Before New York became the first important launching pad for new wave and punk in the mid-’70s, a preliminary regiment of bands carried the scene safely from the New York Dolls’ one-of-a-kind glammed-out glory to the population explosion that would take place on the Bowery. At a time when there wasn’t enough going on for the scene to reach critical commercial (hell, critical) mass, the groups that flew the flag were relegated to a transitional role. While they certainly had the gumption to create a scene, they were too bound to the past to seem modern rather than fringey. The lovable Anglo-pop-obsessed Fast was one of those groups. What no one realized at the time was that the Fast occupied a fringe all its own.
Talented guitarist/songwriter Miki Zone spent a decade, beginning in the early ’70s, leading various versions of the Fast. A great example of do-it-yourself bootstrapping before the idea was commonplace among rockers, the Fast — which included vocalist Paul Zone and, for some years, Armand, a third hirsute singing brother — made a handful of ingeniously derivative singles (updating ’60s pop-art rock and ’70s glam) and self-released an album in 1980. Pulling together tracks from various sessions produced by Ric Ocasek, Richard Gottehrer, Bobby Orlando, Ian North and Zone himself, For Sale (the cover a loving parody of The Who Sell Out) is a patchy collection of inconsistent sounds and styles, and less than representative of the group’s repertoire. It does, however, contain some wonderful tunes, including “Kids Just Wanna Dance,” “Boys Will Be Boys” and the winsome “It’s Like Love,” as well as the quartet’s punky interpretation of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
Recorded in one studio effort as a duo of Paul and Miki, Leather Boys also fails to convey much of what made the Fast so much fun, but a few good songs (notably “Skinny Kids & Bigger Bullies” and Ian North’s “Girls in Gangs”) make it a heartwarming souvenir for fans. (Two who remember are Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, who covered Miki’s “Comic Books” as a bonus track on Def Dumb & Blonde.)
By 1982, the Fast was well past kitschy power pop, and dabbling in dance music with “Moontan” b/w “Love Is Like an Itchin’ in My Heart,” a simple electro-dance version of the Supremes classic. Subsequently shifting their base of operations abroad, the Zones — playing disco under the name Man 2 Man — hit the UK charts in late 1986, a victory cut short by Miki’s AIDS-related death on December 31st of that year. Armand (“Mandy”) Zone died of AIDS a decade later.
Putting the bulk of the group’s music on CD for the first time, The Best of the Fast: 1976-1984 wraps up the Miki Zone story with 22 cuts that track his progress from twinky power popper (“Hawaii,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” “Kids Just Wanna Dance”) to sexy gay club icon (“Man’s Favorite Sport”). A complete discography, photos and liner notes provide a welcome and informative coda to the extraordinary Zone saga.
Zone Alone adds to the family’s posthumous CD library by collecting a dozen tunes from Mandy’s solo career, such as it was, in the ’80s. The two 1981 single sides by Ozone are most Fast-like (the band included Fast bassist Tommie Moonie), while the 1985 tracks are a mix of tuneful guitar rock and temperate techno-dance, some displaying the theatrical falsetto of which he was capable. A 1983 single (“Stay Cool” b/w “Dare I”) featuring all three Zones on synthesizers provides the disc with a bittersweet coda.