If any one record company can be credited with lifting the humble sampler LP from the bargain bins and placing it front and centre as a fondly-remembered art form, it must surely be the Island label. Island released only around half a dozen samplers between 1969-71, but at least four of them are still considered absolute classics of the era.
Established in Jamaica by Chris Blackwell during the late 50s, Island began operating in London in May of 1962. The label’s output up to that point had been almost exclusively of West Indian origin, but in the mid-60s Blackwell began to sign British artists whose work he and producer/A&R man Guy Stevens admired. The Spencer Davis Group were among the first of these in 1964, but the SDG releases and other artists were initially licensed to the decidedly more pop-oriented Fontana label.
Things moved quickly and from 1967 to 1969 the Island artist roster grew to resemble a veritable who’s who of British underground rock, with John Martyn, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Free, Fairport Convention, King Crimson, Blodwyn Pig and others turning out high-quality, timeless albums almost weekly. It’s probably no exaggeration to say that by 1970 Blackwell had assembled a stable of talent the equal of any UK label, with scarcely a duff album to be found in the entire catalogue. This was even more remarkable considering Island was a proudly independent company without the resources and major label backing enjoyed by their main competitors Deram, Vertigo and Harvest.
The Dutch release shows a little more of the sleeve photo on the left revealing three people not seen on the UK version. These extras are (from the bottom) Chris Mercer, late of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers but then blowing sax with Wynder K. Frog. Above Mercer’s head is a brown coat collar, together with a similarly-coloured clump of hair. These belong to a then considerably more hirsute Richard Thompson. Immediately above Thompson’s head, directly to the left of Neil Hubbard, we see a small amount of darker frizzy hair. Sadly, this is all that is visible of original Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker.
There has, over the years, been much speculation as to who was positioned out of camera range further to the left. Various names have been mooted including John Martyn (unlikely), members of Blodwyn Pig (very unlikely), and King Crimson (extremely unlikely indeed, since they weren’t even signed to Island at that point). No, it’s far more probable that these stragglers were the remaining members of Spooky Tooth, along with, possibly, various representatives from Tramline. Paul Kossoff, as the only member of Free not accounted for, was probably safely tucked up in his Golborne Mews bed at that unsociable hour. Dave Mason, whose song gave this sampler its name is also nowhere to be seen. Mason was in and out of Traffic several times between 1967-69, so he had probably bailed yet again by the time the cover photo was taken.
Then there’s the sorry tale of nearly-man Ian A. Anderson (he’s the bearded, bespectacled, fur-coated figure at No.16). Ian A. was dropped from the label shortly after the cover shoot and does not appear on the album. If his account of how he lost his Island contract is to be believed, the folk blues practitioner and future editor of the late, lamented fRoots magazine (1979 – 2019) was unceremoniously dumped due to an unfortunate clash of names with the Jethro Tull front man. Ian A. did record a full album for Liberty in 1969 however – Stereo Death Breakdown (LBS 83242E) – and appears on the Son Of Gutbucket sampler discussed elsewhere. In 1970 he founded the folk label Village Thing.
Someone else who appears on the sleeve yet didn’t play on the album was Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre (No.6). “A Song For Jeffrey” the album’s opening track was recorded by the earlier This Was Tull line-up, with Mick Abrahams on guitar.
Saddest of all is the Fairport Convention drummer Martin Lamble (No. 19). In May 1969, within weeks of this photoshoot, he was killed aged 19 when the band’s van crashed near the Scratchwood Services (now known as London Gateway) on the M1 motorway on the way back from a gig at Mothers Club in Birmingham.
Two people on the cover later played at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. They were Neil Hubbard (No. 2) and Bruce Rowland (No. 5). Both went from Wynder K. Frog to Joe Cocker’s Grease Band and hence, to Woodstock.
Coincidentally, after leaving Fairport Convention, Ian Matthews (No.14) formed Matthews Southern Comfort who scored a worldwide hit single with a cover of, you guessed it – Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”.
A pair of musicians pictured on the sleeve eventually played with two different bands on the record. Rebop Kwaku Baah (No. 22) and Bruce Rowland (No. 6), both members of Wynder K Frog at the time, later became members of Traffic and Fairport Convention respectively.
Retailing at 14s/6d (72½p) You Can All Join In reached #18 in the UK album charts and remained on catalogue for several years, appearing on at least four different Island label designs into the 70s.
1. Jethro Tull – A Song For Jeffrey
2. Spooky Tooth – Sunshine Help Me
3. Free – I’m A Mover
4. What’s That Sound – Art
5. Tramline – Pearly Queen
6. Traffic – You Can All Join In
1. Fairport Convention – Meet on the Ledge
2. Nirvana – Rainbow Chaser
3. John Martyn – Dusty
4. Clouds – I’ll Go Girl
5. Spencer Davis Group – Somebody Help Me
6. Wynder K. Frog – Gasoline Alley
1. Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull)
2. Neil Hubbard (Wynder K. Frog)
3. Gary Wright (Spooky Tooth)
4. Glenn Cornick (Jethro Tull)
5. Bruce Rowland (Wynder K. Frog)
6. Martin Barre (Jethro Tull)
7. Mick Weaver (Wynder K. Frog)
8. Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
9. Patrick Campbell-Lyons (Nirvana)
10. Ashley Hutchings (Fairport Convention)
11. Alex Spyropoulos (Nirvana)
12. Chris Wood (Traffic)
13. Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention)
14. Ian Matthews (Fairport Convention)
15. Steve Winwood (Traffic)
16. Ian A. Anderson
17. Jim Capaldi (Traffic)
18. Mike Harrison (Spooky Tooth)
19. Martin Lamble (Fairport Convention)
20. Simon Nicol (Fairport Convention)
21. Harry Hughes (Clouds)
22. Rebop Kwaku Baah (Wynder K. Frog)
23. Chris Mercer (Wynder K. Frog)
24. Simon Kirke (Free)
25. Paul Rodgers (Free)
26. Billy Ritchie (Clouds)
27. Andy Fraser (Free)
28. Ian Ellis (Clouds)
29. Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention)
Almost as famous as You Can All Join In was Island’s next rock sampler Nice Enough To Eat which arrived in late 1969. Although lacking some of YCAJI’s obvious eye-catching appeal, the NETE sleeve had many visual delights – the surreptitious concealment of a few suspicious-looking pharmaceuticals among the alphabet biscuits and Smarties was a particularly nice touch, for example.
Accordingly, Nice Enough To Eat was probably the place where most late 60s record buyers first chanced upon the music of King Crimson, Nick Drake, Mott The Hoople, Blodwyn Pig, Dr. Strangely Strange and Quintessence. Not only that, it was also almost certainly the first – and last – time they would encounter the mysterious Heavy Jelly.
The Heavy Jelly saga is a long and, at times, extremely tedious one and only certain aspects of it need concern us here. Briefly, after a 1968 Time Out magazine hoax album review of a non-existent band named Heavy Jelly had stirred up interest, the race was on to produce a real record by an actual group of that name. Island got there first in January 1969 with the single “I Keep Singing That Same Old Song”/”Blue”. This incarnation of Heavy Jelly (there were, ultimately, at least four different versions of the band) was none other than UK psych/pop merchants Skip Bifferty and the epic eight minute-plus A side was the work of their bass player Colin Gibson.
Just to complicate things even further, the version of “I Keep Singing That Same Old Song” which closes Side One of Nice Enough To Eat features a very different mix to the Island single. Although a further single and full album credited to Heavy Jelly later appeared, this was a completely different band with no connection to either Island or Skip Bifferty.
Keen-eared King Crimson followers will no doubt notice the absence of the ominous pre-take tootling which is faintly audible just before “21st Century Schizoid Man” kicks in at the start of In The Court Of The Crimson King.
The artwork was by Mike Sida who designed/photographed several classic Island album sleeves including Spooky Two, Free’s Tons of Sobs and Fire and Water and Traffic’s Last Exit and John Barleycorn Must Die.
As befits this pair of timeless sampler LPs, You Can All Join In and Nice Enough To Eat were reissued in 1992 on a single 21 track CD, cunningly-titled Nice Enough To Join In (IMCD 150). In order to fit both albums onto one disc, three tracks from NETE were jettisoned (Tull, Fairport and – presumably because Island no longer owned the rights to their material – King Crimson). Curiously, the NETE album sides were reversed on the CD. YCAJI, however, appeared unchanged.
NICE ENOUGH TO EAT (Island IWPS-6) 1969
1. Fairport Convention – Cajun Woman
2. Mott The Hoople – At the Crossroads
3. Spooky Tooth – Better By You, Better Than Me
4. Jethro Tull – We Used To Know
5. Free – Woman
6. Heavy Jelly – I Keep Singing That Same Old Song
1. Blodwyn Pig – Sing Me A Song That I Know
2. Traffic – Forty Thousand Headmen
3. Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me
4. King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man
5. Quintessence – Gungamai
6. Dr Strangely Strange – Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal
Island: Part 2 – The Sue Years
In 1963 Chris Blackwell signed a deal with the prestigious US R&B label Sue Records to license their records for UK release. Sue had earlier released records in Britain via Decca’s London label.
With Guy Stevens at the helm, the UK Sue label thrived between 1963-68, producing some of the greatest US soul/R&B collections of the era with several volumes of The Sue Story and other legendary compilations. UK releases were given their own distinctive yellow and red label design but were, for the most part, incorporated into the main Island numbering system.
Drawing tracks from nine LPs and five singles This Is Sue! (IWP-3) was a genuinely great soul/R&B compilation with tracks by Roy Head, Robert Parker, Shirley & Lee, the Phil Upchurch Combo, Bob & Earl etc. The fact that only around half of the 14 tracks originated from the US Sue label appears to have gone unnoticed.
One oddity on This Is Sue! was “Incense” by The Anglos. Strongly rumoured to be Steve Winwood recording under an alias, this track was issued as a single several times in the 60s, starting in 1965 on the short-lived Brit label, followed by Fontana and Island. Winwood has always denied involvement with the song, but he did record elsewhere under the name “Steve Anglo”, so while the evidence points to him, others insist it was a US band fronted by one Joe Webster. “Incense” was written and produced by the esteemed Jimmy Miller, an American based in London, best known for his production work with the Rolling Stones, Blind Faith and Traffic.
Next up in the Island sampler series was Put Your Tears Away (IWPS-4) a one artist collection by Jamaican singer/songwriter Jackie Edwards. This was followed by another essential Guy Stevens-compilation This Is Blues (IWP-5). Showing the sleeves of 12 now incredibly rare Sue LPs on the back cover it featured 14 tracks by Freddy King, Otis Rush, Elmore James, Junior Wells, Homesick James and the like.
THIS IS SUE! (Island IWP-3) 1969
1. Roy Head – Treat Her Right
2. Derek Martin – Daddy Rollin’ Stone
3. The Righteous Brothers – Little Latin Lupe Lu
4. Hank Jacobs – So Far Away
5. Bob & Earl – Harlem Shuffle
6. Barbara Lynn – Oh! Baby
7. Phil Upchurch Combo – You Can’t Sit Down
1. Bobby Parker – Watch Your Step
2. Larry Williams – Bony Maronie
3. Jimmy McGriff – The Last Minute
4. Robert Parker – Barefootin’
5. Shirley & Lee – Let The Good Times Roll
6. The Anglos – Incense
7. Roy ‘C’ – Shotgun Wedding
THIS IS BLUES (Island IWP-5) 1969
1. Homesick James – Crossroads
2. J. B. Lenoir – I Sing Um The Way I Feel
3. Elmore James – It Hurts Me Too
4. Buster Brown – Doctor Brown
5. Sonny Boy Williamson – No Nights By Myself
6. Willie Mae Thornton – Tom Cat
7. Freddy King – Driving Sideways
1. Lowell Fulsom – Talking Woman Blues
2. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Wonder What Is Wrong With Me
3. Frankie Lee Sims – What Will Lucy Do
4. Otis Rush – I Can’t Quit You Baby
5. Junior Wells – Prison Bars All Around Me
6. Sammy Myers – Sleeping In The Ground
7. Tarheel Slim – Number 9 Train
Island: Part 3 – Bumpers and El Pea
The idea behind the Bumpers album title was a play on the word “bumper”, meaning plentiful or larger than usual. They could have used a car bumper to illustrate the pun, but instead went for the name of a now long-forgotten type of sports shoe. Way back before the marketing men turned the humble running shoe into “lifestyle brand footwear”, trainers or basketball shoes were known as “bumpers”. I suppose the closest thing today would be the ever-fashionable Converse sneakers.
On Nic Oatridge’s website https://www.oatridge.co.uk/bumpers.htm he quotes Tony Wright: “Yes I did the artwork. It was originally a series of prints in multiple colours. (Chris) Blackwell purchased 100 of them from a store on the Kings Road, London and from them came up with the name Bumpers for the album, as that’s what these kind of sports shoes were called at the time. Island chose the colour way and asked my approval and paid me £200 for the rights. Guy Stevens had a friend called Mike Sida, who would have normally got the job of doing the cover and allowed him to put the package together. I provided the logo for the front. Why he thought an Aztec figure (on the back cover) was appropriate I never understood. But it took me a couple of years to begin worrying what went on the back of an album cover.”
Where to begin with Bumpers? There’s lots to unpack here. In their haste to get the sampler into the shops, Island jumped the gun at almost every turn, using half-finished tracks, incorrect mixes and often erroneous sleeve notes. And yet, 50 years later, this only adds to the mystery of this weird and wonderful double LP. So numerous and complex are the discrepancies, red herrings and outright cock-ups lurking within the only Island pink label double album, a track-by-track run-through seems the simplest way to sort it all out:
BUMPERS (Island IDP-1) 1970
1. TRAFFIC – Every Mother’s Son
Apart from a slightly longer fadeout and a discrepancy in the composer credits (Jim Capaldi is mysteriously uncredited on label and sleeve), no real differences to the John Barleycorn Must Die version are apparent here.
2. BRONCO – Love
At this stage the first Bronco album was still some months away, so the Bumpers sleeve notes were incorrect on both counts when they claimed that “Love” was “from ILPS 9134 – Bronco“. When it eventually appeared (as ILPS 9124), Bronco’s debut was titled Country Home. ILPS 9134, of course, was subsequently allocated to Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.
Due to an extended fadeout, the Bumpers‘ version of “Love” runs for 12 seconds longer than the officially released track (and, spookily, Country Home actually features a track titled “Bumpers West”!)
3. SPOOKY TOOTH – I Am The Walrus
Although probably the same take as the version on The Last Puff, the Bumpers track features different lead guitar overdubs amid a somewhat heavier mix.
4. QUINTESSENCE – Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga
This is where it starts to get weird. The Bumpers sleeve notes claim that “Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga” is from the self-titled second Quintessence LP (ILPS 9128) which, as any fule kno, is a studio album. In fact, the recording used here was an unavailable-elsewhere, full-blown live version. The Bumpers version turned up many years later as a bonus cut on the Repertoire label CD of the Quintessence album.
1. MOTT THE HOOPLE – Thunderbuck Ram
Very little difference to the Mad Shadows version here, although a subtly different mix lends the Bumpers version a slightly more strident feel.
2. JETHRO TULL – Nothing To Say
Not nearly as powerful as the Benefit version, the Bumpers track appears to have lost something in the transfer. Otherwise, the title says it all.
3. JIMMY CLIFF – Going Back West
Another case of premature ejaculation by the Bumpers compilers, it seems. To quote the sleeve notes, “Going Back West” is “From ILPS 9133 – Jimmy Cliff released Autumn ’70”. Well, not only does that catalogue number relate to John & Beverley Martyn’s Road To Ruin album, but the mooted eponymous Jimmy Cliff LP appears to have been delayed/postponed somewhere along the way and “Going Back West” did not surface until 1973 on the album Struggling Man (ILPS 9235)
4. BLODWYN PIG – Send Your Son To Die
Although the label claims 5:35 for this track, it actually runs for only 4:35 – which is, in itself, an eleven second increase on the Getting To This album version! Assuming that both versions are identical takes and (probably) originate from the same mix, how, then, do we account for the extraneous eleven seconds? Simple – the Getting To This track runs a little faster than the Bumpers version, making the song sound quite different and, of course, explaining the time difference. Composer credits on the label read ‘N. Abrahams’, thus turning Mick into ‘Nick’, presumably?
5. DAVE MASON – Little Woman
Quite why the (then) non-LP B-side of Mason’s February 1968 solo single “Just For You” (WIP 6032) was included here (some two and a half years after its original airing) is anyone’s guess. Since the A-side was credited to Traffic when it appeared on Last Exit (ILPS 9097), there’s even an outside chance that this could be them too – although it must be said that both songs certainly have the feel of solo, multi-tracked efforts. “Little Woman” and “Just For You” ended up on Mason’s 1972 double LP compilation Scrapbook (ICD 5). The Bumpers’ (label and sleeve) list the publisher as Island Music, whereas the single claims Blue Mountain Music.
1. JOHN & BEVERLEY MARTYN – Go Out and Get It
Aside from Bumpers all-too-familiar habit of mis-timing the tracks (this one is listed at 3:15, some 9 seconds longer than its true length), there are no other major discrepancies here.
2. KING CRIMSON – Cadence & Cascade
At 3:30, Bumpers understates the timing of “Cadence & Cascade” by no less than 13 seconds. Mind you, even at its true length of 3:43, that still leaves a whopping 53 seconds shortfall between this and the full version on In The Wake Of Poseidon (ILPS 9127). An early fade-out can be blamed for the truncated Bumpers track, a theme which Robert Fripp took even further on the 1976 compilation The Young Person’s Guide To King Crimson (ISLD 7) when he lopped a further seven seconds off poor old “Cadence…”. Also worth noting are the remixed cymbals and hi-hat on the Bumpers’ version.
3. IF – Reaching Out On All Sides
If’s self-titled debut LP claims a time of 5:14 for this track, whereas Bumpers plumps for 5:35. Both are incorrect since the true time is actually 5:40! All versions sound identical, however. Incidentally, on the original album and single, this song is referred to as “I’M Reaching Out On All Sides”.
4. FREE – Oh I Wept
Apart from Paul Kossoff losing an ‘f’ from his name on label and sleeve, what else is different here? Only a totally different Paul Rodgers’ vocal track, that’s all! And as if that weren’t enough to make Bumpers an essential purchase, the bass guitar parts are also noticeably different. The Bumpers version later turned up as a bonus track on the 2001 CD of Fire and Water.
5. NICK DRAKE – Hazey Jane
“From his album to be released Autumn ‘70” read the sleeve notes. The unnamed album was, of course Bryter Layter and when it appeared in late 1970 it contained two numbered versions of “Hazey Jane”. Perversely, “Hazey Jane II” (Side 1, Track 2) preceded “Hazey Jane I” (Side 1, Track 5) in the Bryter Layter running order. Although not identified as such, what we have here is “Hazey Jane I”.
1. FAIRPORT CONVENTION – Walk Awhile
No changes from the Full House version here.
2. CAT STEVENS – Maybe You’re Right
Now, this is a strange one. It appears that during the tape transfer or re-mastering stage something went horribly wrong with “Maybe You’re Right”. On Cat’s debut Island LP Mona Bone Jakon this track is in the key of G throughout. The Bumpers’ version, although starting off in G, slows down and switches to the key of F# around two thirds of the way through! This presumably accounts for the distinctly off-key piano figure and eleven second time discrepancy.
3. RENAISSANCE – Island
Everything here, including (for once) the track timings, is correct.
4. FOTHERINGAY – The Sea
While both Bumpers and the Fotheringay album claim a time of 5:25 for this track, 5:30 is closer to the truth.
5. CLOUDS – Take Me To Your Leader
Despite Bumpers’ bold claim that “Take Me To Your Leader” originates from “their Chrysalis album to be released Autumn ’70”, this track was never issued elsewhere in the UK at the time, although it was released in several European countries as an Island single (6014 017). What’s more, there was no “Autumn ’70” album, since Clouds’ second LP Watercolour Days (Chrysalis ILPS 9151) would not appear until the spring of 1971.
“Take Me To Your Leader” had, in fact, already been aired on the US-only Clouds’ album Up Above Our Heads (Deram DES 18044). In 2010 the BGO label issued a 34 track double CD Up Above Our Heads (Clouds 1966-71) containing both Island albums (Scrapbook and Watercolour Days), plus the US Deram LP.
BUMPERS DOWN UNDER
A version of Bumpers was released in Australia and New Zealand with an almost identical sleeve but a very different track listing (see below). The local independent Festival label distributed Island’s releases down under at that time and presumably it was they who insisted on the inclusion of several tracks which had been big hits in the UK (eg Free’s “All Right Now”), possibly in an attempt to boost sales in that part of the world.
The inside gatefold sleeve artwork showing assorted band photographs pinned to a tree was reproduced exactly but in black and white instead of colour. No matter that some of the artists in the pictures did not feature on the Aussie pressing – notably Jethro Tull, Clouds, Dave Mason, King Crimson etc. Tull was signed to their US label Reprise in Australia, so that could explain their absence from the Antipodean version of Bumpers.
BUMPERS (Island SIL 107/8) 1970 – Australia / New Zealand Version
1. Free – All Right Now
2. Quintessence – Notting Hill Gate
3. Traffic – Empty Pages
4. Spencer Davis Group – I’m A Man
5. John and Beverley Martyn – Primrose Hill
1. Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon
2. Mott The Hoople – You Really Got Me
3. Cat Stevens – Lady D’Arbanville
4. Jimmy Cliff – Wonderful World, Beautiful People
5. Fotheringay – Peace In The End
1. Spooky Tooth – I Am The Walrus
2. If – The Promised Land
3. Tramline – Somewhere Down The Line
4. Alan Bown – Loosen Up
5. Fairport Convention – Crazy Man Michael
1. Jimmy Cliff – Wild World
2. Spooky Tooth – Love Really Changed Me
3. Dear Mr. Fantasy – Traffic
4. Quintessence – Shiva’s Chant
5. Amazing Blondel – Anthem
The El Pea album title, clearly, was an excruciating pun on “LP” and, as if to drive the point home, several giant peas were pictured across the foldout sleeve. The cover itself was a short-lived and best-forgotten design construction known as Av / Pak, consisting of a single thickness outer card sleeve wrapped around two PVC inner sleeves which housed the records (audiophiles may prefer to look away now). Each PVC sleeve had a strip of foam fixed along the opening edge, ostensibly to clean dust from the record as it was removed. This contraption was doomed to failure for several reasons. Firstly, the plastic sleeves tended to degrade over time, undergoing a chemical reaction known as “out-gassing” (sometimes called “off-gassing”) whereby they slowly released a gas trapped in the PVC. The gas reacted with the record itself, giving the vinyl a cloudy appearance and often causing surface noise (the same thing can happen to LPs stored long-term in hard PVC outer sleeves).
If that weren’t bad enough, the foam strip also had a tendency to react with the vinyl after a year or two, often literally eating into the lip of the LP where the two came into contact, rendering the first track on the record unplayable. To cap it all, the foam strip eventually turned brittle and crumbled to dust inside the PVC sleeve, creating even more problems. The only other release I can think of which used an Av / Pak sleeve was the 1971 final Colosseum album Colosseum Live (ICD-1), also a double set on the Island affiliate label Bronze. To absolutely no one’s surprise the design was not popular with record buyers and mercifully, the idea seems to have been consigned to the dustbin of vinyl history shortly afterwards.
Alongside the Island old guard (Tull, Traffic, Fairport, Nick Drake, Mott The Hoople, Cat Stevens, Free and Quintessence) were recent signings Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Mountain, Heads Hands & Feet and, newly arrived at Island from Elektra, the Incredible String Band. Meanwhile Sandy Denny, Mike Heron and Mick Abrahams were featured as solo artists with albums of their own.
In most of mainland Europe, (where buyers of El Pea were spared the self-destructive Av / Pak sleeve) the Heads Hands & Feet track “Song For Suzie” was replaced by John & Beverley Martyn’s “Auntie Aviator” from their Road To Ruin album. This was probably because HH&F were not an Island act in most territories outside the UK, being signed to the Capitol label.
Compared to Bumpers, there were not too many glaring errors to report this time. The only major mistake on El Pea concerned the Nick Drake track. It was listed on the sleeve and label as “One Of These Things First” from Bryter Layter, but the record actually played the track “Northern Sky”.
“Don’t Look Around” by Mountain marked the first appearance of an American act on any of the Island rock samplers. Mountain’s records were licensed to Island from the US label Windfall between 1970 to 1974.
EL PEA (Island IDLP-1) 1971
1. Traffic – Empty Pages
2. Sandy Denny – Late November
3. Alan Bown – Thru The Night
4. Heads Hand & Feet – Song For Suzie
5. Fairport Convention – Lord Marlborough
1. Jethro Tull – Mother Goose
2. Quintessence – Dive Deep
3. Amazing Blondel – Spring Season
4. McDonald & Giles – Extract from Tomorrow’s People: The Children Of Today
5. Tir Na Nog – Our Love Will Not Decay
6. Mountain – Don’t Look Around
1. Free – Highway Song
2. Incredible String Band – Waiting For You
3. Cat Stevens – Wild World
4. Bronco – Sudden Street
5. Mike Heron – Feast Of Stephen
1. Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Knife Edge
2. Nick Drake – Northern Sky (listed on label and sleeve as One Of These Things First)
3. Mott The Hoople – Original Mixed-Up Kid
4. Jimmy Cliff – Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving
5. Mick Abrahams – Greyhound Bus
“I was sitting in traffic, it was raining; my car windows were steamy and I wanted to look at something in a shop window across the street. I drew an increasingly large circle, like a spiral, in the fog of the auto glass. That was the starting point for the ‘swirl’ label that we developed with the input of our in-house art team, Linda Glover and Mike Stanford. The whole point was to draw you in, and combined with the label name I conceived – ‘Vertigo’ – it captured the sense I wanted to create – a sort of hypnotic quality. It was also visually a lot more interesting than bare typeface of the standard label logo and copy on virtually every other record. I wanted this to function as ‘art’ and couldn’t have done it without Linda and Mike.”
“Vertigo is the least pretentiously and most happily married of the ‘progressive’ labels to emerge from ‘neath the wings of the large record companies.”
International Times, Issue #74, February 1970
Launched by Philips/Phonogram in 1969 to compete with EMI’s Harvest label and Decca’s Deram offshoot, Vertigo managed to out-prog them all with an eccentric artist roster turning out some of the most interesting, not to say strangest, music of the early 70s. Some early Vertigo signings such as Rod Stewart, Status Quo and Black Sabbath went on to enjoy decades of stardom while others, like Ben, Dr. Z and Jimmy Campbell quickly disappeared, making their records hugely rare and desirable today. Mostly, though, between 1969-73 Vertigo quietly released a wealth of top quality progressive rock and jazz rock fusion albums the equal of any other UK label.
The Vertigo Annual 1970 sampler appeared at the end of a busy first year for the label with over 30 albums released. Retailing at 55 shillings (£2.75) and containing selections from the first 16 Vertigo albums, it was top quality all the way with hardly a weak track. Rod Stewart, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Manfred Mann Chapter III were the big hitters, but Colosseum, Juicy Lucy (their “Who Do You Love” was the first single on Vertigo, fact fans), Nucleus and Cressida and the rest were all worthy inclusions.
The sleeve design was the work of Keith MacMillan using his famous pseudonym “Keef” (he was also known as “Marcus Keef”). MacMillan designed many memorable LP covers for Vertigo and other labels, including Island, RCA Neon and CBS, but he is perhaps best remembered for his artwork on the first four Black Sabbath albums and David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World infamous “dress” cover.
Continuing the rocking horse theme, although displaying considerably more sleeve nudity was The Vertigo Trip, a 1971 double LP sampler released only in Australia. The cover design owed much to “Keef’s” work, while the track selection (taken from 17 different albums released during 1970 and 71) had a slightly parochial flavour, kicking off with a version of the Easybeats’ “St. Louis” by proto metal outfit Warhorse. The sleeve designer Ian Brown and photographer Nicholas J. van der Ley are credited with many Australian album covers, notably those by homegrown heavy progsters Buffalo, who also recorded for Vertigo down under.
One of the best (and rarest) Vertigo samplers was the punningly-titled Heads Together / First Round from 1971 (a “head” being the name switched-on longhairs gave themselves at the time). The self-important sleeve notes were at pains to make it clear this was not exactly a sampler, but it really needs to be included here:
Waiting in the darkness of many publishing offices are songwriters wanting their freedom – Songwriters’ Workshop has opened the door. Fourteen such songwriters have come together, not only to play football but also to create an album which we hope will indicate the importance of the songwriter. Unlike a sampler, it does not represent other albums. It is an entity, presenting new songs, new writers and giving light to songs that would otherwise be lost. This is just the first round of HEADS TOGETHER – a hope for the future.
Cas Thomas – Songwriters’ Workshop.
There are no big names here, but this LP is notable for seven tracks which were either unreleased at the time or later appeared on labels other than Vertigo.
Sunbird – “Brother Bird”. Sunbird was a progressive rock project by Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos of Nirvana. This track turned up on a Philips label single.
Jimmy Campbell – “Lonely Norman”. 1970 outtake. Unreleased until 2009 when it was added as a bonus track to Campbell’s Half Baked CD.
Martin Carthy – “Cold, Haily, Windy Night”. Released in 1971 on Carthy’s Philips label LP Landfall.
Pete Atkin – “Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger”. Released in 1970 on Atkins’ Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger LP on the Fontana label.
Legend – “Foxfield Junction”. 1969 outtake. Unreleased until 2007 when it was added as a bonus track to the reissue CD of Legend’s self-titled debut album Legend.
Lassoo – “Brothers”. An unreleased track from a little-known Nirvana project.
John Dummer’s Famous Music Band – “Nine by Nine”. Appeared on the 1970 LP John Dummer’s Famous Music Band on the Fontana label.
Vertigo had dropped their iconic “swirl” label design by the end of 1972, so the 1973 double LP sampler Suck It And See appeared with the newly-introduced green “spaceship” label designed by Roger Dean. Retailing at £2.29, it covered a lot of ground with artists as diverse as Jim Croce, Kraftwerk, Gentle Giant, Rod Stewart and (inevitably) Black Sabbath. The cheeky album title and sleeve image showing a giant stick of rock was presumably a nod in the direction of CBS and their 1970 sampler Fill Your Head With Rock.
Vertigo’s reign as kings of the progressive rock world was fading by 1973 but Suck It And See featured a couple of interesting prog oddities. The Jade Warrior track “Mwenga Sketch” is described as being “From Their Forthcoming Album”. But Jade Warrior’s fourth Vertigo album was cancelled, and in 1974 the band switched labels, moving to Island. The aborted Vertigo album eventually surfaced in 1998 as Eclipse and “Mwenga Sketch” was given its first official release.
Magna Carta’s “Time For The Leaving” is described as being from the live album Magna Carta In Concert, but is actually the version from their 1971 studio LP Songs From Wasties Orchard.
THE VERTIGO ANNUAL 1970 (Vertigo 6657 001) 1970
1. Colosseum – Elegy
2. Rod Stewart – Handbags And Gladrags
3. Jimmy Campbell – Half Baked
4. May Blitz – I Don’t Know
1. Juicy Lucy – Mississippi Woman
2. Fairfield Parlour – In My Box
3. Magna Carta – Goin’ My Way (Road Song)
4. Affinity – Three Sisters
1. Black Sabbath – Behind the Wall Of Sleep
2. Gracious – Introduction
3. Cressida – To Play Your Little Game
4. Nucleus – Elastic Rock
1. Manfred Mann Chapter Three – One Way Glass
2. Bob Downes – No Time Like the Present
3. Dr. Strangely Strange – Summer Breeze
4. Uriah Heep – Gypsy
THE VERTIGO TRIP (Vertigo 6641 016) 1971 Australian Release
1. Warhorse – St. Louis
2. Legend – Hole In My Pocket
3. Magna Carta – Time For The Leaving
4. Nucleus – We’ll Talk About It Later
1. Ian Matthews – Reno, Nevada
2. May Blitz – High Beech
3. Clear Blue Sky – Bird Catcher
4. Daddy Longlegs – Gambling Man
5. Graham Bond – My Archangel Mikael
1. Black Sabbath – After Forever
2. Gravy Train – The New One
3. Beggars Opera – Memory
4. Patto – Hold Me Back
1. Gentle Giant – Funny Ways
2. Catapilla – Promises
3. Keith Tippett Group – This Is What Happens
4. Nirvana – Home (Salutation)
HEADS TOGETHER / FIRST ROUND (Vertigo 6360 045) 1971
1. Jade Warrior – Telephone Girl
2. Sunbird – Brother Bird
3. Jimmy Campbell – Lonely Norman
4. Magna Carta – Good Morning Sun
5. Martin Carthy – Cold, Haily, Windy Night
6. Nirvana – Home
7. John Dummer’s Famous Music Band – Nine By Nine
1. Assagai – Cocoa
2. Daddy Longlegs – Gambling Man
3. Clear Blue Sky – Bird Catcher
4. Tudor Lodge – Willow Tree
5. Pete Atkin – Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger
6. Legend – Foxfield Junction
7. Lassoo – Brothers
SUCK IT AND SEE (Vertigo 6641 116) 1973
1. Black Sabbath – Children Of The Grave
2. Beggar’s Opera – Get Your Dog Off Me
3. Gentle Giant – Boys In The Band
4. Atlantis – Living At The End Of Time
1. Kraftwerk – Ruckzuck
2. Jade Warrior – Mwenga Sketch
3. Aphrodite’s Child – Four Horsemen
1. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Jungle Jenny
2. Status Quo – Don’t Waste My Time
3. John Dummer’s Oobleedooblee Band – Oobleedooblee Jubilee
4. Jim Croce – Roller Derby Queen
5. Rod Stewart – It’s All Over Now
1. The Spencer Davis Group – Catch You On The Rebop
2. Jackson Heights – Bump ‘N’ Grind
3. Ian Matthews – Devil In Disguise
4. Magna Carta – Time For The Leaving
Coming up in Part 4, more legendary samplers from Blue Horizon, Dawn and Warner Brothers
Sections of the Island pieces above originally appeared in Record Collector magazine during 1996 in articles jointly written by Stuart Penney and Chris Savage. Chris originally came up with the idea for the You Can All Join In key diagram and thanks are given here.