Living To Music – Grace Jones ‘Nightclubbing’




YEAR: 1981

This Sunday (March 6th), at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. Full lowdown here:

Grace Jones was undoubtedly one of the most cutting-edge artists of the early ’80s – her unique fusion of Reggae and New Wave, coupled with her strikingly stark androgynous image (created in partnership with stylist Jean-Paul Goude), setting her apart as a true cult icon.

Having recorded a trio of Disco influenced albums in the late ’70s, ‘Portfolio’ (1977), ‘Fame’ (1978), and ‘Muse’ (1979), all produced by remix innovator Tom Moulton, she changed her sound and really hit her stride in 1980 with ‘Warm Leatherette’. Drawing on her Jamaican roots she hooked-up with the legendary Reggae rhythm section of Sly Dunbar (drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass), plus keyboard ace Wally Badarou (amongst other top line musicians), and with Alex Sadkin and Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell producing (at the famous Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas) the result was a revelation. ‘Warm Leatherette’ spawned her first UK hit, a cover of ‘Private Life’ (originally recorded by The Pretenders) and this strange and somewhat severe looking feline was soon the subject of much fascination.

Including tracks written by Bill Withers, David Bowie & Iggy Pop, Sting and Australian group Flash and The Pan, ‘Nightclubbing’ was named album of the year by NME. The groundbreaking video, ‘A One Man Show’, was mainly made up of tracks from the LP – I blogged about it back in June 2010:

I was massively into Grace Jones throughout her Compass Point period – apart from ‘Warm Leatherette’ and ‘Nightclubbing’, this also included 1982’s ‘Living My Life’. I remember compiling a C90 cassette, which I played to death while I was driving, including tracks from these three albums, plus her epic Disco version of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’ from ‘Portfolio’ – I wore that tape out for sure.

Although many people got into her via 1985’s ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, with quintessential ’80s producer Trevor Horn at the controls, I felt it was a bit of an everything but the kitchen sink overkill – too literal in projecting her larger than life persona (but certainly in keeping with the direction in which she was now moving). A new generation would come to know her not by her records, but via the movies, following her role as Zula, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Conan The Destroyer’ (1984), and later as Bond villain May Day in ‘A View To A Kill’ (1985). There was also small screen notoriety when she bizarrely whacked TV presenter Russell Harty during an interview, whilst her computer generated appearance in a groundbreaking Citroën car advert won acclaim and enhanced the somewhat scary image she’d cultivated (the ad was also utilized in the video for ‘Slave To The Rhythm’):

Although she flirted with the mainstream musically, Grace Jones never quite hit the commercial heights and her recordings failed to crack the top 10 of the UK singles chart (although her 1985 best of compilation album ‘Island Life’ did reach number 4). A 1986  re-issue of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ coupled with ‘La Vie En Rose’ equalled ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ as her biggest UK single, although they only reached the relatively modest peak of number 12.

Her recording career fizzled out after ‘Inside Story’ (1986) and ‘Bulletproof Heart’ (1989) failed to deliver. Then, almost two decades on, in 2008 she released her tenth studio album ‘Hurricane’, having assembled some of the old Compass Point crew including the key early 80’s ingredients of Dunbar, Shakespeare and Badarou.

I was invited to submit a remix for ‘Williams Blood’, the second single taken from ‘Hurricane’, by Wall Of Sound, the UK dance label that had signed up the album. I had to do it on spec (please refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBsGiuAEPXc), which is something I refuse in normal circumstances – however, this was Grace Jones we were talking about, and I liked the track in question, so I made an exception. It was the artist herself who had the final say on which mixes were accepted (and a fair few had had a go), so it was a nice buzz to find out that mine was amongst those chosen. You can hear it at YouTube:

‘Nightclubbing’ by Grace Jones is the eighth Living To Music session, with the idea continuing to gain momentum month on month, both in its original context and via related gatherings. Classic Album Sundays, which has caused such a media stir in the past month or so, is lined-up for a trio of festival appearances this summer (more news in due course) and was recently the subject of a BBC Radio 6 news feature:

Your own memories are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session, it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

Nightclubbing Wikipedia:

Living To Music Facebook Event Page:

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19 Responses to Living To Music – Grace Jones ‘Nightclubbing’

  1. Karl Roscoe March 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    An anecdote to compliment tonight’s listening.

    My girlfriend was in school with Grace Jones’ son in Paris, he got picked on a lot because he had bucked teeth and really big ears..

    At the school sports day they had a parent’s race, the parents are all standing there and Grace Jones rocks up in a floor length fur coat. The official asks the competitors to line up, she drops the fur coat, revealing an all in one lime green full body cat suit, and she strikes the classic sprinters pose. Emily says she was incredibly toned and beautiful.

    The gun fires and Grace Jones blazes down the track winning without breaking a sweat, the closest competitor not even half way (and they were going for it).

    All the frumpy American pendulous mothers, mouths a-gaping, stunned, slow clap like an enthusiastic bunch of highly medicated committees. Grace Jones doesn’t blink an eyelid, puts on the fur coat and walks off into the metaphoric sunset.

    He son rarely got picked on again.

  2. Alexis March 6, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Definitely used to have this album, the memories came floodying back.
    As I said when this first came up, I borrowed a pound of my mate Mandy to buy Pull Up To The Bumper on 12″ from Aflecks Palace (i’d spent up and only had 80p left).
    Just love her, loved every track, fun, sexy, head bobbing lushness.
    Just playing it over now ‘cos I enjoyed it so much.
    Not going to get technical, great writers, perfect lyrics for her and my favourite cover of “use me up” Ever!
    cheers G xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  3. Cullen March 6, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Great choice of album. I lay on my bed and listened through headphones. I came across Living to Music via an article in the Word magazine some time ago, but until now I’ve never had the opportunity to listen on the 9:00 first Sunday of the month time slot. However, I have bought (if not already owned) a copy of all of the albums in the series.

    I’m glad I started properly with this one, for me it was the best choice so far as Grace Jones means a little more to me than the rest of the artists, having still got a much loved and played (at the time) cassette version of Island Life and after all these years her music still sounds incredible.

    PS to Karl, That’s a great anecdote about Ms Jones, thanks for posting it.

  4. MadameFLY March 6, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    Just caught up w/ Living to Music after Innervisions; pleased that the next pick was an album that I owned. I remembered Nightclubbing as having the top tracks on side one, and find that I still gravitate to the same tunes (gutted to find I’ve picked up a skip in “Nightclubbing” though!) I think of “Walking in the Rain” as a proto-downtempo track — it’s the sensibility more than the actual tempo, of course. Agree heartily with the listener who called out “Use Me” as the best cover of that tune ever. One thing that impresses me (as usual with Sly and Robbie on board) is the springy, bouncy nature of the rhythm section — it’s practically airborne and irresistable for moving you around.

    I only got to see Grace once, at the Warner Theatre in Washington DC mid-80s … her show was a hoot, every song started out with a grand entrance by someone who turned out NOT to be Grace but a double … she’d come on stage on the chorus or whatever and take over from the double … the audience was in a state of amazed confusion throughout the event … one of 10 or so shows that I’ll never forget.

  5. TC March 7, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    This album takes me right back to being 16 and realising that there were contemporary artists out there that I wanted to aspire to. Grace Jones was definitely one of them, Annie Lennox another. I vividly remember scrutinising the credits and imagining that one day I might meet Chris Blackwell, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.
    Sly and Robbie’s rhythm section on Grace’s stuff is totally infectious and the production so slick and it sounds as fit today as ever. And Grace’s voice ties it all together so succinctly. If you had only ever heard the likes of Private Life by Ms Jones, you could be forgiven in thinking that her stylised speech-style vocals were to disguise a limited singing voice. That is absolutely not the case. This woman can SING!!! I love her velvet tones on “I’ve done it again” and I love the song and was reminded due to this Living to Music listen that I had promised myself to cover it someday. Its back on my to-do list!
    I also love her rendition of La vie en Rose, which feels like it ought to be on this album yet it isn’t. You are left in no doubt of this woman’s singing capabilities.
    One thing I noticed last night was that “art groupie” sounded like a Marianne Faithfull song and when I checked the credits this morning, I found that it was writted by Grace……. but with Barry Reynolds, who co-wrote Broken English with Marianne Faithfull. Every time I take part in L2M, I pick up on something I’d never noticed before! I think I’m going to go put it on again in a minute. Thanks to everyone who came round and shared the experience with me last night and thanks to Karl for the Grace Jones anecdote. 🙂

  6. greg wilson March 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    This was the first session I wasn’t at home for. I listened to it in JFK New York, as I waited to board my flight back to the UK – with the 5 hour time difference it was 4pm. I’d loaded ‘Nightclubbing’ onto my computer and listened to it, of course, over headphones.

    Apart from the obvious drum and bass foundation, the keyboard work on the Grace Jones Compass Point albums always hugely impressed me, with the nuances further highlighted close up through the headphones. I got to meet the guy responsible, Wally Badarou, over in Australia in 2006, where we’d both been flown in to give talks at the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne. So it was nice to be able to tell him how much his work had been appreciated as I shared a dinner table with him and his wife – both lovely people.

    Anyhow, back in the airport, once the album had finished, I sat quietly for a few minutes, as is the norm after every L2M session. The sound of the environment I was in became apparent, with people chatting and flight announcements audible, and when I opened my eyes and looked around me I noticed a few people also sat with headphones / earphones, listening to music themselves in their own self-contained way, just as I had been. It struck me that a lot of people nowadays use music as a way to pass the time – perhaps the only time they listen without distraction is when they have an hour or so to kill. I suppose this type of listening began in the 80’s, when the Sony Walkman heralded the age of the personal stereo.

    This reminded me that the great thing about Living To Music is the communal aspect that underpins it (either physically listening with others, or listening alone in the knowledge that others are sharing the same experience), and I felt a strong connection with friends and family back home, in a different time zone half a world away.

  7. cezza March 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I had never heard a Grace Jones album before, in fact I actually didn’t think I would like an entire album by her, however…. I think what i enjoyed most was the ‘edge’, the mood and the atmosphere it created. It took me back to teenage years where I longed for something ‘different’ in life, again it brought up a of kind of yearning…? Through sitting and listening I fell totally in love with ‘Nightclubbing’ and that gorgeous dub sound that I could listen to for hours and such a fascinating use of percussion, loved it. The last track was a total suprise, her voice like silk was a true delight to hear, another aspect of Grace exposed at the end of a quality album.

  8. minibreakfast March 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Once again, an album I’d never have listened to without prompting. An amazing listen from top to bottom, it’s just all so sleek and sexy. My favourite track changes with each play; at the moment it’s Use Me. Nothing else to add except thanks again Greg and tell us what next month’s choice is, the suspense is already killing me!

  9. Steve March 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Have had this album omnipresent through my life,
    My brother and mother both owned this years ago,
    And have always had a great respect for her presence,
    There have been many moments when Dj’s have blown my mind with her tunes,
    Most memorably Norman Jay playing ” Private Life’ at a good vibes in Sydney,
    One can’t deny the power of her music, and it’s influence on so many artists,
    I have come to appreciate her more less known tracks like “Use me” and ” Feel up “,” Victor should have been a jazz musician ” ( Love that tune !! ) , also ” Chan goes to Shanghai ”
    quirky fave, and also perhaps started my love of more fast paced music.
    I managed to find a copy of Nightclubbing a few weeks ago on vinyl @ a car boot sale,
    So was excited to join in this time and check out a few of the less obvious tunes,
    Really enjoyed ” Art Junkie” , “seen that face before” such a brilliantly produced album, She owes a lot to her fantastic musicians and producers !!
    This has also inspired me to hunt down the Funky nassau – Compass point story 1980- 86 also a great listen !! Cheers Greg !! Look forward to the next one : )

  10. Paul Wright March 10, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    This one was interesting as I was one that had grown up knowing Grace Jones the actress. Until this session I had thought her musical career spanned maybe a few songs, not several albums as I’ve just read from Greg’s introduction!

    Most of this album was almost completely unknown to me. I’d heard a recent bibi edit of ‘i’ve seen your face before’ there was also another I hadn’t connected before! 🙂

    There’s some great reggae feeling tracks on here interwoven with plenty of cosmic sounds. Wicked instrumentals all round, even some of the background faded bits are well composed and I felt like I wanted to hear more of them.

    I’d never appreciated Grace’s versatility in vocal style, from rough/unharmonious to being at times soft or even very soulful. It seems like she can and isn’t affraid to wear her mood on her voice, depending on the song or the message. At times her vocal does convey a certain air of madness at others it was surprisingly sweet.

    Listening to the album I could hear sounds familiar to me as Pink Floyd, Bowie, The Who, The Jackson 5. Styles covering reggae/ska, disco, punk, soul, industrial and rock.

    Pull up to the bumper is tune I have heard and loved many times when played at Electric Chair. Had never released it was Grace Jones! What a gem!

    Some fantastic soundscapes and synth work on so much of this album. I really enjoyed listening to this and it has opened up yet another avenue of discovery….thanks Greg!

    All the best

  11. Lou Lou March 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    I don’t think i’d ever really appreciated Grace Jones, as the only songs I remember from her was Slave to the Rhythm and Pull up to the Bumper, and always thought she was really weird, scarey and out there.
    I didn’t expect how reggae the album sounded and happily sat tapping my feet through each track. Loved the soft vocals on the final track which I felt sounded very Dusty Springfield rather than the previous amazonian power calls!
    Thanks for the opportunity to listen to an album I’d never heard before and probably wouldn’t have been drawn to listen to.
    Again I love the shared experience of listening to the same thing together – I did have an image of Greg sat in a busy airport with his headphones on and others who said they’d be listening – and it’s a cool feeling knowing we’re all sharing that. Thanks to T and her amazing sound system and chilling surroundings and the great friends. Roll on April!

  12. Amanda C March 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    When Grace Jones met Margi Clarke; an anecdote.

    G: ‘Oh Darling, I need a line’.
    (Snorts a line.)
    G: ‘Oh Darling, now I need a snog.’
    (Snogs Margi.)
    G: ‘Oh Darling, now I need a sh*t.’

    Grace Jones: she is legend.

  13. BrianE March 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    Found myself listening to and enjoying the bass playing most. Maybe one of the few overly ‘human touchs’ in there apart from the vocals as this a generally low key album. Even Grace’s voice is, in it’s enigmatic style, not overtly human some of the time. Talking on a couple of tracks. When she does ‘sing’ it’s amazing as on the last track. Found the reference to Jenny Lind interesting, particularly on this track. “I was there when Jenny Lind first sang” For more info on Jenny Lind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenny_Lind
    Can’t work out if the keyboards are sequenced or recorded live? They act as an amazing backdrop with very few ‘solos’ in keeping with the low key feel to the album. ‘Solos’ are limited to melody lines. Keyboard parts I feel, are masterful and interesting even though they serve mainly to back Grace Jones.
    Percussion was good, even though no full on solos…..lol. It just blended along with the keyboards and the overrall feel.

    Not heard any of this before and it’s still incredibly good and suprisingly contemporary.

  14. dancing james March 13, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Great underground pop music. I love albums like this that could feel like they just need to have been made. It feels and sounds like a total melange, elements of punk, reggae, soul, pop and with a lean clean production.

    As with each of these albums it feels like such a luxury to spend an evening sitting back and absorbing it all over again. It seems such a waste that most peoples memories of her will just be from tv reviews of the 80’s – that interview and the Hollywood movie roles.

    Like others have mentioned on this thread, tracks from this album have been played in nightclubs since the album first came out. The sense of space in Sly and Robbies production makes the album sound so contemporary, at times it seems like a precursor to some modern wonky electronic r&b.

    For me this was an absolutely fascinating album to go back to. Having heard it when younger with naive ears and to hear it again now it actually makes more sense now than then.

    Its bizarre to realise that I can recall having heard at least 4 of these tracks on the dancefloor in the past 10 years – fair testament to an album that was released 30 years ago. To call an album Nightclubbing could be such an arrogant gesture, though in this case it was so apt.

  15. gina March 19, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Loved this. Love it when an artist covers a song and makes it their own (sorry I sound like Simon Cowell) – Use Me is funkier than the original, in a way that Walk on By by Isaac Hayes takes on a new dimension or Sly Dunbar’s version of Inner City Blues does. Use Me is the track on relistening that does it for me – especially on Cosmo’s speakers!

    I used to think Island Life was an album with amazing songs, not a best of, so was surprised that Nightclubbing was picked instead of it … should have known better. Always liked Flash and The Pan, but Walking in The Rain fits her like a glove – especially with the new post disco androgynous haircut and suit “feeling like a woman, looking like a man” indeed. Weirdly un-Grace-like last song, I’ve done it again – made me imagine Astrud Gilberto and a more melancholic/private side of Grace.

    Great choice again and looking forward to Screamadelica next. Oh yes, and thanks for the sports day anecdote Karl – so fitting, so Grace!

  16. Pablo Contraband March 24, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    What a great album – didn’t realise how many of the great ones were on here, I thought a few were on Island life. Thoroughly enjoyed listening to the album, must admit I had a few listens after getting the album before the Sunday session arrived.

    Killer album, looking forward to Screamadelica next.

  17. Michel March 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    To me Grace Jones is still a legend. Her voice, the music, her looks… The passion her albums were (and are) made with is stunning. Her looks as fascinating as 30 years ago. She remains a larger than life phenomenon. What a woman… nothing but respect for Grace Jones !


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