Feeling like a woman. Looking like a man. It’s the lyric that Grace Jones turned upside down and inside out on her 1981 album Nightclubbing.
Taken from the otherwise forgotten Australian band Flash & The Pan’s tune Walking In The Rain, it became the album’s opener and neatly summed up the image on the cover showing the 33-year-old Jamaica-born singer’s onyx-like skin and muscular cleavage peeking out from the harsh cut of a suit jacket while she sports an impressively angular flat top.
Making her first splash in the fashion world, the six-foot-tall singer then turned her attention in the late ’70s to New York City’s club scene, releasing three albums with disco mix king Tom Moulton, which now serve mainly as historical curiosities thanks to Jones’s take on dusty classics such as Send In The Clowns and La Vie En Rose.
Signing up with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records proved to be yet another successful business move for the in-demand model. But it also turned out to be an incendiary artistic move as well, thanks to Blackwell’s decision to team her up with the Compass Point All Stars, based in a studio in Nassau in the Bahamas. The band had the power to make any of us overnite sensations, boasting the legendary dub reggae combo of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare alongside guitarist Mikey Chung and synth player Wally Badarou. Just listen to the magic they performed on Black Uhuru’s classic album Chill Out if you need any convincing.
And from their tropical HQ, a new trio of albums followed in just three short years: Warm Leatherette in 1980, Nightclubbing in 1981 and Living My Life in 1982. And like the ‘nuclear bomb’ Jones summons on Nightclubbing’s title track, the albums seemed to raze everything in their path, scoring a new direction for a slew of genres and striking a victory for Jones’ inimitable sexually aggressive style of androgyny.
This new reissue from Island Records (available as either two CDs or two LPs) does justice to the full force of Jones’ power as a singer and musical visionary, leaving any other attempts to catalogue this period of the label, the All Stars, or Jones in the dust. It succeeds by cleaning up the sound measurably from the original album, but it also finally assembles the full arsenal of her 12” mixes – which are essentially traditional Jamaican dubs with some unusual special flourishes crafted by the All Stars.
Being able to jump from the album version of Pull Up To The Bumper and the seven-minute-plus remixed version offers an insight into just how elastic both the band and Jones could be as the extended version effortlessly shows them pulling off a musical sleight of hand. As the extended tune begins, they appear just happy to force the song into a warm, languid jam before subtly increasing the tempo to offer a more dancefloor-friendly beat. It’s heady stuff indeed.
The reissue also provides an interesting critical comparison to her first efforts with Tom Moulton, as she’s still largely singing other people’s songs. But she’s chosen much better songs here, as well as having a surer band and having grown in confidence both as a singer and as an artistic personality. Of the nine tunes on the album, only Feel Up came from her hand, while Pull Up To The Bumper and Art Groupie were co-written by Jones. The rest are a motley yet thoroughly successful collection of tunes, such as the come-on-I-dare-you offer she extends on Use Me (Bill Withers), Nightclubbing (from Iggy Pop’s The Idiot) and Demolition Man, later recorded by The Police on their 1981 album Ghost In The Machine. The reissue also produces a frankly bizarre and previously unreleased take on Me! I Disconnect From You by Gary Numan & The Tubeway Army from album Replicas.
Anyone who attended Island’s 50th birthday party celebrations at the Shepherds Bush Empire in 2009 will know how awesome a combination Grace Jones and the Compass Point All Stars can make. And this well-assembled and documented reissue does justice to that very unlikely amalgamation of musical pranksters once and for all, finally presenting the nearly two hours of genre-busting music in its full glory.
The Deluxe Edition of Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing is out now through UMC.