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The 11 best Grace Jones songs

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? We rank Grace Jones' 11 best tracks ahead of her UK summer dates

“And now, ladies and gentlemen… Here’s Grace!” the Jamaican-born, New York-raised vocalist, actor, model and muse Grace Jones tells us seven minutes into ‘Slave To The Rhythm – (Hot) Blooded Version’, as if she ever needed the introduction. Her discography, acting credits, 80s posse – which included Naomi Campbell, Fela Kuti, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol – and status as a bastion of boundary-pushing androgynous fashion have carved an avant-garde lane that only Grace could inhabit.

Unabashed in discussing themes of poverty, sexuality, love and vulnerability – all set against sonics that both celebrate her Jamaican heritage with reggae and dub, and the futuristic pop-rock that defined an era – Grace Jones is musical landmark. And with industry mainstays, from Beyoncé to Janelle Monáe to Jodie Turner-Smith all citing Grace as an inspiration and idol, it’s clear that Ms Jones’ reach and influence is not stopping any time soon.

It’s hard to even quantify or rank a catalogue as mammoth, genre-bending, and explorative as Grace Jones’ work, but ahead of her summer headline shows at Live At The Piece Hall and Love Motion respectively, we rank her best 11 songs.

11. ‘Slave To The Rhythm – (Hot) Blooded Version’

(Slave To The Rhythm – Single, 1985)

There are three most well-known versions of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ – originally titled ‘Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones’. The radio edit, at a calm four-minute and 20 seconds; the album version; and the “(Hot) Blooded” version, which kicks off our list. Produced by Trevor Horn, the sweeping rock-tinged R&B track features Grace’s all-encompassing alto vocals crescendo for a full eight minutes. As she reminds us to “breathe”, “dance”, “work”, “live” and “love” to the rhythm, the 70s funk bass-line charging through the song provides an easy rhythm for us to do all activities on her list.

10. ‘Party Girl’

(Inside Story, 1986)

Inside Story is often the forgotten body of work in Jones’ repertoire, with the shift from her usual island pop in favour of the classic Nile Rodgers-produced groove that defined the 80s. However, this change in sonic direction allowed room for ‘Party Girl’, a fitting title for a known patron of the infamous Studio 54. The lyrics are an ode to the freedom of movement on the dancerfloor, with an extra focus on the allure of the party girl “energy is like the sun”; whilst the song’s production still has whispers of the reggae/island pop that characterises Grace Jones’ work.

9. ‘The Apple Stretching’

(Living My Life, 1983)

Written by Melvin Van Peebles for his semi-autobiographical play, Waltz Of The Stork, reggae disco track ‘The Apple Stretching’ describes a morning in New York City and spares no embellishment or softness. While her delivery is strong and poetic, the themes of over-policed neighbourhoods, and the scents of pollution and international cuisine, allow a depth to the song that feels authentic and vulnerable. Clocking in at seven-minutes long, ‘The Apple Stretching’ is both a love letter and a scathing review of one of the world’s most well-known Big Cities.

8. ‘Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York City’

(Fame, 1978)

Continuing the theme of life in the big city, our eighth spot goes to ‘Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York City’. A disco ballad exploring the emotional rollercoaster of trying to find true love, connection and intimacy in New York. From the 1978 album Fame, this track is a prime example of the vastness of themes, topics and subjects explored by Grace in her expansive and boundary-pushing catalogue. Especially considering that this ballad comes from her sophomore album, this is Grace Jones establishing herself as an artist to be reckoned with – one who can be the sensual and unabashedly femme on Portfolio‘s ‘La Vie En Rose’, and big, brassy and able to show off her impressive vocal tone on ‘Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love in New York City’. This song is a tribute to Grace Jones’ multifacetedness as as artist.

7. ‘La Vie En Rose’

(Portfolio, 1977)

Is there ever going to be a debut album quite like Portfolio? Produced by the incomparable Tom Moulton, the album was Jones’ first commercial chart success after a string of singles released just after her modelling career. Featuring her own reinterpretation of Édith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’; a summery and incredibly chic bossa nova track that lifts itself from a cover to a feeling like an original – another Grace Jones superpower.

6. ‘Love You To Life (Dub)’

(Hurricane/Dub, 2011)

The dub remix of Grace’s 2008 album Hurricane belongs in the soundsystems of Notting Hill Carnival that celebrate reggae subcultures (those that are usually run by the elders who pioneered the sound) – and I believe that’s exactly what Grace intended. A frequent celebrant of her Jamaican roots and never one to shy away from incorporating those roots in her music, her dub album is a true testament to that. Produced by IVOR GUEST, the dub bassline of ‘Love You To Life (Dub)’ pairs seamlessly with Grace’s vocal stacks and spoken word, and is a hidden gem in already illustrious catalogue.

5. ‘My Jamaican Guy’

(Living My Life, 1983)

A top five without ‘My Jamaican Guy’ would be criminal. With a vocal performance in patois, and Caribbean sonic elements – that keyboard riff in particular that has been sampled by LL Cool J, Kid ‘N Play, Le Shaun, Keri Hilson, La Roux and more – ‘My Jamaican Guy’ is a music history staple. Plus, the added layer of the lyrics being about Grace Jones’ relationship with Bob Marley’s keyboardist, Tyrone Downie, adds a subtle vulnerability to a dancefloor-filler that only Grace Jones can pull off.

4. ‘Nightclubbing’

(Nightclubbing, 1981)

The title track of Grace Jones’ 1981 album, Nightclubbing, our fourth spot spans a multitude of genres, including elements of rock, reggae and new wave, and is a cover of Iggy Pop’s 1977 track ‘Nightclubbing’ – with signature Grace Jones flair. Again, a track that has solidified itself in music, particularly hip hop history, with that familiar bassline often associated with Barrington Levy’s scatting over Shyne’s ‘Bad Boyz’, but Grace (as usual) did it first, and did it so well.

3. ‘Send In The Clowns’

(Portfolio, 1977)

We are back at Portfolio for Grace’s refreshingly original cover of the Broadway classic, ‘Send In The Clowns’, another instance of Grace taking an already world-famous song that already has multiple renditions and turning it in a beautiful R&B and disco mainstay that is distinctly hers. It also allows us to really take in Grace as a vocalist, with a soulful and emotional delivery over a Tom Moulton 70s masterpiece.

2. ‘On Your Knees’

(Muse, 1979)

If Grace tells us to get down our knees, we’re getting down on our knees – especially with this disco epic from Jones’ album, Muse. With an album run of Portfolio, Fame and Muse all within a year of each other, one would assume that each album would lose steam or fail to capture the sensuous, androgynous island disco style that Grace Jones is known for, but luckily for us, that is nowhere near the truth. ‘On Your Knees’, a six-minute and 30-second thumping disco track, shows us just that – and deserves a top two spot for its infectious combination of bongo drums, trilling sparkly ad-libs and Grace’s unmistakable vocal performance – where at one point, she literally yells at us to “get down right now”. Who are we to argue?

1. ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’

(Nightclubbing, 1981)

A staple in every household celebration, ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ is the triumphant lead single from 1981’s Nightclubbing, written by Grace Jones herself and produced by Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar. The uptempo new wave, R&B and disco track contains a chicness that only Grace embodies, despite the song’s early controversy of being pulled from radio play for its suggestive lyrics (“Let me blow your horn”, “Let me lubricate it”…). Nevertheless, the song has been remixed, played and covered more times than we can count.

Grace Jones plays The Piece Hall in Halifax on 22 June, and Crystal Palace Bowl in London on 26 July. Find tickets here