As a typical 80s kid, when I think of Grace Jones I think of the films A View to a Kill and Conan the Destroyer, and I remember thinking she was somewhere between sexy and scary. (Some 80s kids may even remember Vamp, but maybe not as many.) She was a striking presence on the screen, and she made a cool Bond villain and a cool sidekick to Arnie. But before her venture into film, she was making strides into the burgeoning disco scene in New York with albums like Portfolio (1977), Fame (1978) and Muse (1979). Despite a cult following among the gay community and the discophiles, the Jamaican model turned singer couldn’t really find a wider market for her brand of dance music. Her voice didn’t really suit straight disco. Then in 1980 she teamed up with (Island Records founder) Chris Blackwell and produced Warm Leatherette, which was a step in a new direction. Taking inspiration from New York’s new wave scene, and the flexibility of reggae, she channelled covers of songs by Roxy Music, Smokey Robinson, The Pretenders and Tom Petty with a sharp androgynous clamour that made people stop and take notice. This was weird, but kinda cool. And when she followed up with Nightclubbing, it finally showcased her strengths and skills as a vocalist and performer. This is a great record. “Walking in the Rain” comes creeping out of the silence, walking you down the dark wet streets of some desolate sci-fi burg, where people who look like Grace populate the local haunts and sell mysteries by the pound. I saw the clip of this song on Rage in the wee-hours one night, and I’ve been hooked on her music ever since. I couldn’t take my eyes or ears off her. The album is full of 80s synthesisers and robotic neo-disco beats, and its amazing how the phrasing of her deep voice sits on top and makes it all sound fresh and contemporary. The moment she sings a note – there is instant atmosphere. She leads you through these strange cyber-noir narratives like a private-dick reporting on her cases. It’s no wonder Roman Polanski used – her moody re-imagining of Ástor Piazzolla’s Argetinian classic – “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)” in the film Frantic, because it sounds like a cinematic thriller in itself. With the brave invention and impressive performances Grace Jones found a musical identity that was, and remains, completely original.
~ DECOY SPOON