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Keep On Running

From Bob Marley to U2, the artwork and the man that made Island Records a seminal label

by Karen Day in Culture on 16 August 2010

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Of equal appeal to music nerds and esthetes alike, the U.S. release of "Keep On Running: The Story of Island Records" is a collection of album art and photographs telling the story of founder Chris Blackwell's enormous role in introducing Jamaican reggae and other fringe music to the world. Taking it back to the very beginning, the book starts with the legendary mogul explaining how his sole intention in '59 was to release Bermudan pianist Lance Hayward's album. Noticing jazz-inspired tunes infiltrating U.K. pop music, Blackwell drew on his Jamaican roots to import the sounds he knew and loved most—becoming one of the biggest independent labels of all time in the process.

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Like many labels of the era, it's impossible to separate the music from an aesthetic that its vibrant album art helped define. As Blackwell explains in the book, "If you felt that the artwork was intriguing then there must be something going on inside," describing how the imagery "developed and transformed itself, always seeming a reflection of the larger world."

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In spite of Blackwell's modesty, his visual strategy was just one part of Island Records' success. At 22, Blackwell had already put out 26 singles and two albums. Through constant reinvention—he started a film production company and other small music labels—and by taking chances on unknown artists, Island Records remains at the forefront of contemporary music.

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Due out in September, pre-order the book from Rizzoli.

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