Born Beverley Grace Jones in Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1948, the family moved to New York in the early 1960s and Grace’s lean, rangy and striking beauty made her a teenage model star in that city, London and Paris where she modelled for Yves St. Laurent, Claude Montana and Kenzo and appeared on the covers of Elle, Vogue and Stern, often photographed by Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin. In 1977 her singing brought her to the attention of island Records for whom she signed a lucrative deal, combining show tunes with a move into reggae and funk fusion world of Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. What was evident was that she could switch from a monotone sing song to a contralto and soprano mode with a naturally gifted two and a half-octave range. The combination proved lethal and set her apart from just about everyone else, enabling her music in the 1980s during this era to be described as a hybrid of "rock, funk, post-punk, pop and reggae." This hybrid influenced a variety of alternative music artists, including Massive Attack, Todd Terje, Gorillaz, Hot Chip, and LCD Soundsystem.
Grace’s debut is Portfolio (1977), spawning the worldwide underground hit “La Vie en Rose” – the best version outside of Edith Piaf’s – as well as telling takes on “Send in the Clowns” and her own song “Sorry”. Portfolio was groundbreaking for Jones: moderately successful in America it made her an overnight cult hit in Europe. The follow-up Fame (still produced with Tom Moulton) was quite different. She located to Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, where Bowie had recorded his Young Americans, and embraced the burgeoning louche strand of disco that was sweeping New York City and Berlin. Even so the stand out cut “Do or Die” became a club hit in North America and Grace’s songs were amongst the first to be given 12’ mix plates, these generally only available to the mover and shaker DJ fraternity at this juncture.
The third album, Muse, followed her habit of using a medley format and arrived during the absurd “anti-disco” backlash which effectively squashed its progress although we recommend you investigate it anew because if this is Grace’s lost album it shouldn’t be kept under wraps much longer. The single “On Your Knees” is certainly one masterpiece that needn’t be overlooked anymore.
Grace’s final record of the 1970s is her breakthrough disc, Warm Leatherette (1979) that takes her into the reggae and new wave sphere, though with her own idiosyncratic stamp of course. The album was revolutionary for her as island boss Chris Blackwell came on board to produce with Alex Sadkin, recognising that the label’s investment in their artist was about to go global.
Jones inhabits the material, as an actor would seek immersion in an important role. The many highlights include her versions of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug”, Hynde’s “Private Life” – which still sends a shiver down the spine - Petty’s “Breakdown” and Smokey Robinson’s “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”. It is a five star affair that ought to, excuse the phrase, grace any collection.
Now recording at Compass Point with Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Barry Reynolds and Mikey Chung, Jones seized her moment. The ensuing Nightclubbing would be her huge statement. It’s virtually another greatest hits in a way with her interpretation of Sting’s “Demolition Man” and Vanda and Young’s “Walking in the Rain” arriving like scorch marks on the brain while the Reynolds/Marianne Faithfull closer "I've Done it Again” helps define her as a kind of female Bowie – androgynous, alien, alternative and brilliant.
Living My Life and Slave to the Rhythm picked up the baton and would keep Jones to the forefront of club and dance culture thanks to exceptional songs like “Nipple to the Bottle”, “My Jamaican Guy”, “The Apple Stretching” (surely an influence on Erykah Badou), the “Slave” title track and the high grade production values – digital technology taken to the nth degree.
The Island Life compilation, like Nightclubbing, is available in expanded format with different mixes from her albums and that fabulous Jean-Paul Goude cover image of Grace looking impossible otherworldly and striking a pose that would set the seal for artists like Madonna and Kylie Minogue when they chose to vogue.
After this major success – the collection was hard to ignore in 1985 – Grace returns with Inside Story (working with Nile Rodgers) and her last studio album for nearly two decades, Bulletproof Heart (1989). Working with then partner Chris Stanley providing music, fans love this album because it features all original material of tremendous allure and is also available as an expanded and re-mastered disc.
As usual with our artists, we offer a terrific range of compilations and collections to suit all pockets and tastes. Aside from the Gold standard Island Life we have the handy 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Grace Jones, one of our flagship affairs, including the 12’ remix of “Nipple to the Bottle”. The Universal Masters Collection and The Collection will delight long time fans – the latter featuring Grace’s take on Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” and her demo of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. Most comprehensive is Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (with key re-edits, the long and dub versions of “She’s Lost Control” and enough extended and 12” mixes to satisfy the real acolytes).
Pride of place for those who want the inside skinny lands upon The Grace Jones Story. Here you’ll find over two hours of scrupulously gathered gems commencing with her Portfolio outing and going through to her startling version of Sheep on Drugs’ cut “Sex Drive” as well as stunning artwork and comprehensive liner noters. This is totally recommended.
But then the same goes for this woman’s entire canon. It’s been an extraordinary career that isn’t showing signs of wear and tear. Grace Jones is a true force of nature and a law unto herself. We wouldn’t have her any other way. We’re slaves to her rhythm and guess you will be soon.
Words: Max Bell
By all means a phenomenal pop album that hit number nine on the black albums chart and crossed over to penetrate the pop charts at number 32, Nightclubbing saw Grace Jones working once again with Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and the remainder of the Compass Point team. Nightclubbing also continues Jones' tradition of picking excellent songs to reinterpret. This time out, the Police's "Demolition Man," Bill Withers' "Use Me," and Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing" receive radical reinterpretations; "Nightclubbing" is glacial in both tempo and lack of warmth, while both "Use Me" and "Demolition Man" fit perfectly into Jones' lyrical scheme. Speaking of a lyrical scheme, "Pull Up to the Bumper" (number five black singles, number two club play) is so riddled with naughty double entendres -- or is it just about parallel parking? -- that it renders Musique's "In the Bush" as daring as Paul Anka's "Puppy Love." Drive it in between what, Grace? It's not just lyrics that make the song stick out; jingling spirals of rhythm guitar and a simplistic, squelching, mid-tempo rhythm make the song effective, even without considering Jones' presence. Sly & Robbie provide ideal backdrops for Jones yet again, casting a brisk but not bristly sheen over buoyant structures. Never before and never since has a precisely chipped block of ore been so seductive.
Words: Andy Kellman
An audio biography of Grace Jones, produced by Trevor Horn, it's a sonic treat along the lines of Yes's 90125 or Frankie Goes to Hollywood's first album (both produced by Horn). The music ranges from slick R&B runaway grooves to striking audio montages, interrupted occasionally by conversation about Jones's life. Serious ear candy.
Words: Scott Bultman
Grace Jones co-produced most of the tracks on this 1989 album. Bulletproof Heart contains an amalgam of her styles and although not a classic, it is a strong work that will please her fans. With its funky rhythm, Driving Satisfaction has just a hint of her classic Pull Up To The Bumper and lovely swirling percussive patterns. Kicked Around is closer to vocal pop, whilst Love On Top Of Love has a bouncy beat and innovative vocal arrangement. Crack Attack is a polyrhythmic dance number and the title track has a jerky rhythm and some marvellous sax. There are also beautiful tuneful ballads like Paper Plan, Someone To Love and Amado Mio. Her voice really soars on Someone To Love, a rousing ballad with a wonderful melody and some romantic French lyrics. Amado Mio is the album's torch song and a fine example of her mastery of the genre. It has lovely accordion, a Spanish flavor and some French infusions. These aforementioned two songs should have been big bits and are amongst the highlights of her career. Bulletproof Heart may not be Jones most innovative work but together with Inside Story, it remains a good album from the latter phase of her career that has stood the test of time very well.
Words: Pieter Uys
Disco mix king Tom Moulton produced these tracks at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia using the same musicians Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff held hostage for their sessions. The results are quite different: though polished, these tracks don't jump out at you. It's really a producer's album. Moulton probably had these tracks completed long before he knew who was going to sing them. Give Grace Jones credit though, she gives credence to old fuddies like "Send in the Clowns," "La Vie en Rose" is lilting, and "I Need a Man," displays a vulnerable Jones.
Words: Andrew Hamilton
Chic's Nile Rodgers produced this Grace Jones album as part of a new deal she signed in the late '80s with Manhattan. Unfortunately, she didn't remain on the label very long, even though this was among her better LPs and included a fine single in "(I'm Not Perfect) But I'm Perfect For You." There were rumors that Jones and Rodgers didn't get along, and perhaps they didn't, but the album wound up being one of her most commercially viable.
Words: Ron Wynn
Grace Jones essentially retired from music after this album and became a film actress for three years. The album followed her definitive Nightclubbing and was a commercial disappointment, although it had some nice material and excellent production and arrangements. But she often sounded distant and detached, and not even the great support could totally overcome Jones' less than enthusiastic performances.
Words: Ron Wynn
Grace Jones teamed with the great reggae production duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on this '80 album, and made the transition from straight dance and club act into quasi-pop star with reggae and urban contemporary leaning. The single "Private Life" was one of her best, and the overall album had more energy and production gloss than previous LPs that had been aimed completely at the club market. It helped that Jones seemed enthused about the session and really put herself into the songs.
Words: Ron Wynn
A fine dance and club album, Grace Jones was still essentially a disco act when she recorded this album at the end of the '70s. The campy tendencies and flat vocals were subordinated to the array of cross-rhythms, textures, and production devices buttressing the tracks. Jones did some outstanding numbers during this era, but seldom utilized her voice beyond either a decorative or supporting role. She wasn't (and still isn't) a soulful or great singer, but future albums would demonstrate that she could do more things than mouth lines and insert herself into rhythm tracks.
Words: Ron Wynn
This 1978 follow-up to her debut album Portfolio didn't provide Grace with any huge hits on the pop charts but Do Or Die and Fame were massive disco successes. The album follows the same formula as the debut, with classic 1970s dancefloor tracks as well as some brooding ballads like the poignant Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York City. The Piaf number on this one, like La Vie En Rose on Portfolio, is Autumn Leaves, sung partly in French and English. Do Or Die, Pride and Fame are the primary dance tracks. The music is typical Tom Moulton, with strings, horns, keyboards, drums. base, various percuission instruments and even a violin solo on Autumn Leaves, whilst backing vocals are by The Sweathearts of Sigma: Carla Benson, Barbara Ingrim and Yvette Benton. The beautiful sleeve design and illustration are by Richard Bernstein. The third album in this early Grace Jones trilogy was called Muse, but seems to not be available as of this writing. These three established Jones as a disco diva and then she changed direction into New Wave and Torch. Fame and Muse are classic Moulton/Jones disco, but not as immediately appealing as Portfolio.
Words: Pieter Uys
Originally released in 1985, Island Life compiles highlights from Grace Jones' 1977 debut through 1985’s Slave to the Rhythm. It’s a concise overview that features four Top Ten U.S. club hits (“I Need a Man,” “Do or Die,” “Pull Up to the Bumper,” “Slave to the Rhythm”), as well as an additional smattering of choice cuts from her late-‘70s collaborations with Tom Moulton and her stellar ‘80s work with Sly & Robbie. It’s a decent introduction for casual fans but lacks crucial material like “Warm Leatherette” and “Nipple to the Bottle.” A later edition, dubbed Island Life 2, adds "Pars," "Feel Up," and two remixes of "Sex Drive."
Words: Andy Kellman