Why Grace Jones was the most pioneering queen of pop

As Dijon points out, Jones was always a true original who used her distinctive image to enrich her equally distinctive music. Walking in the Rain, a song by Australian new wave band Flash in the Pan, which she covered on 1981’s Nightclubbing album, her follow-up to Warm Leatherette, almost sounds like a manifesto for Jones. “Feeling like a woman, looking like a man, sounding like a no-no, mating when I can,” she sings with a cool, confident ennui. “This tune was a game-changer – she said it loud and clear about her presentation and it was animalistic and sexual and self-aware,” Dijon says, adding: “It made me feel free to be myself in all of its complex dimensions – she gave me joy and hope.”

Cleverly chosen cover versions were as integral to the success of Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing as Jones’s new, genre-fusing sound and unapologetic singing technique. Instead of suggesting show tunes like Send in the Clowns and Tomorrow, which she recorded during her disco phase, Blackwell encouraged Jones to put her own stamp on “unusual pop” songs by Roxy Music (Love Is the Drug), Iggy Pop (Nightclubbing) and Joy Division (She’s Lost Control). The results had the dramatic, avant-garde edge of her image. “When I sing a song I need to get into character, because it is all theatre to me,” Jones writes in I’ll Never Write my Memoirs, where she also admits that she can’t listen to her version of She’s Lost Control because she interpreted it literally and “lost control to such an extent I scared myself”. 

During this period, Jones also began to hone her songwriting skills. Released as Nightclubbing’s third single, the self-penned Pull Up to the Bumper pivots on a double entendre that perhaps only Jones could pull off – in 2008, she said coyly that it wasn’t “necessarily” about anal sex. Either way, it’s become one of her signature songs and a staple of her fabulous live shows. Jones then co-wrote all but one song on 1982’s Living My Life, the final album she made at Compass Point Studios. Standout tracks include My Jamaican Guy, which Jones sings largely in Jamaican Patois, and Nipple to the Bottle, which offers a bracingly honest account of breastfeeding and motherhood. “When you don’t get what you want, you scream and you shout, you’re still a baby,” Jones sings witheringly.

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