With this early success came the first batch of Island samplers and four were released in 1969 alone. The first and perhaps the most celebrated was You Can All Join In. Named after a Dave Mason song from the October 1968 self-titled second Traffic album, YCAJI contained tracks by many of the big Island signings of the day (Free, Tull, Fairport, Traffic), plus a few also-rans (Clouds, Tramline, Wynder K. Frog). There was even a Spencer Davis Group track, lifted from their Island Best Of LP, plus contributions from both Art and Spooky Tooth, who were essentially the same band. Art had evolved into Spooky Tooth in late 1967, but their only album Supernatural Fairy Tales lived on in the Island catalogue.
Equally as important as the music in this case was that distinctive and much-discussed You Can All Join In sleeve. Snapped from above on a stepladder by the Hipgnosis photographer, the front cover shows a rag tag collection of 29 musicians. Fashionably unsmiling with collars turned up against the wind and hands thrust deep into the pockets of army greatcoats, leather jackets and (real) fur coats on a cold winter’s morning, no one looked too happy to be there at that hour of the day.
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.