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Creator / Island Records

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Island's 1969-77 logo.
Island's 1977-89 logo.
Island's current logo, first used from 1989-2014 before being revived in 2019.
Island's 2014-2019 logo.

"If you want to look at world music, music of the last fifty years that changed the world, you need look no further than Island Records."
Melissa Etheridge, commemorating the label's 50th anniversary in 2009

Island Records is one of the major success stories of the music industry. Within a decade, it grew from humble origins into the independent British record label, one that gave the majors a run for their money until it became a major itself.

In 1959, Chris Blackwell was a young English businessman working in Jamaica. He fell in love with the local music and culture, and co-founded the Island label to record Ska, Reggae and Jazz artists. In 1962, Island began marketing its releases in Britain, where they attracted a small but loyal following comprised of both West Indian immigrants and white Mods who wanted to hear the latest in black music. Whenever Blackwell signed a performer with mainstream potential, such as teenage ska songstress Millie Small ("My Boy Lollipop") or R&B-influenced British Invasion band The Spencer Davis Group ("Gimme Some Lovin'"), he licensed the act to Fontana Records, a major label that had the marketing muscle to get the records on the charts.

This started to change in 1967, as Rock & Roll began to evolve into Rock. Steve Winwood, lead singer of Spencer Davis Group, left to form a Psychedelic Rock band called Traffic; Island decided to release Traffic's records themselves, so they reaped the rewards when the group became popular with the hippie counterculture. While Island continued with reggae, in the late 60s and early 70s its focus shifted to the new generation of British "underground" artists who played styles such as Progressive Rock, Hard Rock and Folk Rock. This paid off in a big way, as the label assembled an insanely impressive roster of talent, including Free Band, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Mott the Hoople, Nick Drake, Roxy Music, Cat Stevens, John Martyn, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Island's success led to several rivals aiming at the same audience, including indies such as Chrysalis (which started as an Island offshoot) and Charisma, as well as major label imprints like Harvest and Vertigo. In the US, Island's acts were licensed to other companies (usually A&M and Atlantic) until it established an American presence.note 

In the midst of all this, Island hadn't forgotten its roots, as Blackwell searched for a reggae artist who had the potential to become the genre's first worldwide superstar. The label groomed Jimmy Cliff for this role, but found more lasting success with Bob Marley, whose appeal helped bring the genre into the international mainstream. Island went on to sign other successful reggae acts like Toots and the Maytals, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, and Third World.

When the music world was upended by Punk Rock, Island wasn't any more prepared than their competition, although they managed to sign The Slits, Ultravox, Warsaw Pakt, and Eddie and the Hot Rods. They did better with New Wave Music, particularly an Irish quartet whom Blackwell confidently hyped as Island's "most important signing since King Crimson." Considering that the band was U2, Blackwell's brashness turned out to be justified.

Blackwell sold Island to the PolyGram conglomerate in 1989, then left altogether in 1997, but the label (which became part of Universal Music Group when UMG acquired PolyGram in 1998) has continued successfully.

Island Records performers, past and present, with TV Tropes pages:

*UK and Europe only