Ultravox! / The Island Years / 4CD box


Not so much, ‘Oh, Vienna’ as pre-Vienna… in May, Caroline International release a deluxe four-CD box set with newly remastered versions of Ultravox’s first three albums (and a bonus disc of rarities) originally recorded for Island Records in 1977 and 1978.

The Island Years 2016-style represents a significant advance on previous collections, like the band’s 1999 The Island Years compilation which featured just 16 songs harvested from their first three albums. Here, Ultravox!, ha!-ha!-ha! and Systems of Romance are reproduced in full.

The set kicks off with the band’s eponymous debut album from 1977. The original Ultravox! (they spelt their name with an exclamation mark in homage to krautrock band Neu! back then…) line-up was fronted by singer John Foxx and the album – which included the single Dangerous Rhythm – was produced by Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite.

Ultravox! reached the giddy heights of 25 in the Swedish charts, but failed to make much impact elsewhere, sadly. Undeterred, Foxx and co. released a second long-player before the year was out. Here, their early infatuation with the exclamation mark reached its nadir with the ludicrously punctuation-heavy Ha!-Ha!-Ha!. This album was a solo Lillywhite production, and yielded a lead single with an equally grammatically troublesome title, ROckWrok.

Sales of both album and single were disappointing. However, ROckWrok did garner some airplay on Radio 1 despite dropping the F-bomb in the chorus (‘Come on, let’s tangle in the dark/Fuck like a dog, bite like a shark’) – no mean achievement.

Arguably, the most significant track on the album though, was probably the last, Hiroshima Mon Amour, one of the first songs by a British band to feature a drum machine. Less punky than the rest of the songs on the album, Hiroshima signposted the band’s shift into synthpop.

A new year saw the culling of guitarist Stevie Shears, replaced by Robert Simon who soon changed his stage name to Robin Simon. It was all change on the band-name front too as ‘Ultravox!’ was distilled to pure ‘Ultravox’ and, mercifully, the cover of album three, Systems of Romance, was an exclamation-free zone. Synthesisers came to the fore as the band teamed up with legendary German producer Conny Plank, who counted Kraftwerk and the aforementioned Neu! among his credits.

Recorded at Plank’s studio in rural Germany, Systems of Romance, and the singles from the album Slow Motion and Quiet Men, didn’t trouble the charts. With little money in the coffers, tensions rose within the band, especially between Foxx and keyboardist Billy Currie, and the demise of the Ultravox appeared to be imminent. That was until Currie invited Midge Ure to join.

The band’s subsequent success has tended to overshadow the quality and diversity of these three experimental pre-Vienna albums that are well worth revisiting or exploring for the first time. And this deluxe set is bolstered by a bonus disc, Rare Retro, featuring 20 songs, including four recorded in session for John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show and two previously unreleased live recordings from the Beeb’s The Old Grey Whistle Test programme, plus a 20-page booklet featuring a new essay by writer and music journalist David Buckley. Each of the CDs are packaged in their own wallet and housed in a clamshell box.

The Island Years is released on 20 May 2016.


CD 1: Ultravox!

  1. Sat’day Night in the City of the Dead [2.35]
  2. Life at Rainbow’s End(For all the Tax Exiles on Main Street) [3.44]
  3. Slip Away [4.19]
  4. I Want to be a Machine [7.21]
  5. Wide Boys [3.16]
  6. Dangerous Rhythm [4.17]
  7. The Lonely Hunter [3.42]
  8. The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned [5.48]
  9. My Sex [3.02]

CD 2: ha!-ha!-ha!

  1. ROckwrok [3.35]
  2. The Frozen Ones [4.07]
  3. Fear in the Western World [4.00]
  4. Distant Smile [5.21]
  5. The Man Who Dies Everyday [4.12]
  6. Artificial Life [5.00]
  7. While I’m Still Alive [3.16]
  8. Hiroshima Mon Amour [5.13]

CD 3: Systems of Romance

  1. Slow Motion [3.27]
  2. I Can’t Stay Long [4.16]
  3. Someone Else’s Clothes [4.26]
  4. Blue Light [3.09]
  5. Some of Them [2.28]
  6. Quiet Men [4.11]
  7. Dislocation [2.55]
  8. Maximum Acceleration [3.53]
  9. When You Walk Through Me [4.18]
  10. Just For a Moment [3.11]

CD 4: Rare Retro

  1. Young Savage [3.00]
  2. Slip Away Live [4.04]
  3. The Man Who Dies Every Day (Live at Huddersfield Polytechnic) [3.53]
  4. Young Savage (Live at The Marquee, London) [3.17]
  5. The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned (Live at The Rainbow, London) [5.18]
  6. My Sex (Live at Huddersfield Polytechnic) [3.05]
  7. Young Savage (John Peel Session TX 28/11/77) [2.53]
  8. The Man Who Dies Every Day (John Peel Session TX 28/11/77) [4.13]
  9. My Sex (John Peel Session TX 28/11/77) [2.48]
  10. Artificial Life (John Peel Session TX 28/11/77) [4.53]
  11. ROckWrok (7 version) [3.19]
  12. Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alternate Version) [4.56]
  13. Quirks [1.40]
  14. Modern Love (Live) [2.30]
  15. The Man Who Dies (Everyday Remix) [4.18]
  16. Slow Motion (OGWT 5/12/78) [3.22]
  17. Hiroshima Mon Amour (OGWT)
  18. Quiet Men (Seven Inch Version)
  19. Cross Fade
  20. Quiet Men (Twelve Inch Version)



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I’m not an expert but I have a strong suspicion that several of the tracks on Rare Retro were sourced from vinyl. In particular:

ROckwrok (7″ Version)
The Man Who Dies Every Day (Remix)
Quiet Men (7″ Version)
Quiet Men (12″ Version)


Diego Loporcaro

Is there anybody who already bought it and confronted with 2006 remastered editions?
Is the sound of the three albums remastered or not?
Especially regarding the 4th disc with bonus materials… are the Peel Sessions remastered towards the original 3-track CD? Are the live versions remastered (like the 2006 bonus tracks) or not? Are the original 7″ versions remastered or not?
Please is there anybody who can clarify this?


Hi Diego

I just found this:


“The three Ultravox! albums (Ultravox!, Ha! Ha! Ha! and Systems Of Romance) were all remastered back in 2006 from the original master tapes. Discs One, Two and Three in The Island Years box set have been remastered using the 2006 masters.

All of the tracks contained on Disc Four – Rare Retro – that also appeared on the 2006 CDs have been remastered using the 2006 masters.

The four John Peel session tracks (Young Savage, The Man Who Dies Every Day, My Sex and Artificial Life) and the two tracks from the Old Grey Whistle Test (Slow Motion and Hiroshima Mon Amour) were mastered using audio supplied by the BBC.

The single edits of ROckWrok and Quiet Men and the twelve inch version of Quiet Men had to be taken from vinyl as unfortunately (and despite extensive searching) the master tapes no longer exist in the Island archive. All of the audio contained on The Island Years box set was approved by John Foxx.”

That settles that!


Paul, will this Ultravox box set be offered in the USA through Amazon’s US web site or elsewhere ? Any word on whether the ‘Rare Retro’ CD will be offered separately at some point ?

SDE Hall of Fame

On your first point, probably. Second point, unlikely.


Unlike the majority here – this earlier version of the band is the ONLY version I care about. I could never deal with Midge Ure (Vienna was a good song, but the band just lost it’s magic after Foxx left).

Can’t complain too much about this set, especially at the price. The one troubling thing is you say it’s a remaster. After the 2006 version – which had fantastic articles in their booklets that I’m sure won’t be surpassed here – there’s nowhere for the remaster to go but down. The 2006 versions are superb. They won’t get better, and it only opens it up to their being worse.

Anyway, I’m massively biased. Love this band, and these albums ae stone cold classics, imo.


This product will be good so long as the remastering is stellar.


A very underrated period commercially, but extremely popular with Krautrock/Eno/Bowie fans at the time…
I saw them in a tiny club in Burton On Trent (but maybe not the same one that the Sex Pistols played at -who’d have thought that such a tiny town having two live music venues) probably late ’76 or early ’77 – apparently they weren’t at all happy having to lug all of their equipment through a busy chip shop to get to the club!
What we “artistes” had to go through to sell records eh?!


Thanks for the tip-off Paul. Love me some John Foxx era Ultravox but have stuck with my LPs and singles until now. It’s just too good a price to ignore.


Huge fan of Ultravox both pre and post Foxx (and Foxx’s work in general).
Systems of Romance in particular is very good indeed.
I have the mini-sleeve editions of these albums but couldn’t resist picking up the box set at this price.
Of the rarities, I strongly recommend the tracks Crossfade and Quiet Men (12″) to anyone that has not heard then yet.
P.S. Loved Chris Squires’ comment regarding the misread comma :-)


Ultravox pre-Foxx? Seriously? ;o)


Quite disappointing set, in fact. First, only 5 out of 20 tracks from the 4th disc haven’t been released on CD yet (4+6+2 extra tracks came out with the 2006 remasters + 3 Peel Sessions tracks came on CDEPs in 1987 and 1991). And then this new 20 pp booklet vs 48 pp in total (16×3) of 2006. I expected much more to be honest…

SDE Hall of Fame

It’s only £17. What’s on offer is great for such a budget reissue.


If interested in the visual side of early Ultravox with Herr X (Mr Foxx) then look for recently released dvd at Stellar Products. Not of very good quality, but only video I have ever seen from that era.

Just sayin'

“Hiroshima Mon Amour, one of the first songs by a British band to feature a drum machine….”

Ummm. The ghost of Robin Gibb (and several dozen others, many still living) might like a word with you…

Derek T.

Nice! I’m pretty sure the 7″ versions of ROckWrok and Quiet Men are making their CD débuts here. Good to get those BBC tracks included too.

Nicholas Love

This looks to be a great deal. I love Systems of Romance. I heard Ultravox from the Foxx era long before any of their more famous Midge era, having bought an early Ultravox sampler after hearing the Church’s excellent cover of Hiroshima Mon Amour. After exploring the rest of their catalog, I always found the Midge era’s sound a little flat compared to their original trio of releases. John Foxx’s early solo albums, on the other hand, are universally stellar.

Charles K.

I have the last round of remastered versions and aside from the live and Peel sessions the bonus tracks are the same, however, if you are not familiar with this phase of their career this is awesome. I pretty much treat them as two different bands sharing the same name. This appears very well done, would love to hear how much if any better the remastering is compared to the previous, it would be the only reason to replace them with this for me.

Mark Stagg

The Rare Retro CD has 20 tracks, but the article only lists 17. Here’s the other 3:

18. Quiet Men (Seven Inch Version)
19. Cross Fade
20. Quiet Men (Twelve Inch Version)

SDE Hall of Fame

Thanks. Fixed.


Any word on a U.S. release date?

Steve F

Good news, even better to see that only 10 of the 17 tracks on the rarites disc were included as extra tracks on the 2006 remasters.


Bad news, terrible to see that only 10 of the 17 tracks on the rarities disc were included as extra tracks on the 2006 remasters.

SDE Hall of Fame

It’s actually 20 tracks on that disc, apparently.


Juzzy B makes me laugh and forget my troubles…

Chris Squires

Too busy laughing my head off at how I read the first paragraph……

Ultravox! reached the giddy heights of 25 in the Swedish charts, but failed to make much impact elsewhere. Sadly undeterred, Foxx and co. released a second long-player before the year was out.

The difference comma makes.

Should be an interesting buy at the price, have everything post Foxx as an interested listener rather than fan.

John Murray

Good news indeed. I always rated Foxx-era Ultravox and saw them live several times around 77/78. They were (alongside Doctors of Madness – anyone remember them?) a band who managed to ride the live punk explosion without ever really being punk – much more of a Roxy/Be-Bop Deluxe style affair when they started.

Systems of Romance is a particularly fine album and I’ll be interested to see what a new remaster brings to all three.


…”much more of a Roxy/Be-Bop Deluxe style affair when they started.” Exactly, well said.


Not very familiar with pre-Midge Ultravox(!) outside of a couple of listens to the Three Into One compilation. Might pick this up, especially given its silly cheapness.

Rare Glam

OK great. I own the Japanese mini LP CD box set of this from some years ago which includes the 3 x albums in miniature but not the rarities disc. The Japanese set is very saught after and so this new reissue of the John Foxx era Ultravox! (proudl t o sport the !) should be very welcome. It will suprise those who only know the Midge Ure version of the band. I only had the bitty ‘Three Into One’ comp CD fropm the 1980s before I found the Japanese box

I saw the Foxx / Ultravox line up several times in 1977-78 – at the Reading Festival and in April 77 at the Top Rank Brighton. They were wearing torn up bin liners and PVC trousers, all in black, the first ‘punk’ band I ever saw. For decades afterwards it haunted me that I remembered them playing a song at that gig clled ‘TV Orphans’ and yet it did not feature on any of their albums or as a single B side. I thought I must have imagined it even though I could recall the chorus music very clearly. Then – nearly 40 years later – I find it uploaded on Youttube along with another song ‘I Won’t Play Your Game’ live from German TV in ’77. Amazing – but sadly I see neither track features on the rarities disc. Bothe were recorded for Island and are in the vaults according to Billy Currie (in a post on an Ultravox fan site from some years back he said so anyway), so why are they not included – why not even live versions? There’s a whole live boot from a Stockholm gig on Youtube (see links below).

So great this wonderful energetic electric music will get a new audience, but sad the rarities disc is not really that rare, just re-pops, demos etc of songs on the albums. There are at least two entrirely unreleased songs as mentioned above waiting a proper or indeed any kind of release still in the vaults.

TV Orphans German TV 1977

I Won’t Play Your Game

Live in Stockholm 1977


Looks great, amazing UK price, will be interested in its’ Canadian price.