In 1983, after his success with Yes and Buggles, Trevor Horn launched his own record label: Zang Tuum Tumb1 (ZTT), named after the sound of machine-gun fire as described by the Italian futurist Russulo. He quickly appointed his wife, Jill Sinclair (who ran Sarm West recording studios in London) as Managing Director, and the pop journalist Paul Morley as Marketing Executive. Horn himself took care of the music side of the business.
Almost as a side project Horn and Morley formed Art of Noise together with three studio-based musicians. The first ZTT release, in September 1983, was entitled Into Battle with the Art of Noise and was a rather bizarre 'albumette' (an EP) that came complete with pseudo-intellectual sleeve notes written by Morley (these and the song titles were his only contribution to the group). The sleeve notes along with the striking artwork and graphics set a trend for ZTT releases that was followed for five years.
The first three artists to be signed to ZTT were Art of Noise, German pop group Propaganda and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. During their first few years ZTT achieved an unprecedented amount of success for a fledgling record company, largely because of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, although the successes of the other two artists should not be ignored (three UK top-30 singles and two UK top-30 LPs). Horn's commitment though was towards Frankie with whom he spent much of his time in the studio, so much so in fact that the others often found themselves having to wait around, either for him or a vacant studio. This was a contributory factor in both the demise of Propaganda and Art of Noise's split from ZTT2 within three years.
ZTT continued to extend its reach far beyond pop territories. The other artists signed were avant-garde composer Andrew Poppy, French chanteuse Anne Pigalle and Instinct. None of these repeated the commercial success of the label's first signings, although a version of the Andrew Poppy song 'The Object is a Hungry Wolf' was used as the title music for the last series of The Tube - a TV music show broadcast in the UK during the 1980s.
It was once said that ZTT made two kinds of music, music that was art, and music that was money. Looking at and listening to the artists featured on the label it is not hard to see the sense of this statement, although quite which category Art of Noise fall into is debatable.
In June 1985, ZTT put on a showcase event at the Ambassador's Theatre in London's West End which featured all of their signed artists except Frankie. During the evening Paul Morley explained that 'A spanner is intrinsically more interesting than the lead singer of Tears for Fears' somehow in reference to Art of Noise. A programme for the night was available (The Value of Entertainment) and later a video was released called Time Capsule Version. This event also led to the release of a ZTT compilation LP IQ6: Sampled which, this time, featured all six ZTT artists and included the only Instinct ZTT release. Extracts from Paul Morley's discourses during the event plus a track by Frankie ('Disneyland') that was until 2001 unavailable anywhere else were also included.
In partnership with Island Records (who manufactured and distributed ZTT releases) the label achieved international recognition. This allowed them to venture away from their artists, such as releasing the soundtrack and handling all advertising for Nicholas Roeg's film Insignificance, which they dubbed 'the story of life, death, sex and the universe... relatively speaking'. The LP in question was titled The Shape of the Universe: A Souvenir of Insignificance (in keeping with ZTT's long-winded style) and featured a solitary ZTT artist, namely Claudia Brucken of Propaganda . The rest of the LP was filled by artists such as Stanley Myers, Hans Zimmer and Roy Orbison whose 'Wild Hearts' was issued as a single.
Trevor Horn had gained a huge amount of recognition and notoriety from his work with Frankie, at the centre of which was the 'Who has the talent?' debate swinging back and forth between band and producer. This did not stop Island Records enlisting his talents to produce Slave to the Rhythm, Grace Jones's 1985 LP that was released by Island through ZTT.
1988 And All That
When Frankie returned to the public eye in late 1986 with their second LP there was hope that ZTT would also see a return to the level of success they had enjoyed up until 1985. Sadly, this was not be to - by that time all of the acts featured on IQ6: Sampled had either split or left ZTT, having been replaced by Das Psych-Oh Rangers (a kind of sub-Sigue Sigue Sputnik led by Troy Tempest), Nasty Rox Inc (who featured an ex-member of M/A/R/R/S) and Act (Claudia Brucken's new band with Thomas Leer). In fact only one non-Frankie single made the top-75 UK singles chart and Frankie themselves (whose first four singles all reached the top two) only had one more top ten hit.
1988 proved to be a pivotal year for ZTT Records. Paul Morley had quit ZTT in favour of a return to journalism3 and ZTT's infamous court case against Frankie also took place in 1988 which diverted Horn away from the studio. Gallup (the organisation responsible for compiling the UK charts) ruled in 1988 that only four formats for any one single would be eligible for the charts, thus almost stifling ZTT and Horn's brand of musical artistry. All this, combined with the ZTT's split from Island Records, brought to an end one of the most intense periods of music marketing.
Since 1988, ZTT have rebuilt themselves around new signings such as Seal and 808 State and in them have found considerable success, but in doing so have become a 'mainstream' record company rather than the uncompromising organisation that set out to change the world of music. For further information on the label's current state of affairs visit ztt.com.
For the Collectors
ZTT's radical approach to marketing shook the music industry in several ways. Most apparent was the artistic approach to record sleeves and band propaganda - the lack of band pictures on record covers, the enigmatic sleeve notes written by Morley, the 'Frankie Say...' T-shirts, etc. But also there were seemingly endless remixes of ZTT singles. Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Relax' single was released in at least ten different versions. If there was such a thing as a 'cool' record label, ZTT was it.
ZTT were pioneers not only of the 12" remix but also of another new format: the cassette single. Their 'singlettes'4 were very different to the current equivalent: rather than having the same content as the 7" (or 12") of a single ZTT cassette singles had their own titles and contained a variety of remixes and b-sides (some exclusive to the format) arranged into a mix usually 20 minutes or more in length. From 1986 onwards CD singles were treated similarly by the label.
As well as the plethora of remixes available for singles the vast majority of ZTT 'releases' (a term used loosely) were designated a part in one or more of a series, presumably to attract the attention of collectors. To the casual observer the series were undetectable. However, on closer inspection they became more apparent. Membership of a series was either explicitly stated (among Paul Morley's bumf) on the record sleeve or intimated through the record's catalogue number. The two most obvious series were the 'Action Series' and the 'Incidental Series'.
The most important of the series was the Action Series, which seemed to contain the releases likely to be commercially successful. Action Series numbers were given to all LP and most single releases, the same number being applied to most formats for each release. So number one in the Action Series (Frankie's 'Relax' single) included all the 7"s and 12"s. The singles all contained the letters 'AS' in their catalogue numbers to signify their place in the Action Series - the accompanying number also being its Action Series designation. For example, the 7" of Number One in ZTT's Action Series had the catalogue number 'ZTAS 1', whereas the 12" was '12 ZTAS 1'. Note that the Action Series also contained a booklet and a concert.
The Incidental Series included singles, LPs, videos and even actors. This was similar to the 'FAC' numbers given by Factory Records to records, posters and even their Hacienda nightclub (FAC 51). Unlike Factory though, these numbers were ascribed non-chronologically in a random fashion. Most IS numbers were used once and once only, so the 7" and 12" of a single usually had different designations (as did different sleeves for the same record), unlike the Action Series numbers. Some catalogue numbers of singles contained the letters 'IS', however, because of the size and scope of the Incidental Series its content is not indicated here.
This entry lists ZTT UK releases during the period 1983-1988, with the left-hand column indicating its place in the Action Series, if it had one.
Unless otherwise indicated, all releases listed below were singles.
|-||Art Of Noise||Into Battle with the Art of Noise (EP)||Sep 1983|
|1||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Relax||Oct 1983|
|2||Propaganda||Dr Mabuse||Feb 1984|
|-||Art Of Noise||Beat Box||Mar 1984|
|3||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Two Tribes||May 1984|
|-||Art Of Noise||Close (to the edit)||May 1984|
|4||Frankie Goes to Hollywood||Welcome to the Pleasuredome (LP)||Oct 1984|
|11||Art Of Noise||Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise (LP)||Oct 1984|
|5||Frankie Goes to Hollywood||The Power of Love||Nov 1984|
|6||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||And Suddenly There Came A Bang! (Booklet)||Dec 1984|
|7||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Welcome to the Pleasuredome||Mar 1985|
|-||Anne Pigalle||Hé Stranger||Mar 1985|
|-||Art of Noise||Moments in Love||Apr 1985|
|9||Roy Orbison||Wild Hearts||Jun 1985|
|10||Various||The Value of Entertainment (Live Concert)||Jun 1985|
|13||Propaganda||A Secret Wish (LP)||Jul 1985|
|14||Various||The Shape of the Universe (LP)||Aug 1985|
|15||Glenn Gregory/Claudia Brucken||When Your Heart Runs Out of Time||Aug 1985|
|-||Grace Jones||Slave to the Rhythm||Sep 1985|
|16||Grace Jones||Slave to the Rhythm (A Biography) (LP)||Oct 1985|
|17||Andrew Poppy||The Beating of Wings (LP)||Oct 1985|
|18||Various||IQ6: Sampled (LP)||Oct 1985|
|19||Anne Pigalle||Everything Could be so Perfect (LP)||Oct 1985|
|20||Propaganda||Wishful Thinking (LP)||Nov 1985|
|-||Anne Pigalle||Why Does it Have to be This Way?||Nov 1985|
|21||Propaganda||p:Machinery (Reactivated)||Nov 1985|
|24||Das Psych-Oh Rangers||Starve God There's Choice (EP)||Apr 1986|
|22||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Rage Hard||Aug 1986|
|-||Andrew Poppy||32 Frames||Sep 1986|
|23||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Liverpool (LP)||Oct 1986|
|25||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Warriors of the Wasteland||Nov 1986|
|-||Art of Noise||Daft (LP)||Dec 1986|
|26||Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Watching the Wildlife||Feb 1987|
|-||Andrew Poppy||The Amusement||Mar 1987|
|27||Andrew Poppy||Alphabed (A Mystery Dance) (LP)||Apr 1987|
|28||Act||Snobbery and Decay||May 1987|
|-||Art of Noise||Moments in Love||Jun 1987|
|-||Act||Absolutely Immune||Sep 1987|
|-||Act||I Can't Escape From You||Mar 1988|
|-||Nasty Rox Inc||Escape From New York||May 1988|
|-||Act||Laughter, Tears and Rage (LP)||Jul 1988|
- Lazlo's Discography Machine - incredible!
- Ian Peel in Record Collector magazine, issues 110-112 (Oct-Dec 1988)
- Jörg Fitzner's FiSONIC Site
- The Researcher's record collection