In 1983, producer and musician Trevor Horn, writer and thinker Paul Morley and businesswoman Jill Sinclair founded ZTT, a label and entity often cited as forward-thinking, futuristic and pretentious in equal measures, but never far from being the centre of attention. The imprint was responsible for the odd slice of controversy ('Relax' - say no more), innovation (Art of Noise) and the quirky (everything else), as well as some cracking tracks, particularly throughout the mid to late '80s and early '90s.
Here's a whistle-stop tour of their finest 10 (in no particular order, they're just my favourites):
1 - Art Of Noise - Beatbox Diversion One
The pre-cursor to their huge hit Close to the Edit, this track was one of many, MANY variations released. It appeared on the Into Battle EP (which also included our #10 choice here), as well as forming the basis of many a breakdancer's routine, performed on a square of linoleum in shopping centres up and down the country during the heady days of eighties hip-hop. And props go to AoN for sampling a tennis match.
2 - Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome to the Pleasuredome
Any excuse for Holly Johnson to utter the word 'erect' on radio, eh? I firmly believe this is Frankie's crowning glory, all thirteen minutes of it. OK, it's essentially Horn in the pilot-seat but the whole odyssey is something that would be unthought of today. The outrageousness of a thirteen minute song in today's 'over in a flash' cultural society is probably lost on many, but not the thousands who got this on any one of dozens of formats. This IS a supernova.
3 - Propaganda - Sorry For Laughing
A sterling cover of Josef K's super-jangle of a single which not only built upon the original, it gave songwriter Paul Haig a deserved raised profile, eventually. Tucked away on side two of Propaganda's timeless debut A Secret Wish, Sorry For Laughing should have been a single and looks like it might have been earmarked for such a release if the unsurprising amount of remixes are anything to go by - this suffices perfectly. "It took ten years to realize..."
4 - Grace Jones - Slave to the Rhythm
Every so often, Beverly Grace Jones would 'return', 'come back' or 'resurrect' her career with an astonishing song. Slave... was (and still is) one such astounding piece of work. Glorious stretched for 12" vinyl with a four minute tropical funk introduction, Jones has rarely sounded so assured as on the following five minutes of slick soul, accompanied by the ultimate ZTT indulgence in the guise of a remix album of the same track, pieced together by that man Horn. He got a hit out of it though.
5 - 808 State - Pacific 909
OK, ok. This is NOT the version they played on Top of the Pops, or had booming out of every bass-bin in a field near you, but is my personal favourite take on the Manchester outfit's signature tune. Slightly slower, it features a different hook-line and loads of stock ambient sound-effects (twittering 'birds' et al) as well as a tighter rhythm and extended outro. This was one of the biggest selling imports during my time at Our Price, an everpresent in our Top 25 12" Chart!
6 - Andrew Poppy - The Object Is A Hungry Wolf
Previously a member of classico-minimal-chamberjazz outfit Lost Jockey, Brit composer and strategist Andrew Poppy lent his ambitions to the minimal scene as a soloist in 1984 with the superb album The Beating Of Wings. With its very ZTT title, TBOW missed out on the attention of other label-mates, partly due to NOT having remix after remix associated with it (there was an impeccable 12" remix of the album-track 32 Frames, but little more) and mainly down to its construct. Whirling Philip Glass/Wim Mertens-esque arrangements aren't everyone's glass of ale, which is a pity because this and his follow-up Alphabed are worth picking up. The second half of this track is gorgeous.
7 - Propaganda - A Dream Within a Dream
You'd have to have a heart of shale not to 'clasp this with a tighter clasp', a perfect way to kickstart one of the (then) most-anticipated album-releases. Edgar Allen Poe meets an insistent, but beautiful, epic backdrop of trumpets, intricate percussion, a bank of synths, an underlying nagging bass and Brucken's troubled vocals. It's the sort of song that, even at 9 full minutes, you'd be happy to engage with for double that. A Secret Wish is perhaps ZTT's best album release. Period.
8 - Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Rage Hard 17:14
As if to strengthen ZTT's grip on the 12" market, they wheeled out this shameless faux-Flash, sub-Bond anthem with devastating results. Could YOU go the full distance? Could YOU 'rage hard' for the full seventeen minutes? Oh yes... with Horn at the controls and Johnson delivering his most emotional vocal since Pleasuredome etc, time flies by. Originally issued as a single to promote the band's second less-successful Liverpool album, RH sounds for all the world like it should have been performed by Def Leppard - the keyboards are bigger than Texas, the guitars rev faster than a Ferrari in fifth and, in almost in parody, topped off with some woman guiding us through the various components of the mix itself. I bet the band hated it.
9 - Hoodlum Priest - Rock Drill
Packed full of sweary film-dialogue, electro-industrial beats and menacing melodies, musician Derek Thompson and rapper Sevier delivered an uncompromising debut-album in the form of Heart of Darkness. It soon became the bane of trembling music-store managers - 'gonna be a bad muthfucka' probably isn't the most family-orientated sample to have boom out of your shop stereo during a busy Saturday lunchtime (well, not in 1989). It's a mixed bag but Rock Drill elbowed its way into the same market as Front 242, Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy et al and sold well until Warners deleted it quickly before the lawyers moved in.
10 - Art of Noise - Moments in Love
There's really only one version of this and that's the ten-minute album mix. Hell, even the Landscape channel used to pump this out back in the day, helping it become THE ultimate go-to chill-out track for record-company compilers of triple-disc ambient collections. Sunset Ibiza Volume 65, Ultimate Chill-Out 2000, Bong Buddies and Cheeba Chicks (OK, I made that up) and the like weren't worth buying without this lengthy epic included in the running order. MIL is a simple idea, taken to long drawn out extremes and coated in honey - it remains timeless.
Hey, where's Seal, Anne Pigalle, Roy Orbison and the like? Are you kidding? Well, close to the edit but no cigar were Kirsty MacColl's Soho Square and ACT's Snobbery and Decay....
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