Let’s talk about logo hunting, one of the many strategies for finding jewels amid the junk when you’re out looking for unknown sure-shots. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that among the most bankable ways to find an ace record is by determining what company committed to putting it out in the first place — and how many titles are in the company’s discography.
Take Ze Records, the New York label founded by Michael Esteban and Michel Zilkha in 1978 and creator of the “mutant disco” sound that spread among clubs including the Peppermint Lounge, Club 57, Danceteria, the Pyramid, Dreamland, the Saint, and others. At its 1980-1981 peak, the label’s arsenal included Cristina, Was (Not Was), Suicide, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, along the way influencing the underground club scene during the late 1970s and 1980s.
At the time, physical distribution was everything. Those able to align with a company that could place your records in record racks around the world, like Chris Blackwell’s Island Records did for Ze, held a huge advantage. The Ze/Island connection also ensured that the label’s brilliant 12-inch records made their way into record pools, which provided the country’s most connected DJs with the hottest new tracks without having to rely on hit-or-miss shops.
James Chance and the Contortions – Contort Yourself (August Darnell remix)
A high-pompadoured prince of the downtown scene, James Chance used in-your-face performances and a James Brown soul-funk obsession to create buzz. With its messy, speedy approach to rhythms, Chance’s work with the Contortions wasn’t necessarily dance-floor-ready. But when Ze connected him with August Darnell, formerly of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and then-leader of Kid Creole & the Coconuts, the remix that followed found a solution, and purchase, on the dance floor.
Cristina – Disco Clone
Another Darnell production, ‘Disco Clone’ is the now-classic mutant disco track by the late singer Cristina Monet Palaci. The collaboration was a strategy by, and opportunity for, Zilkha. “Basically, I signed all of downtown because no one else wanted it,” he told the writer Tim Lawrence. “I was building a repertory company.”
Alan Vega – Ice Drummer
Alan Vega was a catch for any “repertory company.” Ze released the second album by Suicide, Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev, and following their hiatus committed to issuing Vega’s work. With Rev out of the picture, the singer leaned into his rockabilly fandom, and the result was a curious mix of bedroom dance music and rock ‘n roll.
Was (Not Was) – Wheel Me Out
Fun fact: The cofounder of Was (Not Was) is now the president of Blue Note Records. That would be the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum producer Don Was, then a Detroit jazz critic in love with soul and funk and access to Parliament-Funkadelic musicians. Was (Not Was)’s first single, “Wheel Me Out,” burns from start to finish.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Fire
A cover of a song by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s outre stomper transforms a weird hippie freakout into an alien exploration. Her great discography was given new prominence when Light in the Attic committed to a reissue campaign in 2015.
And, just because you might not have seen it, here’s the original version of “Fire.”