#Intothevaults and we go with our #itchysilk writer Marco looking at the album Nightclubbing (1981) by gay icon Grace Jones.
Grace Jones has enjoyed longevity in her music career. To be truthful she has enjoyed longevity in all aspects of her forty-year creative career. It’s been a perfect balance of independence while remaining the epitome of relevance in all the eras since she broke into popular culture.
Nightclubbing as her fifth album sees Grace Jones explore new wave sounds for an absorbing soundscape. For Marco, this album represents a pivotal moment in building the fragile ego of a young “sexually confused” teenager.
The striking album cover introduces us to the genre defining icon Grace Jones. It’s an insanely beautiful exploration of Grace’s androgyny by long-time collaborator Jean Paul Gaude. Armani jacket, cigarette framed by her arresting, angular features and those eyes. The eyes of someone who is fiercely unapologetic for who they are.
“Feeling like woman, looking like a man” utters Grace Jones on the opening track Walking In The Rain from her fifth album Nightclubbing (1981). They are lyrics borrowed from the new wave Australian group Flash and The Pan (1976-1993), but the delivery is all Grace: she’s not asking for approval, acceptance or pity.
As a sexually confused child, who constantly felt trapped by his mundane surroundings, this combination not only spoke to me, but gave me a frame of reference. It gave me a place to belong and a reason to exist. If this incredible misfit could exist, then there could be a space for me in the world too.
In 1981, Grace Jones had solidified her status as a gay icon. Her first three albums being an assortment of disco covers produced by Tom Moulton (who was/is hailed as the inventor of the remix and precursor of dance music). Her appearances at Studio 54 quickly became legendary. As the disco backlash began to take over in the late 70s, Island Records’ president Chris Blackwell stepped in and guided her towards a new artistic direction. In her 2015 autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs Chris tells her,
“When people thought about you, as a performer…there is a shock feeling. I thought ‘My God, you’re Jamaican, whether people like it or not, so let’s give you a rock-steady Jamaican bass and drum.”
Nightclubbing, just like its predecessor Warm Leatherette (1978) and subsequently Living My Life (1982), is rhythmically an excursion into reggae (courtesy of the legendary Sly and Robbie), although melodically there are touches of synth-pop and new wave with a perfect blend of organic grooves fused with the emerging technological sounds of the time. The detached half spoken, half sung style carries through most of the album, from Demolition Man (penned by Sting) to the percussion explosion of Feel Up and, of course, the anthemic Pull Up To The Bumper and its now legendary (although often denied by Grace Jones herself) allusion to anal sex. Meanwhile, the title track (an Iggy Pop cover) transports you into dubby territory, sounding sleazy and irresistible with its pacing, atmospheric synths. Past the wild guitar riffs and unrelenting percussions, the album closes with I’ve Done It Again and Grace Jones surprises us once more with soft vocals. It’s in sharp contrast to the rest of the album, highlighting her often forgotten skills as a vocalist. Over a haunting bassline, it is a wistful reflection on a deeply lived life and its constant cycle, for better or worse, of renewal. In Art Groupie, she jokes:
Some people like to be used/I’ve been used and amused/ But that’s the way I see me/ My Art Groupie look.
This archetypal combination of strength and vulnerability, as well as the unrepentant androgynous look, enabled Grace Jones to remain a constant in gay culture, an example of resilience and acceptance of one’s own uniqueness.
Nearly 4 decades later, Nightclubbing still embodies all of this-the power of true art continues.
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