Island Records

Island Records
Island Records
Island Records Logo.svg
Parent company Universal Music Group
Founded 1959
Founder Chris Blackwell
Distributor(s) Island Def Jam Motown (US)
Island Records Group (UK)
Universal Music Germany (EU)
Universal Music Australia (including Island Records Australia)
Genre Various, with a focus on rock and pop
Country of origin Jamaica
Location New York City, New York
Official Website (US)

Island Records is a record label that was founded by Chris Blackwell in Jamaica. It was based in the United Kingdom for many years and is now owned by Universal Music Group. The label now operates as a division of The Island Def Jam Motown Music Group in the United States (where it is now a largely rock-oriented label, much like in its heyday) and as a standalone label in the United Kingdom (also known as Island Records Group or Universal Island).[1] Since 2007, there is also a frontline local artist and repertoire label in Australia known as Island Records Australia, run by Universal Music Australia.



Rise of the Island brand

Island Records was founded in Jamaica in 1959 by Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall, and partially financed by Stanley Borden from RKO, taking its name from the 1955 Alec Waugh novel, subsequent film and Harry Belafonte hit song "Island in the Sun".[2] The company relocated to the UK in May 1962. Until Blackwell sold the label to PolyGram in 1989, Island was the largest indie record label in history. Island had a major influence on the progressive music scene of the UK in the early 1970s. In the mid-1970s, Island operated its own record pressing plant, but had sometimes problems with quality control; many records were defective and had to be returned. Island (UK) contracted EMI to manufacture and distribute their works, from 1972–1977, when higher vinyl prices forced Island to a lower quality manufacturer[citation needed]. EMI regained the duty in 1987.

Island's first multinational distribution deal in North America was with RCA Records Canada (then an independent company), established and developed for almost a decade by manager Kathy Hahn and prior to its move to Warner Brothers. The RCA deal yielded Bob Marley's first gold album for North American record sales with the release of Exodus, and also marked Island's first gold album certification for North American Record sales. Island did, however, incorporate and operate business offices in the U.S. and Canada in the 1970s and 1980s.

Island's overseas licensing arrangements were often such that Island was marketed as the primary label, with Island Records credited on sleeve spines, and Island's label designs appearing prominently on the discs themselves, even when a different company was responsible for the records' manufacture, distribution and marketing. Sometimes the fine print on these releases would mention the other company, sometimes not. For example, Island-branded records were released by companies such as Bell Records (U.S., 1967–68), A&M Records (U.S., 1969-1971), Capitol Records (U.S., 1971-1974), Asylum Records (U.S., Traffic's 1974 album When the Eagle Flies), Warner Bros. Records (U.S., 1975–1982, plus Steve Winwood's 1986 album Back in the High Life), WEA Records (Canada, et al.), Atlantic Records (U.S., 1982–1989), MCA Records (Canada 1982-1989), Phonogram Records (Germany, ?–1971), Ariola Records (Germany, 1971–1992; Netherlands, late 1970s–1989), Dacapo (Portugal), and others. One anomaly is that Rupert Murdoch's Festival Records (Australia & New Zealand) (now owned by Warner Music) got to promote its brand more prominently than most.

Although this strategy of the Island brand dominating releases helped prevent the brand from becoming marginalized, Island struggled as a business in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bob Marley's 1981 death was detrimental to the company, Irish rock band U2, which had signed to Island in March 1980, were growing in popularity, but had not yet reached the international superstar status that was to come, and a joint arrangement with Trevor Horn's fledgling ZTT label had diminishing returns. Blackwell had also used the label to finance a new film production and distribution company, Island Alive, in 1983. In August 1987, the company was not able to pay $5 million it owed to U2 in royalties for The Joshua Tree album, which it had diverted to financing several unsuccessful films. A deal was struck where by U2 invested the unpaid $5 million into the company in exchange for a stake in the company, estimated at around 10%.[3]

Island's acquisition by PolyGram

In July 1989, Blackwell sold Island Records and Island Music to PolyGram UK Group for £272 million. From this point on, Island was no longer an independent company. Although PolyGram continued to market the brand, Blackwell stayed on as CEO of PolyGram's Island Entertainment division. PolyGram immediately began reissuing much of the Island back catalogue on compact disc and expanded Island's reach through its global manufacture and distribution network, but the label was relatively unfocused in the 1990s. Island World Communications, which was headed by Blackwell, as well as Mike Preece, Laurence Guinness and Andy Frain, created Manga Entertainment Ltd, the Japanese Anime and Live Action Japanese film division of Island in 1991. Manga and Island bought the distribution license for Akira from ICA Projects in London and was Manga's first release. Manga and Island struck deals with many Independent Australian entertainment companies to release Manga's titles in the early 90's. In 1994, Island sold the distribution licenses for most of Manga's releases to Siren Entertainment, an independent entertainment company in Australia. Those rights were then given to Madman Entertainment in 1999 when Siren became solely an acquisitions company. Its 4th & Broadway division, operating since the mid-1980s, achieved some success marketing alternative hip hop and dance-pop music. In November 1997, Blackwell resigned from Island Entertainment (some sources say he was fired) and went on to form Palm Pictures the following year. Then in 1998 all of the Polygram and associated labels were purchased by Seagrams, the various labels now asserting the imprint under the umbrella of UMG, or Universal Music Group, LLC.

Island under Universal Music Group

The Universal years have, thus far, resulted in tremendous dilution of brands; releases are inconsistently marketed as being "on" any number of labels which range from historic brands like Island to conglomerate holding companies, music groups, label groups, and miscellaneous divisions of Universal Music that formed from numerous mergers and acquisitions in the 1990s and 2000s:

  • In December 1998 and the first three months of 1999, Universal Music Group put the Island brand in the control of three divisions: one in the UK, one in the U.S., and one in Germany. In each territory, these companies were merged under umbrella groups:
    • In the UK, Island and Mercury merged to become divisions of Island Mercury Group.
    • In Germany, Island and Mercury merged to become divisions of Island Mercury Labelgroup.
    • In the U.S., Island and Mercury were merged Island Mercury Group, but within less than three months, it decided to build on the strength of the success of the Def Jam Recordings, and so Def Jam was merged into Island Mercury, and was renamed The Island Def Jam Music Group, which it remains to this day. Mercury's run under IDJMG was very short considering that Kiss was the only major act on the label at this time before leaving UMG. And so, as a U.S. label for the pop market, Mercury was soon dissolved in the early 2000s. Mercury is now a country label operating separately from Island Def Jam.
      • Under Universal, in the US, Island became a mostly pop/rock label, as their urban artists moved to Def Jam or Def Soul, a new Def Jam imprint focusing on R&B.
  • In March 1999, in the UK, Island Records Ltd. (the Island half of Island Mercury Group) was renamed Universal-Island Records Ltd., and Mercury took over the marketing of Island's roster of U.S. artists in that territory. Thus, Island and Universal-Island became synonymous with primarily UK and European artists. Island Mercury is sometimes used as a brand, as well.
  • Releases bearing the Island brand are also sometimes issued via Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) and UM3 (UM3), umbrella organizations formed in October 1999 to handle special-market releases and catalogue reissue compilations for the U.S. and the rest of the world, respectively. UMe and UM3 releases are coordinated by a constituent label company like Hip-O Records and bear its logo, but also typically promote a confusing array of other Universal-owned brands, including Island, with varying degrees of prominence.
  • In 2001 Universal Music chose an Island Records single release to be the basis for Europe's very first mobile marketing trial.
  • Around 2002, Island Mercury Group became Island Records Group (UK).
  • Some early 2000s releases by U2 are credited to "Interscope/Island Records". This is not a separate company, but rather just a co-branded alias for Interscope Records, much the way "Manhattan Island Records" was used for a handful of Grace Jones releases on Manhattan Records (a division of Capitol Records) in the mid-1980s.
  • In January 2003, four divisions of Universal Music Germany merged into two: Motor Music and Urban/Def Jam become Motor Urban Def Jam, and Polydor Records merged with Island Mercury Labelgroup to form Polydor Island Group. In 2004, these divisions merged again, and Universal Music Germany restructured to have only two divisions: Universal Music Domestic Division and Universal Music International Division. Any of these divisions, or even Universal Music Germany itself, may be credited as the label on a given release, alongside or in place of Island.
  • Island Records Australia was launched in 2007 by Universal Music Australia.

Artists and recordings

Subsidiaries & labels

This list is probably incomplete, and some of the dates are uncertain.


  1. ^ Perrone, Pierre (1 May 2009). "Island: The record label that changed the world". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  2. ^ Southall, Brian (2000). The A-Z of Record Labels. London: Sanctuary Publishing. ISBN 1-86074-281-5. 
  3. ^ McGee, Matt (2008). U2:A Diary. Omnibus Press. ISBN ISBN 978-1-84772-108-2. 
  4. ^

External links

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