Island Records 50th Anniversary – A Celebration

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Sly and Robbie 2009

Last night, Sly and Robbie (above) kicked off a week-long celebration for Island Records’ 50th Anniversary, with an all-star reggae concert in London. Grace Jones and Aswad, as well as new artists Tinchy Stryder and VV Brown, were among the performers. Miles Davis’ birthday is a great day to have a party for Island, even if it isn’t the exact date of the first release, because Miles is one of founder Chris Blackwell’s favorite artists.

With reggae, ska and other Caribbean music making up the original and predominate identity of the company, a Sly and Robbie show is the perfect event, in London, where Blackwell created consistent business for Island by importing music for his immigrant countrymen. Of course, Sly and Robbie are adept at most any music, but luckily for them, Shepherd’s Bush is having several shows this week that will show the full breadth of the company.

The Fratellis and Bombay Bicycle Club on May 27th, Yusuf Aslam on May 28th, Paul Weller, Ernest Ranglin & Spooky Tooth on May 29th, Keane, Tom Tom Club & Spooky Tooth on May 30th, and finally Amy Winehouse, Toots & The Mayals and Coco Sumner on May 31st. A mix of old and new, from all parts of the world. All that is missing is a bit of the electronica thing.


The Independent called Island Records “a label that changed the world” and the reason is its quality, and diversity. It is literally all things to all people, with an almost universal message issued by several of its artists in various idioms of music. Yes Bob Marley is massive but so is Bono, Melissa Etheridge, King Sunny Ade, Cat Stevens and even the Orb are to their respective followings. If music is the food of love (Shakespeare), Chris’ Island Records created immeasurable amounts of it the world over, and actually beyond; when Bob Marley’s music was played on the space shuttle a few years ago, it was not the first nor the last time Island has left this island Earth.

As someone once said about Bob Marley, “the Sun will never set on this music.” I would also quote Buzz Lightyear on Island’s 50th: “to infinity, and beyond!”

A few wonderful articles have appeared touting Chris Blackwell and Island (including new interviews), such as those in Mojo and The Independent. Most include a list of the most influential artists, or best records to have appeared under the palm tree. Island’s own 50th Anniversary page is pretty sweet too.

Here’s a bit of Chris Blackwell speaking about signing artists, the current state of the business and the visual aspect of music marketing.

My favorite Island records as a fan are:
1. The Unforgettable Fire (U2)
2. Another Green World (Brian Eno)
3. Exodus (Bob Marley and the Wailers)
4. Live and Direct (Aswad)
5. The Joshua Tree (U2)
6. Uprising (Bob Marley and the Wailers)
7. Anthem (Black Uhuru)
8. Teatro (Willie Nelson)
9. Catch A Fire (The Wailers)
10. Burnin’ (The Wailers)

My favorite Island Records that I promoted:

1. Pre-Millennium Tension (Tricky)
2. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (PJ Harvey)
3. I Am Shelby Lynne (Shelby Lynne)
4. When I Was Cruel (Elvis Costello)
5. Teatro (Willie Nelson)
6. Rainbow Connection (Willie Nelson)
7. Ball of Fire (The Skatalites)
8. Wingless Angels (Wingless Angels)
9. Pop (U2)
10. Dance Hall at Louse Point (Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish)

What are yours? As the week progresses and our friends share some video from the big shows, I will continue to post. In fact, my next post is also about Island, albeit indirectly.

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