Episode 13: NIGHTCLUBBING

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NIGHTCLUBBING – Grace Jones – Island Records – 1981

Music. Fashion. Art. Icon. Attempting to mix these to create an internationally acclaimed persona would be a daunting task for anyone with less magnetism than Grace Jones, who succeeded so overwhelmingly at becoming a cross-genre “It Girl” that she forged a path for future generations of singular artists to follow.

Already a well-known model and disco queen, Grace Jones began recording music in the late 1970s. The records did modestly well, but in 1979, Island Records founder and producer Chris Blackwell began working with her on a new musical aesthetic, combining funk, disco, reggae, and new wave styles to create something new — and uniquely Grace Jones. With the talents of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Uziah Thompson, and other musicians who comprised the Compass Point All-Stars, the sessions that became Nightclubbing would go on to influence music through each subsequent decade.

As we seek to bridge the gap between the generations, there are few better examples of lasting musical, sartorial, and artistic inspiration than Grace Jones. In today’s episode on her 1981 album Nightclubbing, we explore the effervescent enigma of a woman who left her Jamaican home to travel the world, only to return to the Caribbean to create the music that would become the focal point of her legacy. We dive deep into the relationships between music and art, between the artist and the image, and between icon and legacy. 

Listen to Nightclubbing: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

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Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Forest Hills is honestly one of the most magical, historic venues in the city. Definitely try to get to a show there, if you can.
  • Fairfield, Connecticut and the people who live there are delightful, and the Fairfield Theatre Company is such a great space to check out a show. It’s so close to New York on the train! And it’s green! In this summer of subway hell, maybe skip the L and hit up the New Haven Metro-North line instead.
    • As we’ve mentioned before, we love love love FTC’s Emerging Artists Series. Here’s more info on the next installment on August 21 with Easter Island and Oak House. You know we’ll be there.
    • If you love harmonies and feels as much as we do, check out the Wild Reeds. You won’t be disappointed.
  • If you love punk, post-punk, rock, soul, psychedelia, and/or a combination of all of them, check out Lulu Lewis! We’ve mentioned them before, but we’re not gonna stop anytime soon because we really dig their music and hope you do, too.
  • We’ve mentioned this before, but once again, Chris Blackwell is a BAMF.
  • As is Alex Sadkin.
  • Revisit our episode on Betty Davis’s They Say I’m Different and let us know if you see any similarities between Betty and Grace.
  • TURN TF UP FOR COMPASS POINT 👏 👏 👏
    • Here’s a rad podcast we literally just found that serves as a mini audio-documentary on the studio and some of the cool people who passed through and the records they made.
    • ALSO, TURN TF UP FOR THE COMPASS POINT ALL-STARS 👏 👏 👏
    • Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Barry Reynolds, and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson are all killer musicians on their own, but the sum = magic
    • Peep our further reading for more on them.
  • A lot of Nightclubbing actually comes from sessions for Warm Leatherette; THAT’S how good they were.
  • Let’s talk about this album cover!
    • First and foremost: Grace Jones is the OG baddie, textbook unfuckwithable. (Confused what that means? Good thing we have our glossary.)
    • Especially, let’s talk about John Paul Goude. Here’s one article about their working relationship, but check out our further reading for more.
  • Here’s that “I came to slay” Grace Jones-Pee Wee’s Christmas Special appearance we were talking about. Childhood memories are crazy, y’all.
  • This album is full of cover songs, so check out our master playlist on Spotify for all the side by side comparisons.
  • Here’s that incredibly in-depth lecture with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth at Red Bull Music Academy. The link will take you right to the part where they discuss Compass Point and the creative community there, but we highly recommend watching all of it. It’s a good one.
  • Check out the further reading links below for a piece about Grace Jones’s androgynous impact on fashion and music that’s worth reading, if you’re interested.
  • Turnup for Stromae. (Carly recommends watching these videos for Tous Les Memes” or Papaoutai.”)
  • If “Pull Up To The Bumper” doesn’t give you time-machine-going-out feels, maybe this isn’t the podcast for you 👀
  • Turnup for Fonce Mizell.  
  • No, really, they don’t have street numbers at Compass Point, so if we ever by any chance get an apartment or house there, Funky Spaceship is on the short list of names.
  • Here’s some science stuff about how Compass Point’s engineers EQ’d the bass and the drums the way they did that creates that cool, loud-but-open sound.
  • Hey, if anyone knows a physicist who can make us a time machine, hit us up.
  • If you want to read Grace’s ironically titled memoir, follow the link in our further reading section below.
  • Here are the translated lyrics to “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango),” if you’d like a more thorough explanation than Carrie’s subpar French can offer. (She tried. Also, if anyone wants to tutor her, she’s willing to re-learn.)
  • Visuals are a huge part of this album — see our further watching section below for some great links.
  • Buckle up. We’re about to take you down a musical rabbit hole: Compass Point edition. It’s gonna be fun.
    • Of course we’re going to bring up the rhythmic similarities between Grace Jones/Sly and Robbie and Frantz and Weymouth, even though it’s all mostly unintentional. They were all recording in the same place at the same time — studio osmosis is a pretty cool thing.
    • Add this to the list of mashups we’d very much like: Tom Tom Club’s “As Above So Below” vs. Grace Jones’s “Feel Up”
    • Tom Tom Club’s woke-and-dope sophomore album Close To The Bone isn’t on Spotify or iTunes for some reason (???), but we highly recommend you listen to it. YouTube is the real MVP — here you go.
    • Also, while you’re there — how great would a Grace Jones cover of Bamboo Town” be?
    • Okay, dig: the bassline on Grace Jones’s “Love is the Drug” sounds very similar to the bassline on Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless”
    • OMG THERE’S MORE! The “Crosseyed and Painless” bassline also sounds a lot like the bassline on “Feel Up,” so now we’ve come full circle.
    • “Y, tho?” you’re probably asking. The short story: it’s because all three basslines are outliers to pre-established bass aesthetics. Rather than being funky and melodic, as per usual, they’re pointed grooves (that happen to sound similar) and serve as anchors to keep busy, polyrhythmic songs from running away.
    • Wild, right?
  • Here’s more info about “Demolition Man” so you can learn what exactly Sting was talking about when he wrote it.
  • “I’ve Done It Again” is probably about an LSD trip, so, there’s that.
  • Grace Jones has an enormous legacy. Here’s a short list of information:
    • Grace Jones was and is a huge gay icon, and this album has been noted for its gay following.
    • Artists who have Grace to thank for paving the way for connecting music, fashion, and art: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Madonna, Janelle Monae… the list goes on and on.
    • Grace’s influence on fashion has also been vast and long-lasting.
  • Finally, worth repeating here, the final paragraph of Grace’s memoir: “If people complain that I am not doing enough of my old material, not performing all the hits, I will stand in front of them, a formlessness that engulfs all form. I will put on another hat, crack my whip, scatter fireflies, fix them with a five-thousand-year-old stare, fit to fight to the bitter end, becoming a ghost with the passing of time. I will be ready for the afterlife, for my bones to be buried in the mountains of Jamaica, or the canals of Venice, or the dark side of the moon, or under the ground in the cities I’ve lived in and loved. And I will say: Do you want to move forward with me, or not? Do you want to know where I am going next? It’s time for something else to happen.

Favorite track(s): Feel Up and Pull Up To The Bumper (Carly) | Pull Up To The Bumper and Feel Up (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Art Groupie (Carly) | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) (Carrie)

Album credits:
Wally Badarou – keyboards
Monte Browne – rhythm guitar
Mikey Chung – guitar
Masai Delon – vocals
Tyrone Downie – keyboards, vocals
Sly Dunbar – drums, syndrums
Jack Emblow – accordion
Grace Jones – vocals, backing vocals
Barry Reynolds – guitar
Jess Roden – vocals
Robbie Shakespeare – bass
Mel Speller – percussion, vocals
Uziah Thompson – percussion
Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin – production

Further Watching: 
Grace Jones: One Man Show | 1982
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (trailer) | Forthcoming documentary

Further Reading:
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs | Jones’s irony, please memoir (2015)
Grace Jones: Warm Leatherette (re-issue review) | Pitchfork (June 2016)
Welcome to Planet Grace Jones | Paper Magazine (October 2015) 
Grace Jones Explores Androgyny in a New Memoir | Vogue (September 2015)
As Much As I Can, As Black As I Am: The Queer History of Grace Jones | Pitchfork (August 2015)
I’ve Seen That Face Before: Looking back on Grace Jones’s iconic Nightclubbing with the people who made it happen | Fact Magazine (May 2014) 
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (deluxe re-issue review) | Pitchfork (May 2014)
Grace Jones pulls up to the bumper | The Guardian (June 2011)
Chris Blackwell | Interview Magazine (March 2009)
Grace Jones by Jean Paul Goude | V Magazine (February 2009) 

 

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