Rhino Records’ humble beginnings as a single record shop in 1973 have been largely obscured by their recording legacy since. The company started distributing records in 1978, specializing in novelty and punk records, before moving into reissuing in the mid-‘80s. By then it had found its niche releasing remastered editions from The Smiths, Joni Mitchell, The Cars, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and other musicians making pop, rock and roll, and R&B records. In-house studio master Bill Inglot’s deft touch made Rhino Records famous for their excellent sound quality.
No, it’s not your typical pop music, and you’d be hard pressed to find them on the radio, but the importance and cultural relevance of Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label owned by the Smithsonian Institution, cannot be overstated. The label, founded in 1948 by Moses Asch, has a simple MO: spread the music that speaks to the power of folk culture, which both illuminates our own heritage and engages us in the culture of others.
Don’t take our word for it though — straight from the folks at Smithsonian Folkways, below are their suggested “Five Essential Smithsonian Folkways Listens,” including commentary.
Five Essential Smithsonian Folkways Listens
Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly - Folkways: The Original Vision A list of music from nearly 3,000 Smithsonian Folkways albums would need to start with Woody Guthrie and Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, two singer-songwriters who are arguably the most impactful American folk musicians of the last 75 years. This album was one of the first releases by Smithsonian Folkways after the Smithsonian Institution acquired the Folkways Records collection in 1987. A companion to this album is Folkways: A Vision Shared, which features the same songs performed by other artists including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson, and helped raise funds for the launch of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
Various Artists - Classic Folk Music from Smithsonian Folkways We often take for granted the influence of artists such as Doc Watson, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete, Mike and Peggy Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Elizabeth Cotten, and other folk musicians. This compilation, one of the numerous albums in the “Classic Series from Smithsonian Folkways,” sheds new light on the success of the urban intellectual-driven movement that made rural white and African-American artists and their music favorites everywhere.
Elizabeth Mitchell - You Are My Little Bird Quality family music that doesn’t “talk down” to children has been essential to the Smithsonian Folkways mission. An excellent recent example is You Are My Little Bird, the 2006 recording from Elizabeth Mitchell that brings a fresh sound to cherished American folk songs, contemporary covers, and other melodies from around the world.
Various Artists - ¡Cimarrón! Joropo Music from the Plains of Colombia Smithsonian Folkways has one of the largest and most diverse collections of music, spoken word and sounds from around the world. The “Tradiciones Series” features 33 recordings that showcase the diverse musical heritage of the more than 50 million Latinos living in the United States. A recent stellar example is ¡Cimarrón! Joropo Music from the Plains of Colombia, which features percussive strings, dynamic vocal expression, and a full-throttle pace that makes Joropo one of the most exciting regional musics of Latin America.
Babatunde Olatunji - Drums of Passion: The Invocation Smithsonian Folkways not only produces new recordings, but it also accepts donations of other independent record labels or collections, such as Monitor, Fast Folk, and Cook Records, which would not otherwise be made available to the public. A recent acquisition is The Mickey Hart Collection, 25 albums of music the Grateful Dead percussionist performed, recorded or co-produced, that furthers his endeavor to cross borders and expand musical horizons. Drums of Passion: The Invocation is one of two albums by Nigerian artist Babatunde Olatunji in the series.
True North Records is not only the oldest indie label in Canada, it’s also one of the largest. Since 1969 when it was founded in Toronto by Bernie Finkelstein, True North has been releasing records from a wide array of some of the nation's most beloved artists, from folk and country origins and beyond. Their latest release is The Nylons’ Skin Tight, but Rdio has hundreds more of True North's CanRock classics by artists such as:
The Delicious Vinyl story goes something like this: two Los Angeles DJs with similarly excellent taste start a label and find immediate success. During the beginning, Delicious Vinyl was home of Tone Loc, Young MC, and Def Jef. Delicious Vinyl didn’t limit itself from there—they release dancehall reggae, dance music, Spanish rap, and later helped elevate West Coast rap to minds across the country. Almost 25 years later, Delicious Vinyl maintains its legacy in it’s catalog and new projects.
So find your favorite Delicious Vinyl albums, add them to your collection, hit play and “Bust a Move”.
Short for Kaiserdamm 7, the original address of their Berlin office, Germany’s !K7 and !K7 Records have been at the forefront of independent electronic music for over 25 years.
First known for !K7 Records’ innovative DJ Kicks albums, this was one of the first compilation series that asked well-known underground DJs to create mixes emphasizing their signature sound while sharing their unique musical influences. Dozens of artists, including Kruder & Dorfmeister, Carl Craig and Chromeo stepped up to the challenge, blending and showcasing tracks that were often rare, previously unavailable, or only released on limited vinyl pressing. Simultaneously, the label championed individual artist releases, including critically acclaimed acts such as Matthew Herbert, Tosca, A Guy Called Gerald, Swayzak and Jimmy Edgar.
A few record store clerks and a producer set out to create a music label of their own. Over twenty years later, their creation, Warp Records, not only left an indelible impression on electronic music but also brought about the creation of BAFTA-winning Warp Films and bleep.com, an online music and merch store. If you’d like to learn more about the label, read about Warp in the Labels Unlimited series. Listen to and add these classic Warp artists to your Collection, Queue and playlists.
Young Andre “Dr. Dre” Young teamed up with Marion “Suge” Knight Jr. in the early 90’s to form Death Row Records. Together, they released early albums from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and 2pac—and the rest of the Death Row Records’ story is long and involved. Although it went through some turbulent times, Death Row remains influential and iconic in its shaping of rap and west coast hip-hop.
Subterranean Pop, a fanzine started by college student Bruce Pavitt in 1986, was Sub Pop Records’ first incarnation. The zine’s written word gave way to bits of music as Pavitt created and sent compilation tapes between issues. Eventually Sub Pop released its first compilation LP, and an album from Green River. Next, Pavitt teamed up with Jonathan Poneman, who financed the first Soundgarden single and EP.
The two dedicated themselves to making Sub Pop a working label, shrewdly studying the success of other legendary labels and focusing on building the Seattle music scene (and Sub Pop’a brand). Then came releases from Mudhoney and Nirvana, and the Sub Pop Singles Club, which rewarded subscribers with a new single every month, ensuring they’d get one of the limited-release singles that frequently sold out in stores.
Twenty years later, Sub Pop has seen quite a bit of change, from the graduation of Seattle grunge to the adoption of bands like The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, The Shins and Fleet Foxes. They also weathered the switch from vinyl to cassettes and CDs to newer ways of listening to music, like Rdio. That’s why you’ll find Sub Pop Records’ music on Rdio, as well as their presence.
Follow Sub Pop on Rdio to see what they’re listening to right now. Plus, you won’t miss any of their great playlists, like Please Enjoy This Music, a playlist of bands Sub Pop is working with—some with records already out, and some from bands with new records coming soon.
For an impressively long list of artists who are or have been on Sub Pop Records, check SubPop.com or see what Wikipedia has to say. Follow @SubPop and Like them on Facebook for news about Sub Pop artists, albums, and touring information.