James Hurley recalls meeting the newly-deceased rock legend...
The Queen of music Grace Jones meets HRH The Queen!
Grace Jones meets the Queen (What a face, Rob Brydon!)
When chatshow host Russell Harty died in 1988, aged just 53, the clip most frequently shown on the news was of a "tired and emotional" Grace Jones repeatedly slapping him for daring to turn away from her during a live show, in November 1980. Such was the impact of her violent outburst, which cemented her reputation as a diva, that it'll most likely be the clip they show when Grace leaves us too. During the interview, she became convinced Russell was ignoring her, and had warned him not to, when he was simply turning to speak to his other guest - photographer W.A. Poucher. Earlier she'd struggled to answer the questions and even slipped off her chair at one point, having not been to bed from the previous night.
In a story which may sound familiar to Lady GaGa fans, Grace began her career on the nightclub scene of New York as a model, go-go dancer and artist's muse (to Andy Warhol no less, seen frequently in his company at the infamous Studio 54 disco). But as she told The Guardian in 2008: "Modeling was all in between things, just to pay the rent. But then I shaved my eyebrows, shaved my head and they didn't like that and I was, 'OK, I'm out of here.'" What Grace created as she clipped her afro locks was one of the most iconic hairstyles of the 80s. First seen on 1980's Warm Leatherette album sleeve, Grace's flawless flattop proved to be more of an influence on men than women, becoming one of the key cuts of the decade for street tough dudes.
Grace Jones performs at the Diamond Jubilee
The Island Life sleeve
Whether knowingly or not, Grace and her partner Jean-Paul Goode frequently created images for her sleeves which epitomized the post-modern art movement of the age. Jones' face and hair matched the bold, geometric shapes that defined the look of the 80s. But for the cover of her 1985 best-of compilation Island Life, Goode took that look to literally impossible lengths, cutting and painting several separate images of her body and assembling them into an unfeasible, yet convincing arabesque ballet pose. Grace's skin shines as if made from some luxurious but synthetic resin, in an image often imitated but rarely equaled in impact.
Pull Up to The Bumper
If you'll forgive a personal reminiscence, one Christmas I found a copy of Grace Jones' Pull Up To The Bumper in my cousin's otherwise depressingly MOR record collection. Asking him to put it on, in the hope of livening up the familial gathering, he solemnly replied, "No. It's a bit weird". And 31 years later it still is; brilliantly weird and unlike any record made before or since. Initially rejected by producer Chris Blackwell for being too R&B to sit comfortably with the rest of the tracks on 1980's Warm Leatherette album, its innuendo laden lyrics were unleashed the following year, giving her a Top 20 hit (that was a success in those days). An intoxicating cocktail of funk, new wave and disco played at a Jamaican pace; just listening to it makes you feel drunk. It would've been perfect for Christmas.
Slave to the Rhythm
In 1985 Grace released arguably her greatest single (it certainly has one of the best intros of any record). But since it was produced by Trevor Horn at the height of his remixing powers, Slave To The Rhythm became an entire album - an entire album of, essentially, the same song. Originally written for and demoed by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Slave's various deconstructions and reinterpretations were interspersed with snippets of an interview with Grace, by journalist Paul Morley, and passages of Jones' design/love partner Jean-Paul Goode's autobiography, read by none other than Lovejoy/Deadwood actor Ian McShane. When Grace performed the song in front of Prince Charles and Camilla, at a 2004 Prince's Trust show at Wembley, she ended by screaming at the crowd: "You're all f***ing slaves!" No one ever said she was subtle.
Grace began her career on the nightclub scene of New York as a model, go-go dancer and artist’s muse!
My Jamaican Guy
The best pop artists utilize their immediate musical influences to create something new and unique to them. This is what Grace did with My Jamaican Guy, the first single from her 1982 album Living My Life. The song was written about an unrequited and undeclared love for Tyrone Downie, keyboard player with Bob Marley's Wailers, and features her mother on backing vocals (uncredited so her church didn't find out). And while the track is heavily infused in reggae and dub, you couldn't really describe it as either. With 21st century ears, My Jamaican Guy sounds like a precursor to the studio concocted, eclectic pop experiments of M.I.A. or Santigold. And in 1995, LL Cool J sampled it on his Gold selling single Doin' It. Inexplicably, My Jamaican Guy wasn't even a hit. It sure sounds like one.
Having one of the best barnets in pop hasn't prevented Ms Jones from sporting some truly inspired millinery over the years. But since 2008, Grace has been adorned with the creations of headgear genius Phillip Treacy, during her live shows. The highlight of which sees the star don a Treacy-designed mirror hat (basically a wearable disco ball) and stand directly under a laser beam as she sings her cover of Roxy Music's Love Is The Drug. The effect, for such a simple idea, is quite extraordinary, making her head appear to gone supernova. Videos don't so it justice, this has to be seen to be believed. The same show also sees her hula-hoop for the duration of Slave To The Rhythm whilst wearing a cat mask. Like we said, it has to be seen.
Grace had a *ehem* few people to help her backstage
A View To A Kill
Although two Bond films had already been released in the plastic age, it took 1985's A View To A Kill to truly pull 007 out of the 70s, thanks in no small part to Grace Jones as May Day, a henchwoman with super human strength, capable of lifting KGB agents above her head with ease (a useful skill for the head of security and lover of a super villain). Her parachute jump off of the Eiffel Tower was a smooth move, blowing herself up with a bomb designed to flood Silicon Valley slightly less so (microchips were all the rage in the 80s). Grace used her own powers to secure her then boyfriend, the Swedish beefcake Dolph Lundgren, a walk-on role. Not to take anything away from Duran Duran, but they really should've let her sing the title song too.
The Citroen CX
Musicians should never appear in adverts. As comedian Bill Hicks used to say, "If you do an advert then you are off the artistic register forever". That is unless the commercial in question becomes an extension of your art. In 1985, Citroen turned to Jean-Paul Goude to direct an ad for their series II CX. Naturally, Jean-Paul saw this as an opportunity to put Grace on the screen in a striking and unforgettable sequence which saw a mechanized Jones emerge in the desert and spit out the car from her segmented mouth. She swallows it again at the end, and burps. Yep, car adverts were weird in the 80s too.
So many singers whose heyday is behind them struggle to assimilate and adapt to the changes that happen in music. But since Grace's sound was ahead of its time to begin with, it should come as no surprise that her first album in nearly 20 years, 2008's Hurricane sounded simultaneously current and classic. Housed in a Banksy-designed sleeve, featuring Jones' head cast in chocolate, the album incorporates every element of her previous musical trademarks, with an added malevolent electronic edge. An impressive cast of collaborators included Brian Eno, Tony Allen, Sly & Robbie, Wendy and Lisa and Trip Hop pioneer Tricky, with whom she'd first recorded the title track in 1997 only for the pair to fall out after a series of disagreements. Some things never change.