornered the market in its mid to late 70s heyday. Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Burning Spear, Junior Murvin, Third World and, of course, Bob Marley were all signed to Island at some time.
4. Both Ends Burning: Roxy Music ~ Bryan Ferry was still just about the coolest guy on the planet when this came out in ’75. I had never previously seen this clip is from Mike Mansfield’s Supersonic. Not sure what he’s doing with the pirate eye patch but it’s an affectation that I’m suprised more pop stars haven’t taken to.
5. David’s Last Summer: Pulp ~ I said this was a personal choice. The final cut from His’n’Hers, the seven minute Eurodisco epic about an affair conducted in the heat of summer. I could tell you more but I don’t want to…
6. At The Chime of a City Clock: Nick Drake ~ Don’t want to write about Nick Drake either. Like everyone else, I didn’t discover him till the mid 90s Way to Blue comp. Hauntingly beautiful songs. How sad, what a talent. RIP.
7. Something for the Girl with Everything: Sparks ~ What can be weirder when you’re 8 years old than a band with a falsetto vocalist and an organist who looks like Hitler?
8. Jammin: Bob Marley ~ Yeah, I like this one though his best stuff was done with Sir Coxsone, Lee Perry and Leslie Kong in the years prior to joining the label.
9. Slow Motion: Ultravox ~ From their third and final Island album Systems of Romance, before John Foxx left, and thus before bloody Vienna. Not as good a band as Magazine, but better, in the Foxx days, than they are given credit for.
10. Fool’s Gold: Amy Winehouse ~ Yeah, just to show I’m not thirty years behind the times. She’s had her moments hasn’t she. Released on the Frank deluxe edition. This reminds me a little of the great Minnie Ripperton so is all right with me.
Fairport Convention, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, PJ Harvey, Free, Robert Palmer, Cat Stevens, Mary J Blige, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Tricky, Tom Waits even Julian Cope, Paul Weller and Portishead have graced the label at some point. Keep up the good work…