IRS Records is one of the coolest record labels ever to emerge in the back half of the 20th Century
. It's right up there with Factory
, Sub Pop
, Beggar's Banquet
, and Nettwerk Records
IRS Records' early catalog reads like a who's who of '80s alternative rock: REM
, The Go-Go's
, English Beat
, General Public
, Circle Jerks
, Oingo Boingo
... one could go on and on. But those are just some of the highlights.
IRS Records was founded by Miles Copeland
. Copeland's father was in the CIA
and his brother Ian Copeland had set up a talent booking agency called FBI
(Frontier Booking International). IRS seemed like the last available government three-letter agency. (IRS in this case stood for International Record Syndicate
Copeland's first record label venture was the UK-based Illegal Records, an attempt to jump start his brother Stuart's band The Police
. Buoyed by his success with The Police, Copeland wanted to open a record label state side to publish emerging punk bands. He partnered with A&M Records
for distribution and backing. A&M was initially skeptical. It had recently signed, and just as quickly unsigned, The Sex Pistols
. As it turned out not only did A&M lose a lot of money backing the Sex Pistols but many of A&M's more mainstream acts found the British rockers so objectionable that they bailed on A&M Records.
Copeland assuaged A&M's fears by cutting a deal that gave his IRS Records razor-thin development money for new bands but allowed him to retain higher royalties
IRS Records became known as the little record label that could. People laughed at a lot of IRS's initial bands. They had weird names like the Buzzcocks and Oingo Boingo. But then IRS signed the Go-Go's in 1980
and people laughed no more.
A couple years later IRS Records published REM
LP. Within only a few short years of its creation IRS established itself as a label that could sign bands that balanced commercial success with critical acclaim
If loving IRS for the large number of amazing bands they put out wasn't enough, many loved them for their logo, a cool
looking, suit wearing man sporting a fedora
and shades. IRS not only made the letters IRS cool but made the image of the civil servant cool too. What many don't realize is the IRS Man label was not the first IRS label. They initially used a rather dumb looking rainbow
. This ain't no disco label!
There's a famous story about how IRS records had quickly outgrown its original offices located on A&M's LaBrea
lot. They had to move to bigger digs a few blocks south. On moving day, Copeland dressed up as Moses
and, with staff in hand, led his people to the new promised land. Atop his staff he had a sign reading "IRS". People driving by this odd procession either honked in supportive recognition of IRS as a cool record label or shouted insults
thinking these were people from the Internal Revenue Service
In 1987, IRS Records opened up a film production unit and was responsible for producing The Decline of Western Civilization Part II
(a movie that featured an incredibly drunk Ozzy Osbourne
in his home and it probably gave someone at MTV
the idea to make The Osbournes
In 1990 IRS Records was sold off to EMI
. In 1996 IRS Records was shut down.