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Six Definitive Songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Grace Jones

To say that Grace Jones is an iconoclast would be an understatement. Occupying the same creative space as David Bowie, she’s a model, singer and actress with an aesthetic like no other. 

Unsurprisingly, Jones started her career as a model before her segue into music. Her work for iconic fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent and Kenzo clearly inspired the haute couture twist that runs through her music. 

Known for her stark, androgynous appearance, with cheekbones that could cut tomatoes, along with Bowie, Jones was a major influence on the cross-dressing movement of the 1980s, and has, in turn, inspired everyone from Annie Lennox to Lady Gaga and Santigold. 

Her music has one eye firmly on the sounds of New York City’s extremely influential Studio 54 disco scene, taking the bright lights, hedonism and intrigue of the Big Apple’s nightclub world and infusing it with her own unapologetic sense of the self. Aside from the explicit Studio 54 hues, Jones’ eclectic back catalogue draws on reggae, post-punk and pop, creating a sound that is really unlike anything else.

Whether it be 1978’s Fame, 1980’s Warm Leatherette, 1981’s Nightclubbing or 1985’s Slave to the Rhythm, there have been many stellar moments across Jones’ musical career and her concentration on being artistically progressive is something that we can all admire. She follows the path that was first set out by the likes of David Bowie, and her fusion of fashion and music never gets old. Notably, though, Jones has drawn heavily on the work of other people across her career through samples and many covers, but this doesn’t detract from her potency, as the ingenuity with which she approaches the source material is astounding. 

Duly, we’ve listed the six definitive songs by Grace Jones that give you a succinct account of the broad palette that is her music, and her propensity to take source material and turn it into something entirely different. So without further ado, join us as we jump into the kaleidoscopic world of one of pop’s ultimate stars.

Grace Jones’ six definitive songs:

‘Private Life’ (1980)

Originally written by Chrissie Hynde and performed by Pretenders, Jones’ track ‘Private Life’ could not sound any further from the original or the sound of Hynde and Co. Again, it’s an atmospheric, slightly sinister sounding piece, with an equally as haunting video to boot, wherein Jones takes off a mask of her face to reveal only her face again. 

Jones managed to make the song sound like something you’d expect from The Specials, The English Beat, or, dare I say it, Bauhaus. It also contains one of the best sounding synths of the era, as Jones sings defiantly, “Your private life drama baby leave me out”.

‘Love Is The Drug’ (1980)

Another stellar cover. An upbeat, almost industrial redux of Roxy Music’s 1975 hit of the same name, apart from the lyrics, Jones’ version sounds almost entirely different to the original.

Again, Jones speeds it up, making it more club-friendly, adding that high-pitched synth line that runs throughout and the delay-drenched guitar that fades in for a piercing solo around the two-minute mark. This entry will be stuck in your head all day, and you’ll be blown away by how just ahead of its time it was.

‘I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)’ (1981)

Arguably Jones’s best song, ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before’ is an atmospheric mesh of dub and the wonky pop of the kind you might expect to hear on David Bowie’s Scary Monsters. The song is not entirely original, though. It leans heavily on the Argentinian tango classic ‘Libertango’ by Astor Piazzolla but juxtaposes it with the dub and pop that has made the song a fan favourite of Jones’s.

It’s a very atmospheric piece, where we hear Jones sing in French as she describes the dark side of Parisian nightlife. She sings: “Tu cherches quoi? À rencontrer la mort? Tu te prends pour qui? Toi aussi tu détestes la vie…” which directly translates to: “What are you looking for? For death? Who do you think you are? You hate life, you too…”

‘Demolition Man’ (1981)

Written by Sting of The Police, ‘Demolition Man’ ranks among the catchiest Grace Jones songs. It was originally written by The Police frontman in 1980 for their album Zenyatta Mondatta, but was never made it onto the album. So when Grace Jones requested a song from Sting, he sent her this, and what a decision it was. 

Whether it be the meaty, warped bassline that carries the track, or the synths that help to increase the tension, this was the moment when Grace Jones ditched the outwardly Studio 54 vibes of her early career and hit upon something truly unique. It’s a testament to her work on the song that it remains so refreshing today. This really is the best reflection of the kind of experimentation that the ’80s prided itself upon. She manages to marry indie and electronic, and create something remarkable.

‘Nightclubbing’ (1981)

It’s a little known fact that ‘Nightclubbing’ isn’t a Grace Jones original. It was written by the ’70s favourite partners in crime, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and was released on Pop’s debut solo album, The Idiot, in 1977. Jones’ version takes the vaudeville inspired sound of the original and slows it right down, turning it into the languid, spacey kind of dub that she does so well.

There’s a lot of room in this entry, as the guitar, textures and synths do their work, but dropping in and out, leaving Jones’ voice to create a post-modern masterpiece that is a brilliant reimagining of the original, that if anything, is much better. 

‘Slave to the Rhythm’ (1985)

Another fan favourite, it’s not hard to see why. Unapologetically sexy, featuring another killer bassline and one of the best vocal performances of Jones’ career, just like the album of the same name ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ saw Jones get increasingly atmospheric, just as the ’80s was welcoming the stylistic slant that they called ‘Big Music’.

This entry has everything you want from a track, and the production is just exquisite. You can’t help but think that this was the precise moment that everything that came before was leading up to.

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