Grace Jones, the inimitable icon, had her birthday on March 19. To celebrate the lady herself, I’ve picked five of my favorite tracks from her extensive and eclectic career. Enjoy!
Happy belated Birthday, Grace. My favorite androgynous, Haute-martien chanteuse. The walking, living, breathing piece of art; ma muse d’infinité, and everything that’s ever been good about the women that have inspired me in my lifetime. You’re pretty damn cool. But then you knew that already.
Can I tell you about how awesome it was to see a woman that played with the boundaries of gender when I was little? Can I tell you about how I’d switch between “A View To A Kill” and the video from Sesame Street with the Weimaraners on it (unrelated to you, but still cool) consistently? How about spinning my mum’s “Private Life” 7-inch over and over while she’d insist I listen to the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack for “Time Of My Life?” How about soothing my queer searching little soul?
Those are just some of the things you’ve given to us as girls. I guess, now, as women. I like to imagine you, me, and Marlene Dietrich at an androgynous dinner party in Montparnasse, singing at each other. Over hard liquor and cheese.
I’ll write a more meaningful ode to you later (Induct These Women, anyone?), one about your accomplishments and the influence of your art on the world of music. As well as those who came after you. Until then, I’m gonna share five of my favorite songs of yours like the total art groupie I am.
5. La Vie En Rose (1977)
What I always dug, listening to my mum’s records, was that there were a lot of songs that were cover songs. On some of them you could tell, but then there were ones in which they sounded like originals. Even if you’d actually heard the originals. “La Vie En Rose” is one of those. Now, I’m a huge fan of Edith Piaf. You’ll eventually learn that about me. I tried retracing her steps in Paris once. (For the record: this happened after grog.) Lots of people have covered “La Vie En Rose”, but Grace is the first one that took the song and completely flipped it on its lid. (She’s done this a lot, touching on everyone from Marianne Faithfull to The Pretenders.) That’s the mark of a great musician to me. Her songs are a master of production, and if you can take a contemporary classic like this to the dancefloor of Studio 54, then I hold up my hands like Garth and Wayne and am not worthy.
4. Warm Leatherette (1980)
Grace took to the 80’s with an album of this same name. The song is a cover of the edge of the 70’s punk song by The Normal. “Warm Leatherette” was the start of her distancing herself from the disco scene and headlining into the electro-pop-funk persona she’d start to cultivate in the years ahead. Grace Jones was (and is) amazing because she mixed fashion and art with music, showing everybody then that the three went together as versions of the same thing. Fashion wasn’t just clothes and art wasn’t just paintings. Grace was this musician who was a model, who was an artist, and there’d been nobody like her before. She looked like a mannequin carved from stone rather than plastic. She looked like she’d been ripped out of the pages of Vogue from an editorial by Helmut Newton, and wore her femininity and heritage like a medal of honor dowsed in pleather. Such a jam by such an icon.
3. Private Life (1980)
“Private Life” was the only Grace Jones single in our household for me growing up. Bizarre given my mother’s love of funk, disco, and growing up in the 70’s, but at least it was there. It’s a cover of The Pretenders song that Chrissie Hynde herself said is how the song should have sounded. I disagree in that both versions are great in how different they are. The Pretenders’ has a catchy riff and Grace’s pays homage to it with the use of sound influenced by her home country. Musically, the only thing that links them is the drum fills. I’ve got to wonder what would happen if I played both songs simultaneously, whether or not it’d be the new “Dark Side Of Oz.” Whatever it is, however it sounds, you know it’ll sound great. Pay close attention to the Grace behind the mannequin.
2. Nightclubbing (1981)
Almost everyone knows the Iggy Pop original, written by him and David Bowie during The Berlin Years. Grace Jones maintains the structure of the song but also takes a punk track and gives it the atmosphere of a David Lynch film. I’m still waiting for this track to accompany the opening scene, layered over a slow motion longshot that doesn’t break for the entirety of its runtime. Grace’s “Nightclubbing” is one to listen to all the way though. End it with a bang rather than a fade into a title sequence. If there’s any end at all. I could personally listen to her version for two hours in bulk. Its existence is the story. I don’t actually need anything more. It’s like a slow drug, pumping my veins with the guitar lick of my dreams.
1. Slave to the Rhythm (1985)
“Slave to the Rhythm” (more confusingly titled “Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones” on the album – it features a few different versions) is my favorite track. Makes sense, I know, being number one on my list. Imagine my glee when I found out it was released the same year I was. (‘85 was, arguably, a good year.) The video is a collection of ones she’d already made; of a commercial, of clips from her documentary, “A One Man Show” (renamed “State of Grace” after Rhythm’s release). It signifies, as most of her videos do, a new era or “exhibition” of Grace Jones. Like, this is who she is. She is, can be, and will be everything. I mean, who can forget her hula hooping for the entire duration of the song in front of The Queen?
(TIL: Ian McShane does the voice overs on the track. May Day and Mr. Wednesday, I’m into it.)
Check out my full Grace Jones playlist here!