Island Presents: Reggae Discomixes - 22 Essential Extended Mixes

Lawrence & Trinity - Idle Dog Hosbah
George Faith - In The Midnight Hour
Third World - Cool Meditation
Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan
Linton Kwesi Johnson - Want Fi Goh Rave
Rico - Children of Sanchez
Black Uhuru - Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
The Wailing Souls - Old Broom
The Paragons - You Mean The World To Me
Pablo Moses - Proverbs Extractions
The Mighty Diamonds - Pass The Kouchie
Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Dreadlocks In The Moonlight
Justin Hinds & The Dominoes - Carry Go Bring Come
Junior Murvin - Memories
Fabian - Prophecy
Burning Spear - Civilised Reggae
Inner Circle - We 'A' Rockers
Toots & Maytals - Chatty Chatty
Michael Prophet - Fight To The Top
Aswad ft. Tromie & Bami - Warrior Change
Tony Tuff - Lovers Rocking & Skanking
Gregory Isaacs - Cool Down The Pace

"I loved music so much, I just wanted to get into it, or be as close to it as I could..."
Chris Blackwell

Founded on 4th July 1959 by Chris Blackwell, Graeme Goodall, Leslie Kong and his brother in Jamaica. Island Records would become one of the most important and influential record labels in the history of music. Named after either Alec Waugh's novel 'Island In The Sun' or Harry Belafonte's ballad of the same name, Island Records came into being following Chris Blackwell's frustration at the lack of records available in Jamaica, despite the abundance of home grown talent. According to Graeme Goodall, an Australian recording engineer and entrepreneur who was hugely influential in establishing Kingston's recording industry. Chris Blackwell was operating a number or Wurlitzer jukeboxes at the time that "he had attained from a man named John Elliott". He was becoming increasingly weary of having to travel to Miami to obtain the records to play in them and reached the conclusion that "these people are playing in bands in hotels. I got to make records of them so I can sell them to tourists." Chris Blackwell later recalled that his first production was with Bermudan jazz pianist Lance Hayward, then working the hotel circuit in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.

"In 1959 all I wanted to do was to get that one album released."
Chris Blackwell

The early Island productions featured recordings by local bands Kes Chin & the Souvenirs and the Caribs, ballads, such as 'Whenever There's A Moonlight' and 'More Than Words Can Say' from Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards, and rhythm & blues, including Owen Grey's 'The Plea' and the Jiving Juniors' 'Stop 'N Mash', which were released on Island's R&B subsidiary. Laurel Aitken's single, 'Boogie In My Shoes' c/w 'Little Sheila', also naturally issued on R&B, became the first Jamaican Number One, with both sides topping the JBC charts.

By 1962 Jamaica's recording industry had expanded exponentially and Chris Blackwell moved Island Records to 108 Cambridge Road in North West London where he began releasing many of these records through licensing or pressing and distribution deals with a number of the island's up and coming record producers. The first Island UK release was Kentrick 'Lord Creator' Patrick's 'Independent Jamaica', produced by Vincent 'Randy's' Chin and released in Jamaica on his Creative Calypso label, while other early releases came from Leslie Kong, Derrick Harriott, Byron Lee & Ronnie Nasralla, Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd and King Rdwards.

Chris Blackwell was not only a director, but also the distributor, and he would deliver the latest island releases in his Mini Cooper to the specialist record shops that served the expatriate Jamaican communities in London, Birmingham and Manchester. The music proved progressively popular, not only with Jamaicans looking for records with the 'blues beat', but also among London's hip young mods seeking something new and different, ensuring the sound of young Jamaica began to slowly integrate into the national consciousness. The following year Chris Blackwell arranged for Jamaican singer Millie Small to fly to London and record a cover of Barbie Gaye's 1956 American rhythm & blues stormer 'My Boy Lollipop'. Licensed to Fontana, the record was the first ever ska hit to 'cross over', with the disc narrowly missing the Number One spot in the UK National Charts in early 1964, selling a reputedly six million copies in the process.

Millie, accompanied by Chris Blackwell, travelled to the Midlands for an appearance on ATV's 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' programme to perform 'My Boy Lollipop' and, while they were in the area, they encountered local band, the Spencer Davis Group, who featured Steve Winwood on lead vocals. Promptly signed by Blackwell, the group's recording of Jackie Edwards' 'Keep On running' gave them their first Number One in winter 1965, a success they followed in the spring of the following year with 'Somebody Help Me', another Jackie Edwards song and another Number One hit.

The financial rewards from the international sales of these recordings enabled Island to move to prestigious new premises in the heart of London's West End at 155 Oxford Street, marking an entirely different direction for the company. Although pressing and distributing Jamaican recordings remained the foundation of the business, it became increasingly involved with the new 'underground rock' music. After the Spencer Davis Group disbanded in 1967, Island enjoyed success with Steve Winwood's new project, Traffic along with 'progressive' recordings by Fairport Convention, Free, John Martyn, Spooky Tooth and Jethro Tull.

Around this time, Island had begun to release Duke Reid's Treasure Isla recordings on their Trojan subsidiary and its Jamaican catalogue was now transferred to a new company, jointly owned by Island and Beat & Commercial, called Trojan Records. The Trojan label and its many subsidiaries would become synonymous with reggae and the London based label of choice for every Jamaican producer of importance while 'Island Records defined the state of British Rock'. Island continued to consolidate this enviable position with overground hit records from King Crimson, Cat Stevens and Roxy Music.

In late 1972, Chris Blackwell made the decision to return to his musical roots and advanced Bob Marley & The Wailers £4000 to record an album in Jamaica. A number of Wailers records had been released on Island in the sixties, including Bob Marley's first two solo releases for Beverley's Records, 'Judge Not' and 'One Cup Of Coffee', but the deals had usually been done with the producers, not the artists. Although advances to finance recordings were standard rock and pop music business practice, placing this amount of trust in, and financial commitment to, a Jamaican group was unprecedented. The Wailers repaid that trust by delivering 'Catch A Fire' which was released in May 1973 to overwhelming critical acclaim.

"Island's marketing strategy had been very effective for their rock acts and the same style, ironically, would make a legend out of a singer famous in his own country for a decade, yet whom few white fans had heard of before 1973."
Ian McCann

'Burnin'', released later that year helped to further their standing, but the Wailers officially 'broke up' in January 1975 when Peter and Bunny left the group, leading to Bob enlisting the I Threes (Marcia Griffiths, his wife Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt) as his backing vocalists. Their 'Natty Dread' long player, credited to Bob Marley & The Wailers, set the stage for their triumphal UK tour in the summer of 1975.

"And this I want to tell you is Trench Town experience. All the way from Trench Town Jamaica... Bob Marley & The Wailers..."

'Trench Town Rock' opened Bob Marley & The Wailers' now legendary London concerts and Island released the 'Live At The Lyceum' set in time for the Christmas market. The slow burning rendition of 'No Woman No Cry', lifted from the album, gave Bob Marley his long overdue hit single and finally introduced the music of Kingston's ghettos to an international audience. Reggae was now a viable force and Island Records returned to Jamaican music as if they'd never been away, releasing albums of the calibre of Burning Spear's epochal 'Marcus Garvey', Lee Perry's 'Super Ape' and Bunny Wailer's 'Black Heart Man', while consolidating their pre-eminence with a plethora of superb seven and then twelve inch singles.

Twelve inch singles, where a 45rpm single played over the length of a 33rpm album, were first heard on New York's disco scene in the mid-seventies. Engineer Tom Moulton is usually given the credit for this innovation, which not only provided extra length, but also added dynamic range and upped the bass frequencies. Initially employed for promotional purposes only, demand soon became overwhelming, with the first commercially available example of this exciting new format widely cited as 'Ten percent' by Double Exposure on Salsoul Records, issued in 1976.

The same year, the Hookim Brothers at Channel One became the first Jamaican producers to adopt the style with the release of the Jayes' update of Marcia Griffiths' Studio One evergreen, 'Truly', the first twelve inch single to be manufactured and released in Kingston. As the Jayes vocal came to an end, the rhythm continued and the excellent Ranking Trevor stepped in with a deadly deejay version. These 'disco mixes' were an immediate success, but not all reggae twelve inch releases featured a deejay: many came with extended dub workouts, while others stretched the format to include vocal, deejay and dub versions of a non-stop rhythm track.

Unfortunately, twelve inch singles never really progressed past the novelty stage in Jamaica, where prohibitive prices (some sold for three or four times the price of a standard album) and recurrent vinyl shortages ensured the enduring ubiquity of the seven inch single. However, in New York and London, the two most important overseas markets for reggae, the twelve inch single soon became the format of choice for record buyers. If it wasn't on a twelve inch 'disco mix' then it wasn't worth purchasing. Many featured alternate mixes or takes to the original Jamaican release or, increasingly, records that never saw issue in Jamaica, leading to even hard core music followers who had previously demanded strictly Jamaican pre-release seven inch singles now buying UK and USA pressed twelve inch singles.

Island rode the crest of a wave of popularity that they had helped to create as "what was once a cottage industry transformed itself into a bona fide world music,,," Their twelve inch singles from the mid-seventies through to the early eighties continued in the same all-encompassing fashion that had enabled the label to flourish and prosper in the sixties. Styles may come and go, buy quality remains constant and these releases, founded as always on a passion for music, would prove a profound addition to the Island tradition.

 "I never expected Island Records to grow into the international phenomenon it became."
Chris Blackwell

But reggae has never necessarily been about music recorded solely in Kingston, Jamaica, as reflected in the works of the children of the diaspora, such as West London-based Aswad and South London's Linton Kwesi Johnson, Birmingham's Steel Pulse and Rico, a Jamaican domiciled in the UK, stood proud along with Jamaican stalwarts, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear and the Wailing Souls on a dizzying selection od extended, remixed disco that echoed and reinforced the music's continued importance, relevance and power worldwide.

"What I think is great about Jamaican music is that so much of what exists in popular music today started in Jamaica: the dub versions, the re-mixes, rap, so many electronic effects. There are so many things in virtually every new record you hear that started in Jamaica."
Chris Blackwell

In July 1989, Chris Blackwell sold Island Records and Island Music for £180,000,000 to the Polygram UK Group with the announcement "it had gotten too big and too corporate for me and I couldn't really handle it." The label now forms a substantial part of the Universal Music Group, who are the current curators of this excellent, extensive re-issue programme of the legendary Island legacy.

Harry Wise
All material © Trojan Records