Since its debut in Jamaica in 1959, the history of pioneering label Island Records has been inextricably linked to the history of its founder, Chris Blackwell. Today, Blackwell has curated a series of LP compilations containing his handpicked tracks that match his legendary history and that of Island.
On October 29, Island Records / UMe will release the third volume of The Vinyl Series, an 18-track double LP compiling some of the label’s key releases from the late ’60s and early’ 70s. The first volume included key songs. from 1962 to 1969, and the second, released in the summer, spanned the years 1969 to 1973. Together, the sets explore the highlights of Island’s vast and remarkable catalog.
“The counterculture, which came into full force in 1967, had coincided with the launch of Island as a label,” Blackwell writes in the cover notes for the new collection, examining the ties that have remained strong as the label was operating in the changing world of the ’70s. “Most of the acts we started with stayed with Islandâ¦ For a lot of us there didn’t seem to be much change.”
This volume of The Vinyl Series includes material that has remained rooted in the folk and acoustic styles that were essential to the founding of Island. This side of the label’s history is represented by Nick Drake’s “Way to Blue” (from his debut album, Five Leaves Left) and Sandy Denny’s “Late November”, which first appeared on a Sampler by label in 1971. But it was Cat Stevens who was most often identified on Island in the UK – he “continued to be Island’s biggest seller,” notes Blackwell – and this album contains his worldwide hit of 1971 “Morning Has Broken”, an adaptation of a Christian hymn.
But Island had also enjoyed huge success on the harder rock front. Free enjoyed great success with the 1970 album Fire and Water, the title track of which opens the Volume Three collection. âIncredibly young, but in many ways wise beyond their years,â writes Blackwell, âthe quartet was such a talented group, led at the time I signed them by 15-year-old (!!!) Andy Fraser. “
When Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke split with Free to form Bad Company, they stayed with Island and became a worldwide sensation; “This seemed to be the culmination and the justification of their great talents,” writes Blackwell. And progressive rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer, pictured here with their biggest hit, “Lucky Man” of the 1970s, also had “huge success globally,” as Blackwell puts it.
Island’s rock roster hit the glam scene in the early 1970s. Blackwell admits that “When I heard Roxy Music’s debut album, I admit I wasn’t immediately sure.” But when he fully absorbed the sound and the vision of the band, he said, “I understood that this was a real artistic endeavor, conceived and executed as such.” Along with Roxy’s stunning debut single “Virgina Plain” and singer Bryan Ferry’s solo cover of “The In Crowd”, The Vinyl Series: Volume Three also includes Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Better By You. , Better Than Me, “by Spooky Tooth, as well as” This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us, “by the enigmatic duo Sparks, whose unprecedented career was recently the subject of an acclaimed documentary film.
But Chris Blackwell and Island Records will forever be associated with Jamaican music, and the period covered in this album includes two landmark events that changed the world. Blackwell observes that he “began to see [reggae] was also starting to be picked up by a part of the same audience that was the fan base of underground rock. “Although he released Bob Marley’s first solo single in the UK in 1962, he eventually met and signed the Wailers a decade later. âI loved what they recorded in Jamaica for what became the Catch A Fire album,â he writes. âAlthough initially it didn’t sell in colossal terms, it was a critical success. âAnd that sparked one of the greatest musical careers has ever seen.
Concurrently, Island released the soundtrack for the groundbreaking 1972 film The Harder They Come, which introduced reggae to international audiences. This collection includes two classics from this film: “Johnny Too Bad” by the Slickers and Jimmy Cliff, the star of the film, singing “You Can Get It If You Really Want”. The majestic Toots and the Maytals, heard on this set performing “Time Tough” from 1974, were also part of the soundtrack, which helped them gain recognition around the world. Also included is “This Is Reggae Music”, a declarative single from Jamaican band Zap Pow released following the soundtrack’s success.
In song-by-song essays by renowned author and longtime Island Records columnist Chis Salewicz, the album’s package features reminiscences that offer the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Blackwell’s own perspective. The third volume of The Vinyl Series – which also illustrates the label’s adventures in funk (The Meters), dub (Augustus Pablo) and blue-eyed soul (Robert Palmer) – completes the story of the visionary and eclectic path of ‘Island as it consolidated. its place as one of the most distinctive and daring labels in the history of music.
List of tracks:
In front of:
Free – “Fire And Water”
Robert Palmer – “Sailing Shoes”
The counters – “Cissy Strut”
Bryan Ferry – “The Crowd” in “”
Zap Pow – “It’s reggae music”
Toots and the Maytals – “Time Tough”
The Slickers – “Johnny Too Bad”
Jimmy Cliff – “You Can Get It If You Really Want It”
Augustus Pablo – “King Tubby Meets Uptown Rockers”
In front of:
Traffic – “Dear Mr. Fantasy”
Bad company – “Bad company”
Spooky Tooth – “Better by you, better than me”
Sparks – “This town is not big enough for both of us”
Roxy Music – “Plan Virginie”
Cat Stevens – “The morning is broken”
Nick Drake – “Path to the Blue”
Sandy Denny – “End of November”
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – “Lucky Man”