Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Trying Your Patience #1: Nightclubbing


TRYING YOUR PATIENCE is a new weekly (maybe) series, where I highlight a record that doesn't necessarily fall into everyone's comfort zone, but one that I think is essential.


WEEK #1: Grace Jones- Nightclubbing, 1981.

When you think of Grace Jones, if you ever think of Grace Jones, you might think a number of things. Model. Bond villain. Disco diva. Gay icon. I bet "serious recording artist" wouldn't come to mind if you had six more chances. Yet, the trio of records Jones released to kick off the 80's contain some of the most exciting and accessible genre-bending arrangements put to wax, especially the masterpiece of the lot, 1981's "Nightclubbing."

Recorded at Compass Point Studios under the guidance of Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin, "Nightclubbing" takes reggae and funk and adds a bit of punk attitude. It even dares to be artsy. The album delivers, from the Side One needle drop to the inner groove of Side Two

"Nightclubbing" is driven by one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Guitars are handled by long time Marianne Faithful co-conspirator Barry Reynolds and legendary Jamaican producer Mikey Chung. Keyboards are courtesy of studio wiz Wally Badarou. But it's the tunestack that really makes "Nightclubbing" special. 

The record opens with a Harry Vanda & George Young song, once members of The Easybeats, and of course early producers of George's younger brother Angus's band AC/DC.  The original version of "Walking In The Rain" can be found on Vanda & Young's short-lived new wave band Flash & The Pan's debut. You know you're in for a ride when a record opens with a Flash & The Pan cover, barely two years old at the time. It's a perfect beginning. It sets the table, though you won't know where to sit just yet.

Jones also fires up covers of Bill Withers' "Use Me," Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango (I've Seen That Face Before)," the title track, a somewhat faithful yet still very fresh take of the song originally found on Iggy & Bowie's "The Idiot," and "Demolition Man," a song I never cared for by The Police, and another fairly new tune of the day, that here, given an almost Kraftwerk meets Devo makeover, really stands out as one of my favorites on the record.

The most famous track on the record is of course, the hit, a Grace Jones co-write and a disco funk classic, "Pull Up To The Bumper." The iconic car horns, and drum and bass line intro is so funky it'll make your back break. If this one doesn't make you move, check your pulse. Same with "Feel Up," a repetitive groove for sure, but one so joyous, you'll feel like you're in the Caribbean on white sands drinking out of a hollow coconut the size of Aunt Bea.

"Nightclubbing" never puts its feet up. All involved here, the players and the observers, those in front of the mics and those behind the boards, are always on their game. There are no weak spots. The arrangements never feel tossed off or standard. The synths sometime offer hooks, but more often than not, they color the atmosphere in fits and starts. They seem to function as a horn section. And miraculously, they never feel cold. Even the background vocals--like the sharp refrains of "Use Me," not unlike the choir in "The Omen" screaming "SANCTUS," or the subtle low harmony underneath the lead on the second refrain of "Bumper"-- feel as if they could only belong to this session.  

It's as I mentioned, a perfect marriage of reggae, funk, new wave and punk, so that even the most ardent non-supporters of those genres will never be fully subjected to any of it for a trying length of time. With a little patience, you'll be surfing in and out of what you like and what you didn't realize you liked. At least, that's what I am hoping.

And though I love this entire record, my favorite track is the closer, a Marianne Faithful/Barry Reynolds tune called "I've Done It Again" that is absolutely sublime and a perfect way to go out.




This formula began on 1980's "Warm Leatherette," where you will find Grace Jones surrounded by the same set of musicians and producers, covering such artists as Roxy Music, Tom Petty, Smokey Robinson, The Normal (!) and Chrissie Hynde. What followed "Nightclubbing" featured the same team, but mostly with original material, 1982's "Living My Life."  
If "Warm Leatherette" has a more guitar driven, new wave feel, while "Living My Life" leans heavier on the funk and grooves, "Nightclubbing" fits perfectly snug in the middle.
I highly recommend all three, as they play really well one after the other. But first, get started with "Nightclubbing," as it is without question, the best of the three, as well as one of the greatest records of all time.
Give it a shot, preferably uninterrupted from top to bottom.


Anonymous said...

Grace has never tried my patience - I've been a fan for many, many years. I'm most familiar with Nightclubbing and Living My Life (Nipple To The Bottle...Yeah, Baby!!)

You're absolutely right, Sal, there are so many flavors and grooves to the music that meld so wonderfully. I'm also partial to I've Done It Again... a great palate cleanser to the rest of the album.

Her most recent effort, 2008's Hurricane has some outstanding tracks, most notably William's Blood.


Sal Nunziato said...

"William's Blood" is fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,
This was all totally new to me. Can’t recall ever hearing even the hit, Pull Up the Bumper. Very cool. I especially liked Nightclubbing. The slow-to-mid tempo was perfect, and I liked the spiky, slightly flat (sharp?) guitar fills. Worthy of replays. Thanks for heads ip on these.


cmealha said...

Of course, we all had "Pull Up to the Bumper" but she was never the type of artist that I would delve into more deeply. Honestly, she was scary and off-putting. But you have pigued my curiosity with the samples you posted. What the hell, it's not like I have anything else to do. I'll play.

heartsofstone said...

Great choice to start the conversation. Grace was very popular in the NYC clubs at this time.

Anonymous said...

She was fantastic in the Pee Wee Christmas Special.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more on this record. Outstanding from top to bottom,and definitely one of my 10 desert island discs. I play this constantly, and never tire of it.

Théo said...

Also The Apple Stretching

I always think of her sharing an apartment in Paris with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange.

Guillermo Soler said...

Mission accomplished, Sal. For me Grace Jones was basically the weird chic in the second Conan movie. Recently I found out she had covered Tom Petty's "Breakdown". Your post has definitely made me chech what I was missing, which apparently was a lot. So thanks for the suggestion and keep on with this new section.

snakeboy said...

Thanks for opening a closed mind.

jonder said...

I second the recommendation of her "Hurricane" album. The dub version is especially great.

George said...

Great first choice, Sal. If memory serves “Pull Up to the Bumper” and “Warm Leatherette,” at the very least, could be heard at all kinds of live-music clubs, between sets, back then. They cut across musical tastes.

Ken D said...

Sorry I'm late Professor N...
Very surprising to me (in a positive way). My awareness of GJ was limited to "Bumper" and her look. If you'd given me 20 guesses who was singing "I've Done It Again," I'd would have whiffed entirely.
And I have to admit to a bias against performers who appear to be more about fashion and attitude than about music. In this case, my mistake and my loss. But GJ's "presence" must have played a big part in her success.

This one would make for a good blindfold test.

Skylord99 said...

Nice choice and not what I was expecting.... Grace has displayed sheer brilliance in her ability to marry visuals and sound since emerging as a disco singer in the 70's and seamlessly moving from genre to genre through the decades. One of my favorites is the cruisy "I've Seen That Face Before" with it's superb bass lines and cool French influences throughout to accompany Grace's superb vocals. I think I'll dust off a bit of Grace to play this weekend. Thanks Sal.

drfeelgoed said...

Brilliant album, also check out the remastered deluxe with lots of extras, incl. with a great cover of Gary Numan's Me! I Disconnect From You.
I remember seeing Grace first on Dutch tv (TopPop) with Pull Up To The Bumper when I was just a kid, I thought it absolutely horrible, some weird disco shit, not my cup of tea at all. Fast forward 15 years or so when I heard her version of Love Of The Drug and it suddenly clicked, those 3 albums are mind-blowing.
If you like the sound of her backing band - Compass Point All Stars - do check out Barry Reynolds only amazing album 'I Scare Myself', Black Uhuru's 'Red' + 'Chill Out' and Joe Cocker's 'Sheffield Steel', all roughly from the same period!

Chris Collins said...

Love this song and love this album. I was vaguely familiar with her stuff, but I saw a great doc about her about 5 years ago and dove into the whole catalogue. This one was my fave. Great stuff

Michael Giltz said...

I'm not perfect, Sal. But I'm perfect for you! Strong first choice. Shockingly NOT available as an album on Spotify. I can make a playlist of every track except for the missing "Art Groupie." I know the (club) hits from her years as a wonderfully commanding presence but never checked out an album. Thx!