Feeling like a woman
Looking like a man
When Grace Jones released her fifth album, Nightclubbing, on May 11th, 1981, she had already established herself as an eccentric and charismatic singer. Nightclubbing made her a household name all over the world.
Grace Beverly Jones was born on May 19th, 1948, in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Because her father was a minister, religion was part of daily life and strict rules were upheld. It didn’t take long for Grace to rebel against the stifling atmosphere she experienced.
In 1965 the family moved to Syracuse, New York, where Jones studied theater. When she turned 18 she enlisted at a local modeling agency. Two years later she moved to Paris, where she shared an apartment with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. Her appearance made quite an impression and she frequently visited Le Sept, one of the city’s most popular gay bars in the 1970s, and was embraced by the fashion world. She came into contact with designers like Yves St. Laurent, Claude Montana, Kenzo Takada, Azzedine Alaia, Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld and was photographed by world renowned photographers like Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Hans Feurer.
She caught the eye of Island Records and in 1977 her debut album Portfolio was released, which contained the huge hit La Vie En Rose. That was my personal introduction to Grace Jones: a beautiful song that already had eternal value from Edith Piaf’s performance, but was built upon by Grace Jones by providing a sensual rhythm and impressive vocals (also see Video: My introduction to Grace Jones). The full 12″ version is truly astounding.
The two next albums, Fame (1978) and Muse (1979), were less popular. Her first three albums were essentially disco albums, with the same kind of imagery: the covers were designed and made by artist Richard Bernstein. The music, the presentation and the image of Jones, pretty much guaranteed enormous popularity in the gay scenes. Around this time she also got in touch with Andy Warhol. She became his muse for a short while and often accompanied him on his nightly visits to the famous New York night club Studio 54.
In 1980 the focus changed. Disco was replaced by influences from new wave, world music, reggae, funk and post-punk. Jones also took on an entirely different image. Her androgynous, cool image with her famous blockhead-hairdo became her trademark and would make her world famous.
For the music Grace Jones was diverted to the Bahamas, to the Compass Point Studios to be exact. The next three Grace Jones albums would be recorded there, which were made by a regular team, consisting of, amongst others, Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin, the golden reggae-riddim-tandem Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and musicians Wally Badarou, Barry Reynolds and Uziah Thompson. Also involved was artist, photographer and illustrator Jean-Paul Goude (who was also Grace’s partner in real life), as he was responsible for the album covers and artwork as well as the image change.
The first installment was 1980’s Warm Leatherette, a beautiful album that proved that Jones was so much more than the (relatively) simple disco music she was known for at the time. In 1981 the second part of what was later to be known as The Compass Point Sessions was released: the stunning Nightclubbing.
On May 11th, 1981, the second Grace Jones album stemming from The Compass Point Sessions trilogy is released. The album is an immediate smash and is hailed by critics worldwide. Sales numbers are equally great, in part stoked up by the success of the fantastic singles I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) and Pull Up To The Bumper.
Jones senses the zeitgeist perfectly and plays her image to the hilt, without selling the music short. The opening song states it explicitly: “Feeling like a woman / Looking like a man”.
The second song Pull Up To The Bumper is a cross between disco, funk and reggae and belongs to the best music Jones ever recorded. It’s a fantastically funky song on which Jones sings with authority. The lyrics are sexually charged, even though Jones denied it at a later time.
Pull up to my bumper baby
In your long black limousine
Pull up to my bumper baby
And drive it in between
Grace Jones – Pull Up To The Bumper
On Nightclubbing, a cover stemming from Iggy Pop’s 1977 The Idiot album, Jones completely reinterprets the song, which lent its title to the album. Great.
I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) is a reworking of Ástor Piazzolla’s Libertango, which is turned into a masterpiece in Jones’s hands. The hypnotizing atmosphere and its mysterious music add an indescribable amount of value to the song.
Demolition Man is written by Sting. He wrote it in 1980 when he visited actor Peter O’Toole in Ireland and gave it to Jones. With lines like “I’m a three-line whip / I’m the sort of thing they ban” is seems to be tailor made for Jones. It was released as the first single for the album in February 1981 (not very successful). Later in the year, Sting decided to also record the song for The Police album Ghost In The Machine, which was released in October 1981.
The Nightclubbing album contained four covers and five songs that were written especially for the album and/or Jones, with Jones contributing to three of them. The covers on the album are all far removed from the originals. Just like Cat Power, Jones is able to make songs her own, by tearing them to pieces and building them back up again from the very foundation. Everything on the album sounds like Grace Jones. She is the undisputed star of the album.
The Nightclubbing album cover contains a painted photograph entitled Blue-Black in Black on Brown, by Jean-Paul Goude. The picture shows Jones at her most androgynous. The clothes, the so-called blockhead-hairdo, the way she slyly looks into the camera with un unlit cigarette in her mouth. It’s one of the most iconic album covers of all time.
No less than 4 singles were culled from the album:
- Demolition Man
(released in February 1981)
- I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)
(released in May 1981)
- Pull Up To The Bumper
(released in June 1981)
- Walking In The Rain
(released in October 1981)
The singles I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) and Pull Up To The Bumper were huge hits in Europe and the US. Use Me and Feel Up were also released as promo singles, both in June 1981.
The songs’ composers mentioned between brackets.
- Walking In The Rain (Harry Vanda, George Young)
- Pull Up To The Bumper (Grace Jones, Koo Koo Baya, Dana Mano)
- Use Me (Bill Withers)
- Nightclubbing (David Bowie, Iggy Pop)
- Art Groupie (Grace Jones, Barry Reynolds)
- I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) (Ástor Piazzolla, Barry Reynolds, Dennis Wilkey, Nathalie Delon)
- Feel Up (Grace Jones)
- Demolition Man (Sting)
- I’ve Done It Again (Barry Reynolds, Marianne Faithfull)
On April 28th, 2014, a deluxe and remastered version of Nightclubbing was released, expanded with the 12″ versions of the singles and two previously unreleased tracks. The album even made a second appearance in the charts.
- Grace Jones – vocals
- Masai Delon, Jess Roden – vocals
- Monte Browne, Mikey Chung, Barry Reynolds – guitar
- Tyrone Downie – keyboards, vocals
- Wally Badarou – keyboards
- Robbie Shakespeare – bass
- Sly Dunbar – (syn)drums
- Mel Speller – percussion, vocals
- Uziah Thompson – percussion
- Jack Emblow – accordion
It’s virtually impossible to praise Nightclubbing too highly. It’s an astonishing album with great vocals and innovative sounds. Listen and shiver is the motto here!
A One Man Show
In line with her androgynous image, Grace Jones went out on the road using the moniker A One Man Show. Luckily, the tour was filmed and released on video 1982. It’s an impressive form of total theater, which primarily focused on the Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing albums. I deeply regret not being able to witness this show: original, innovative, provocative and of an extremely high musical level.
The third, and last, album from The Compass Point Sessions was released in 1982, titled Living My Life, containing the hit single Nipple To The Bottle. In 1983 Jones wanted to focus on her movie career. Before, her roles were limited to a number of artistic films, but now bigger parts in commercial movies started coming in, like Conan The Destroyer and the James Bond movie A View To A Kill.
Still, in 1985 Grace Jones entered the studio again, this time with the successful producer Trevor Horn, and came up with Slave To The Rhythm. It was a major success, helped by the single and accompanying video of the same name, which got a lot of airplay on MTV (which more or less guaranteed success back then). By the end of 1985 the compilation Island Life was released, which turned into the biggest sales success of Grace Jones’ career.
One year later Inside Story was released, the result of a fraught collaboration with Chic producer Nile Rodgers. Despite the “most extensive marketing and merchandising campaign ever” the album received mixed reviews and corresponding sales figures. Besides the hit single I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You) the album also contains the beautiful jazzy Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician. The following album Bulletproof Heart was received even more poorly. Next, things quieted down musically, considerably. She did act in movies, some of which were quite successful, but her musical activities were limited to a couple of standalone singles, retracted albums and concerts.
It would remain silent until 2008 (!) before the world would hear again from Grace Jones, the musician and singer. That year saw the release of Hurricane, a great album that put Jones back into the limelight. Fortunately, I was (finally) able to witness Grace Jones live at the 2017 North Sea Jazz Festival, where she put on a convincing show and proved she was in excellent shape.
In 2014 the Nightclubbing album was re-released, including bonus material. Apparently, it was time for a re-evaluation. The album was lauded even more than before (if that were even possible). Rightfully so, the mixture of music styles as well as the crystal clear production and Grace Jones’s voice put the album in another league entirely in 1981, which was a feat in itself. The album features in almost every ‘best of all time’ list and gets mentioned a lot as a major reference point by many artists, both sound and image wise.
What do you think of Grace Jones and Nightclubbing in particular? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Grace Jones and the influential Nightclubbing. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Grace Jones – Live image: soulmusic.com
Grace Jones – The disco albums image: musicmeter.nl
Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette image: thecolloquial.com
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing image: udiscovermusic.com
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing – The singles image: discogs.com
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing – Promo & Ad images: lansuresmusicparaphernalia.blogspot.com
Grace Jones – A One Man Show – Ad image: joseflebovicgallery.com
Grace Jones – After Nightclubbing images: spotify.com