Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Top 10 Coolest Record Labels Of All Time

To name a list 'The Coolest' anything is absurd, of course, but this week-end The Guardian, as part of it's record label feature, presented The Coolest Labels Of All Time. Yes, it's pointless arguing about a list, but then, that's partly their function, is it not? It doesn't say who created this one but presumably it was a handful of their music 'critics', you know the kind; they think Footwork is cutting-edge and inhabit an anti-chamber of Hell in which post-modernity, irony and the pressure to give modern Pop culture credence present terrible dilemmas.

One glaring absence is Blue Note. I mean glaring. You don't exactly need an encyclopaedic knowledge of Jazz to know that it was the coolest of the genre, therefore should have been first on everyone's list. But I'm ignoring the fact that Jazz probably isn't 'cool' in their world. Not even in their hip-by-numbers pseudo Cool world. For the artwork alone it should qualify, never mind the one or two decent artists they signed.

Island is included for it's reggae breakthrough, although it strikes me they're only thinking of how Bob Marley was sold to the Rock crowd. In my experience, a greater number of white working class youths were dancing to Trojan records. It therefore has a greater claim as a label that 'brought reggae to the UK' than Island. Perhaps it doesn't count because it's impact was on working-class kids, not middle-class Rock fans suddenly taking reggae seriously.

Stax is in over Motown, due to it 'breaking down racial barriers'. With more hits to it's name, surely Motown did this to a greater extent. If Motown's Pop formula isn't considered 'black enough' to be as 'cool' as Stax, the idiots don't understand that the very presence of so many black stars in the limelight broke down barriers. Besides, Motown had Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, both of whom, as you probably noticed, made decent albums too.

Atlantic should be in there. Too big? Too corporate? Here are some artists who were on the label: The Modern Jazz Quartet, Mose Allison, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Ray Charles. Are you arguing now?

They chose Warp and R&S in the electronic music area. It's a close contest but UR is far cooler, darling, carrying as it does that whiff of danger, political anger and futurist ethos from the ruins of post-industrial Detroit.

Sub Pop is in because to these ex-grammar school hacks grunge was 'cool', so they thought, or heard. Perhaps it was, but not in my world. I bought a Mudhoney album once, though.

Anyway, here's my list, based on fact rather than personal taste:

Blue Note


  1. I think you're being a little harsh on Island - they did score the first big reggae single in this country and if you ignore Marley had a pretty amazing lineup of reggae talent - Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs etc and all the homegrown stuff - Aswad, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, etc etc. PS Blue Note's overrated. Impulse is much cooler. :)

    1. First hit, true, but Trojan had more hits before Island, didn't they? That wave of great singles means they broke reggae over here as I see it but Rock historians like to see things differently because they're hung up on albums and Marley's Whistle Test appearance. The talent you mention that emerged later is indisputable. I know you're joking about Impulse. It almost made my list but can't trump Blue Note for 'Cool'.

  2. Take your point about rock historians (the David Hepworth and Mark Ellen school of vague generalisations dressed as fact). Blackwell's decision to rock up 'Catch A Fire' to make him more palatable to the UK audience did make an impact on the longhairs who watched OGWT and liked long pentatonic guitar solos. It's that time when punk and reggae were co-existing that seems to me the most important/influential, and they did put out 'Cut' by The Slits. But that's just about how old I am, and probably nothing to do with being cool...:)


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