After Motown blew out its 50 candles earlier this year (January 12), it’s now time for another legendary record label to celebrate its semicentennial anniversary: Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. Although never achieving the same mythical status as Berry Gordy Jr’s soul label, the label-with-the-palm certainly isn’t inferior to it.
The past half century Sun Island has put several genres firmly on the world music map. Jamaica’s reggae of course (yep, all the classics, all the big names), but also the British folk rock of Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson & Nick Drake. And who can forget Bryan & Brian’s art rock (Roxy Music) or Cat Stevens’ singalong gems? The list of quality, talent-in-abundance players goes on and on. How about Steve Gimme Some Lovin’ Winwood, the androgynous disco of Grace Jones, U2’s impressive back catalogue (they literally got Blackwell out of some difficult mid 1980s years), or enfants terrible Tom Waits & PJ Harvey? And oh yes, even Sugababes’ hot nightclub-lick Push the Button got the blessing. Unlike Motown, Island also plays a role anno 2009, albeit now as part of big daddy Universal – with Mika, Amy Winehouse, Keane, The Killers and The Fratellis among others.
The celebrations are taking on many forms: gala evenings, live shows, documentaries, a fist-sized biography, a website, reissues and compilations. Such as the compilation boxes (each with three CDs) War ina Babylon: An Island Reggae Anthology 1959-2005 (no trace of Islands biggest star Bob Marley though, presumably a matter of rights) , Meet on the Ledge: An Island Folk-Rock Anthology 1967-1977 (a good cross section), Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal: An Island Anthology 1967-1972 (bad 7 years for the Shrooms with millennium-party plans) and Island Life: 50 Years of Island Records (the greatest hits of the past fifty years, plus covers by contemporary artists – Winehouse, Sugababes, The Feeling , Paul Weller, and others).
Maybe Island Records’ achievements can best be accoladed by the success of some of Robert Palmer’s works. Where soul, rock and pop, blues and jazz blend in to become one joyous cocktail. Back and forth, Fast and slow. South and north. I’d like to now propose a toast. To the best of both worlds. Cheers, Islanders. Happy 50.