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Iconic record labels ZTT and Stiff Records snapped up by Universal


ZTT is best known for its success with Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair’s legacyPlus Perfect Songs catalogue

The world’s largest music company Universal, just got even larger after acquiring the rights to the entire ZTT catalogue, selected rights to music owned by Stiff Records and music publisher Perfect Songs.

ZTT (short for Zang Tuum Tumb) was formed by the late Jill Sinclair and her music producer husband Trevor Horn, under the umbrella of their SPZ Group, with NME journalist Paul Morley in 1983. The label soared to prominence when Frankie Goes To Hollywood took over the UK singles charts with Relax, Two Tribes and The Power Of Love, and topped the album charts with Welcome To the Pleasuredome. The success continued with influential and/or hit records by the likes of Art of Noise, 808 State, Adamski and Seal.

Stiff Records was founded in 1976 by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson and released what is widely accepted to be the first ever punk rock single – New Rose by The Damned (on 22 October 1976). The label was a key player in the whole punk and new wave era, backing acts such as Ian Dury, Madness, Elvis Costello, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, but Stiff went into rigor mortis in 1986, before being revived by SPZ/ZTT in 2007.

Although, Sinclair was happy to stay in the background, Horn credits her as not only the inspiration for his own switch from musician to superstar music producer, but the driving force of their business, and it was her initiative to set up Perfect Songs Publishing. Universal intend to develop new creative and commercial opportunities for Perfect Songs’ extensive library, which features tracks by a huge variety of artists including Ian Brown, De La Soul, Eminem, Groove Armada, Michael Jackson, Holly Johnson, Sugababes and 808 State.

Sinclair died in 2014 from cancer, eight years after suffering brain damage in a shooting accident, and she was at the forefront of her husband’s thoughts as he commented on the sale to Universal. “Jill started Perfect Songs and ZTT in the Eighties and I’m extremely proud of what she achieved,” said Horn. “[Sir] Lucian Grange [chairman of and CEO of Universal Music Group] and Jill were really good friends so I’m pleased that these catalogues are going to Universal.

“I’d like to thank all the writers and the artists on ZTT, Perfect and Stiff,” he added. “It was a great experience and I enjoyed working with each one of you (most of the time). And I’d like to thank Paul Morley for all the wonderful times at ZTT, Steve Lipson and Anne Dudley, Liam Teeling and Chris O’Donnell (Stiff and Perfect) for their help along the way, and Seal.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, said, “Stiff and ZTT are truly unique and iconic labels that captured the zeitgeist of their generation and experienced great commercial success, whilst influencing contemporary music entirely on their own terms. With Perfect Songs, we are adding an award-winning publishing catalogue, rich with hits, acclaim and global success. UMG is committed to building upon the legacy of these revolutionary labels, in keeping with the spirit of their founders.”

This acquisition will inevitably lead to future reissue and box set projects for the artist catalogues owned by ZTT and Stiff and it will be interesting to see what happens with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, in particular. Union Square (later acquired by BMG) had a fruitful number of years (from around 2010 onwards) raiding and reissuing the ZTT archive, with a variety of deluxe editions and special compilations, culminating in 2014’s Inside the Pleasuredome Frankie Goes To Hollywood box set. An ‘art of the album’ reissue of Propaganda‘s 1985 album A Secret Wish is scheduled for January.

Universal do actually have experience of the ZTT catalogue. In 2009 they licensed the right to issue the Frankie Say compilation. It wasn’t an overwhelming success, with some fans unhappy with the surfeit of modern remixes and slightly uninspired artwork.

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63 responses to Iconic record labels ZTT and Stiff Records snapped up by Universal

  1. Neil Parnell says:

    have a friend who’s knows trevor….there is some of his productions that are getting the bog reissue treatment that have never had it before…that’s all i can say…(too much of that snow white)

  2. Larry Davis says:

    I REALLY dug that 4CD Stiff label box that came out in the 90s, and I wonder if an updated/reissued one will come back out?? And a similar one for ZTT would be really cool, both stocked with rarities/unreleased/remixes in standout elaborate packaging…

  3. Isaías says:

    Please reissue the both Buggles albums with all the missing stuff released in Japan only !!!!!
    PLEASE !!!! FOR GODNESS SAKE !!!!!

  4. Scott says:

    Lene Lovich is no longer owned by Stiff, her material is owned by Oval. Oval is now owned by Domino. I’ve corresponded with them earlier in the year about licensing. They confirmed they own all the music and publishing, other than publishing for the cover versions she did and ‘New Toy’ in which Thomas Dolby owns the publishing.

  5. poptones says:

    Yep. Super Deluxe Versions of Elvis Costello’s early albums. And from Stiff too, I wouldn’t mind Deluxe Versions of Jona Lewie’s albums “On The Other Hand There’s A Fist” and “Heart Skips Beat”. When I was a kid, I used to listen to Tracy Ullman’s album “You Broke My Heart in 17 Places” and her hit-single “Breakaway” with the funny video. It’s been reissued in 1992 by Rhino but Stiff never bothered to remaster it or make an expanded edition with the 12″ single mixes.

  6. MikeW says:

    Ditto re Lene Lovich – maybe Universal can track down the master tapes of the original 1978 mix of her debut, “Stateless”, for SDE CD release? Whilst the 1979 remixes/re-recordings were often more polished, there is something special about the original track-listing and mixes. Also would be good to have a 12″ collection of her material (or bonuses on SDEs): Lucky Number (version and Slavic Dance mix), Blue Hotel (Dance mix – even if it is just a re-edit), It’s You, New Toy and associated b-sides. Here’s hoping!

  7. Michel Banen says:

    I have the SACD of Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Hard on: the hits with a stunning surround mix. I would love to have that mix on a blu-ray as SACD players are a rarity these days.

  8. Andrew B says:

    I would love a new decent reissue campaign for Costello, seriously love his work.

  9. Glenn says:

    Curious what they will do with Madness.

    • Neil says:

      Madness have been reissued to death by both Virgin and Salvo so you wonder what else can they release apart from another greatest hits compilation.

      • Paul Kent says:

        Hopefully, we may finally get The Madness deluxe that never materialised on Salvo … that missing “S” on my shelf frustrates me to this day!

        • Gavin says:

          Me too!

        • Mike the Fish says:

          That one belongs/belonged to Virgin rather than Stiff.

          • Caroline says:

            Stiff don’t own any of the Madness catalogue. Madness bought the rights to the recordings when the label originally went bust. These were licenced to Virgin under a 10 year deal, partly due to their outstanding debt to the label after two expensive flops.

  10. Neil says:

    All Seals back catalogue is owned by Warner Brothers.

  11. Jorje Chica says:

    I’m sure this acquisition will help Horn finance the rebuilding of his Bel-Air studio that was recently destroyed in the terrible fires here in L.A.

  12. MARK LEVY says:

    More re-issuing and re-packaging. Should have kept them independent. Universal have got enough.

  13. Barry says:

    Does anyone know why Seal’s ZTT albums have never had the reissue treatment?- I love his first album and have always hoped a nice deluxe box set was on the way. Would it be more likely now?

  14. FJC says:

    Love to see a vinyl reissue of Stiffs Live, perhaps coupled with the video footage that exists from that tour.

  15. Ronald Headen says:

    I certainly agree with Foxee regarding Lene Lovich. I loved those albums despite my roommates at the time questioning my sanity when I played them. I would not hesitate to purchase them again.

  16. Aaron says:

    talking of Trevor Horn – what’s the chances of expanded reissues of the 2 Buggles albums with remixes/b sides?

    • Adam says:

      These already exist: Age Of Plastic was reissued in 2000 with three bonus tracks (three B-sides: Island, Technopop and Johnny On The Monorail (A Very Different Version)), and Adventures In Modern Recording in 2010 with ten bonus tracks comprising all (I think?) the 12″ versions and B-sides associated with the singles from that album.

      The 7″ edits are missing from both, but otherwise they’re great releases.

      • Aaron says:

        Magic! Will have to get these. Big Geoff Downes fan too.

      • Rickjapan says:

        There’s a Japanese release of Age of Plastic with a further 6 extra tracks added on to the 11 (single edits), too, for a whopping 17 tracks. I don’t know why this is only for Japan, though.

  17. mike says:

    Slave to the Rhythm isnt owned by ZTT, thats the problem. I sadly suggest we will see more recycling of the same old Frankie, Propaganda and AON stuff. Might mean a decent Liverpool box set but it was hardly their moment of glory in comparison.

  18. Randy Metro says:

    I need another remix of Slave to the Rhythm like I need a hole in my head…. with the exception of ZTT who put out 10 or 11 remixes spread out over 2 CD singles. This isn’t counting the various versions on the Slave album. Slave is the most remixed song in the world. I hate all of them except for those done by ZTT. ZTT’s Slave remix CD could be considered Slave to the Rhythm Vol 2.

    I am hoping for deluxe versions of both Slave and Living My Life. Slave was reissued a few years ago. It was the perfect opportunity to append Junk Yard and GI Blues.

  19. Cow says:

    This, hopefully, augers very well indeed for the seemingly inevitable Tenpole Tudor revival that I’ve been giddily anticipating for decades.

  20. Foxee says:

    Totally concur with the sentiments for ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, but I really want to put a big word in for the wonderful first lady of Stiff records, Lene Lovich. She really did write and record some superb material for that label (her first three albums are all masterpieces) and it wold be fantastic to see this hugely talented and original lady given some respect and deluxe treatment in the near future.

  21. omar says:

    The three most anticipated releases for me would be Grace Jones ” Slave To The Rhythm” deluxe, a FGTH cd singles boxset and the Seal albums. Let’s hope that Universal doesn’t take a decade in releasing these.

  22. Kauwgompie says:

    Not sure if Frankie and Propaganda can be milked any further. Reissues, boxsets, remix compilations and The Art Of The 12″ series, I would be amazed if they find any other way to squeeze more out of Frankie and Propaganda. Seal is still a wide open field when it comes to re-issues, although there aren’t too many Seal remixes. May be some take-outs, alternative mixes, a few remixes and some live stuff. That first Seal album is outstanding and certainly deserves some kind of deluxe or SDE treatment.
    BTW I didn’t think Seal was issued on ZTT. It’s listed under Sire. Obviously the album was produced by Horn so not sure what that means but it’s not a ZTT album as far as I can see.

    • CJ says:

      I don’t think there’s been a reissue of Propaganda’s 1, 2, 3, 4 yet, has there? I know some fans hate that album, and I’ll admit it sound extremely different from A Secret Wish, but I just picked it up recently and found it to be a good album in its own right, if you remove it from the expectations set by ASW.

      • Klaus says:

        Out of context i think because it wasn’t on ZTT (Virgin, if my memory serves me right).

      • Neil says:

        That was released on Virgin Records which is owned now by Universal. I can’t see them reissuing it only hope is that Cherry Red or somebody similar does it though i’m not holding my breath.

      • Larry Davis says:

        1234 was my first exposure to Propaganda as a matter of fact, and I really liked it when it first came out at the dawn of the 90s…heard the ZTT stuff later and dug that too…

    • Adam says:

      Seal’s first two albums were absolutely on ZTT, and many major singles (Crazy, Killer, The Beginning, Newborn Friend) had between 5 and 10 remixes apiece.

      There were CD/DVD-A reissues of these albums in 2005, and each had a pretty solid surround mix (as I recall), videos, and a few select remixes on it, but nothing you would call “super deluxe” really. Both are absolutely deserving of an SDE, for sure.

      • Kauwgomie says:

        I stand corrected. Good info! My copy of Seal 1 is on Sire so that makes sense as I’m in the USA. And according to Discogs, there are a good amount of remixes.

    • Thorsten says:

      Seal and Seal II were both released by ZTT and had
      tons of remixes!
      In the U.S. the albums were licenced by Sire Records!

    • Larry Davis says:

      The first Seal album WAS in fact on ZTT and licensed to Sire/Warner’s…not sure if albums 2 and 3 had the same release arrangement or not…I don’t have any of the prior ZTT sets currently, but I’ve always loved the label and artists over the years… I do want to get that Blank & Jones 2CD So80s ZTT set eventually…so I am pretty curious what UMG will be doing with ZTT, Stiff and Perfect…

    • Matt Porter says:

      Perfect Songs?

  23. Kevin says:

    I’d love to see proper reissues of Frankie’s classic 12-inch singles collected together in one place. The way they’ve bred distributed across different reissues and compilations (often with the mixes given different names) over time has been frustrating. Same with The Art of Noise.

  24. Trash says:

    “…Stiff went into rigor mortis…”

    I like what you did there :-)

  25. SimonP says:

    Seal’s first two albums, please!

  26. Ryan says:

    I’m hoping for vinyl releases from Ian Brown, Sugababes and Kirsty MacColl :)

  27. Strummer says:

    I know FGTH catalog has been done to death, but can we please get a comprehensive singles boxset, similar to the digital releases that came out a few years back? Each of the singles on a separate full 80 minute CD with all (or the most important, where all wouldn’t fit) mixes?

    • Tom says:

      I was thinking the very same recently – a Frankie CD singles box to match the digital releases currently available on iTunes, Spotify etc.

  28. Lemmin says:

    Hard to believe they’re going to go honkers with re-releases considering what has already been mined from the catalog. The deluxe sets released this year were fewer in number, lower in content yet higher in price so I feel like this might end up being a move to increase their streaming revenue by bulk. I would love to be proven completely wrong of course.

  29. John Whelan says:

    Hopefully they will release a box set of The Frames recordings on ZTT

  30. Jason says:

    Perhaps this will open the way to a super deluxe edition of Slave To The Rhythm. It was released on Island / ZTT back in the day.

    The Grace Jones Blu-ray audio re-releases came to a halt last year, and there’s still plenty to explore in her back catalogue. Personally, I’m praying for a 5.1 mix of Slave To The Rhythm – a densely-constructed album like that could really shine in surround sound.

    • chrrr says:

      Oh, yes, please! I listened to it just yesterday and had the same thought (regarding a 5.1 mix).

    • Michel Banen says:

      Exactly. I’ve been dreaming of a deluxe Slave to the rhythm edition as well and expecially a 5.1 or Dolby Atmos surround mix. That album still sounds stunningly fresh after over 30 years !

      If one albums SCREAMS for a surround mix…. it sure is Slave to the rhythm !

  31. Chopdog says:

    I don’t recall ABC and Pet Shop Boys having records out on ZTT ?????

    • daveid76 says:

      Trevor Horn did an album and a couple of singles with PSB but these were for Paelophone. It’s a badly-researched error. I’m interested whether there will be another slew of Elvis Costello reissues, hopefully with extra discs.

      • Paul Sinclair says:

        I think it was a reference to what Trevor Horn went on to achieve as a result of the initial ZTT success, but I’ve amended for accuracy.

      • Paul says:

        More Elvis Costello reissues – don’t hold your breath

        My Aim is True was the only album issued by Stiff and has been through three different expanded reissues already. The most recent round of EC reissues, including MAIT were by Universal.

      • hamicle says:

        EC has the rights to his own catalogue, pre-Warners at least, and already has a deal in place with Universal.

    • Alan says:

      Yes, they may have recorded with Trevor Horn but they were never with ZTT!

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