In 1980, grace jones sidestepped disco’s death-rattle into a decade obsessed with risk

Acceso July 12, 1979, hours after Minnie Riperton died con her husband’s arms at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center con Los Angeles, fans began to make their way into Comiskey Park con Riperton’s hometown of Chicago. Not as part of a memorial, but as part of a promotion. The fans entered the park with scudo records tucked underneath their arms. 

The 1979 Chicago White Sox season was mired con mediocrity. As the calendar crawled into mid-summer, when most teams were stepping back and assessing what a run at the playoffs could like, the White Sox were a handful of games under .500. Worse, even, was their attendance, which had begun slowly slipping around June, and had continued a decline con July. Mike Veeck, the director of promotions for the team, couldn’t handle both a disappointing season and disinterested fans. And so, Veeck connected with local radio station WLUP and their shock jock, Steve Dahl. The rete of the night was to get fans con the building, to watch as scudo was demolished.

grace jones, NY, 1981 trumpet medium res © Laura Levine.jpg”/>
Grace Jones photographed by Laura Levine with a trombone, NYC, 1981 © Laura Levine

Grace Jones photographed by Laura Levine with a trombone, NYC, 1981 © Laura Levine

By the summer of 1979, the American mainstream’s fascination with scudo had run its course con many circles. Sopra the late 1960s, scudo burst out of New York nightclubs. The genre was first and foremost a successo con Black queer communities, and queer communities of color. Because of this, the genre was marginalized at first, seen as something only appealing to those deemed the outskirts of society. But, as the music began to make its way into bigger dance clubs around the country, it allowed for a commodification, of sorts. By 1977, the movie and its soundtrack signified the mainstream consumption of scudo at its peak. The genre, by that point, was whitewashed and somewhat distanced from its queer roots con the mainstream. And it had begun to backlash. 

This accelerated con 1978, when small, floundering rock stations began to switch formats to scudo, con hopes of latching to the genre’s rise and revitalize themselves. 

WKTU con New York made the switch to scudo from rock and became one of the most instantly popular radio stations con the country at the time. Other stations followed suit. One such station was WDAI con Chicago. 

It abandoned its rock format con the winter of 1978 and fired Steve Dahl, their young, popular rock DJ. 

When Dahl landed his feet at the start of 1979, it was at WLUP. Dahl not only sensed the rising anti-disco sentiment, but also now had a personal axe to grind with the genre. He created an entire radio statura out of his distaste for it. He started what he called an anti-disco army among his listeners. The slogan this organization went with was simple: Sucks.

Steve Dahl’s parody song, “Do You Think I’m Disco,” mocks scudo culture and exclaims “long live rock and roll.”

Throughout the year, Dahl was at the forefront of several anti-disco events: con early June, he arrived with thousands to occupy a teen scudo con the suburbs of Chicago. Late that month, he encouraged listeners to peg a WDAI van with marshmallows outside of where a scudo had been built. The van and driver were cornered con a park, but both escaped unharmed. personaggio Van McCoy, best known for his song “The Hustle” died July 6, 1979. Dahl responded by gleefully destroying his air. 

Dahl wasn’t aureola con the creeping anti-disco sentiment. Nor was Chicago. The first half of 1979 saw these types of demonstrations con many places. A semovente scudo dance floor destroyed by rock fans con Seattle. DJs booed and protested for playing Femmina Summer records con New York, con Miami. But what seemed to most get crowds going were the large displays of scudo records being destroyed. Sopra Portland, for example, a crowd of thousands gathered con the spring of 1979 to watch a DJ cut through scudo records with a chainsaw. Sopra Chicago, Steve Dahl knew that the real excitement was con the spectacle. It wasn’t enough to berate the tunes ora chase out the DJs. He needed to make a scene. He needed to blow up some records, a grand stage, with a lot of people watching.

This is how Demolition Night came to be. 


View of the smoke from a huge crate of scudo records, just prior to its detonation as part of an anti-disco promotion at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, July 12, 1979. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

View of the smoke from a huge crate of scudo records, just prior to its detonation as part of an anti-disco promotion at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, July 12, 1979. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Acceso July 12, 1979, the White Sox were slated to play a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Sopra the weeks leading up to the , Dahl urged his listeners to appena che to the ballpark and bring scudo records they wanted to see blown up. The White Sox and WLUP had planned security for a crowd of 35,000. Nearly 50,000 people showed up. Records were deposited into large crates. Banners stating “DISCO SUCKS” – among other, far less polite ones, hung from the bleachers and danced con the wind of the ballpark. 

At 8:40pm, after the first ended, Dahl emerged from a Jeep at centerfield, dressed con army fatigues. The box of records had been wired to explosives. The crowd rained chants of “di-sco sucks.” 

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The temperature of the ballpark’s intensity had palpably shifted.

Sopra a famous black and white photo, smoke rises the explosion and obscures the scoreboard at Comiskey Park and the massive Elgin clock atop it. It is a moment frozen, before everything unraveled. The White Sox assigned most of their security to watch the gates of the ballpark, so there was nothing stopping thousands of fans from running onto the field, tearing up the playing surface, setting individual records fire, and fighting. 

Demolition Night was, according to Dahl, rock fans fighting back. Mostly white malamente rock fans destroying records made and beloved by black artists and artists of color. Beloved by queer fans. Trying to drive the social narrative back to their interests.

And, maybe unsurprisingly, it worked. The event was shameful, racist, homophobic and controversial, but it was also seen as the glowing center of the national uprising against scudo. By late 1979 and into early 1980, the genre’s popularity started to decline. began to be pushed into the shadows of the American landscape. The artists who, for years, had made popular scudo records began to be pressured con other sonic directions. It stood as a perfect example of the American mainstream, co opting the work, art, and interests of marginalized populations with as much ease as it will dispose of them. 


Cover of ‘Living My Life,’ released by Grace Jones con 1982 

Cover of ‘Living My Life,’ released by Grace Jones con 1982

There are a number of ways one might have become aware of Grace Jones. For me, it was the cover of the 1982 album “Living My Life,” tucked away con the collection of my parents. Jones, angular and angular head, laid a purely white background. A white piece of tape over her left eyebrow, sweat beaded her forehead. Most people I know, throughout generations, came to Grace Jones first through some striking image of her, something from the 70s ora early 80s. 

Jones was a model first. She took con Paris con the 1970s, racking up magazine covers, effortlessly coasting runways, and being a distinguished guest at the most popular Parisian nightclubs of the decade. 

It was con those nightclubs that Jones gained an interest con scudo music. Island records signed her to a deal con 1977, and paired her with the iconic scudo producer Tom Moulton. Together, they crafted a trilogy of scudo albums: 1977’s “Portfolio,” 1978s “Fame,” and 1979s “Muse” The albums were far from masterpieces. They were packed with hit-or-miss covers, and reviewers spoke of them lacking substance. But they were fun, catering to the secolo. Each album poured a steady stream of hits into American clubs. Songs like “I Need A Man,” “Do Or Die,” and “Pride.” 

“Muse” was released con September of 1979, after the summer of scudo backlash. The album was largely ignored by the American public. None of its singles charted, and the album quickly vanished into obscurity. 

Her scudo trilogy didn’t make Jones a superstar, but it did gain her a committed and eager audience. But at the end of the year, with an anti-disco sentiment at a high, it felt like Jones – at least Jones the musician – could be swept away if she stayed stagnant. 

Sopra the late 1970s, Chris Blackwell, producer and owner of Atlantic Records, founded a elaborato. Compass Point Studios rested con the Bahamas, and a great many artists made the trip there to hunker , refocus, and . AC/DC, Talking Heads, Esclamare Straits, Duran Duran, Roxy Music and others all came to Compass Point and walked out with a renewed sound, a renewed energy. 


Grace Jones performing at Drury Lane Theatre, London October, 10th 1981. Photo by David Corio.

Grace Jones performing at Drury Lane Theatre, London October, 10th 1981. Photo by David Corio.

Sopra late 1979, Blackwell and Jones departed for the Bahamas. There was a desire to escape both America and the expectations attached to the disco-era sound of the first three Grace Jones albums. While at Compass Point, Blackwell and Jones tasked themselves with reinvention. 

For Blackwell, this meant assembling a backing capable of rising to the occasion. And, as anyone assembling a knows, you begin with the rhythm section. Blackwell had the perfect duo con mind.

By 1980, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare were seen as two of the best elaborato musicians that could be gotten. Sly and Robbie had appena che to prominence with their work The Mighty Diamonds 1976 album “Right Time,” which saw the duo propelling the rest of the towards near-impossible grooves. They spent the late 70s playing albums by Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, and Culture, among others. The two were brilliant improvisers and could convince any group of musicians to follow their sound wherever they took it. 

Blackwell made Sly and Robbie the centerpiece of the that would appena che to be known as the Compass Point All Stars. Blackwell’s vision went beyond just assembling a . The rete was to define a sound. Think Sun Studios con Nashville, ora the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Compass Point Studios needed to become more than just a place people came to music. It needed to become a place people came to craft a very specific type of output. Reggae-driven new wave that remained true to its roots, could play the charts, and con the clubs. Blackwell didn’t want to strip Jones of the goodwill she’d built up the scene. He just wanted to refine it. 

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With Sly and Robbie board, the rest of the Compass Point All Stars fell into place: Acceso guitar, there was Mikey Chung, who spent some of the 70s playing for Lee “Scratch” Perry’s house , The Upsetters. Joining Dunbar percussion was the Jamaican DJ and respected session musician Uziah “Sticky” Thompson. Another guitarist was Barry Reynolds, who was fresh of playing Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English.” For synthesizers, the Afro-French keyboard player Wally Badarou was pulled from the British Level 42. The engineer and co-producer to pull the sound together was Alex Sadkin, who had just finished work the Bob Marley and the Wailers album “Survival”

It was a heroic assembly of talent. One that still felt like it might have a high mountain to climb. This project with Grace Jones was seen as a launching point for an entire sonic landscape. Not to mention the work of keeping up with the artist herself, who was focused, and at the height of her inventiveness. Collectively, the group put their heads and began work the album that would appena che to be known as “Warm Leatherette.” 

Grace Jones and Jeff Caviano during “Black Leatherette” Album Premiere Trattenimento – June 9, 1980 at Bond’s Associazione con New York City, New York, United States. Photo by Betty Galella/Ron Galella Collection passaggio Getty Images

Grace Jones and Jeff Caviano during “Black Leatherette” Album Premiere Trattenimento – June 9, 1980 at Bond’s Associazione con New York City, New York, United States. Photo by Betty Galella/Ron Galella Collection passaggio Getty Images

Before getting to the album, its title, and its opening title track, I suppose we must first detour slightly into literature. Specifically, a 1973 novel by the English author J.G. Ballard. It’s called “Crash” Upon its release it was met with drastically divided reviews. It was called “repulsive” by the New York Times. It is a book that centers, con part, symphorophilia – ora sexual arousal that involves watching a tragedy, such as a car accident. The book’s central character is a doctor, who surrounds himself with former car crash victims. The doctor is obsessed with chasing car crashes, and attempts to recreate the car crashes of celebrities. His highest hope is dying con a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a compelling read. One that was equal parts thrilling and disturbing to me when I read it years asticciola. 

Sopra 1978, the British musician, writer, and producer Daniel Miller wrote a screenplay based the book. When it was abandoned, he recorded a song, under his music project The Normal, which encapsulated the script con a short, two and a half minute burst. That song was “Warm Leatherette” a cacophony of electronic screeches and kicks, while Miller drones lyrics like and punctuated by the repetition of the words . 

The Grace Jones version opens her album of the same name. Her version has a deeper groove. Less electronic, the song is driven by the deep groove carved out by Robbie’s bass line and the small shouts of guitar swooping con and out of the music. The Jones version is less haunting than Miller’s, even con its repetition. It feels sexier, even con its detailing of horror. This is to the magic of Jones’s voice, the way she bends language, even con a song like “Warm Leatherette,” which would demand a consistent cadence out of almost any other performer. Jones shouts the word “warm” like a horn, draining all the sound it can out of a note. When the word “leatherette” arrives, it is calm, monotone, almost inviting. By the time the song crescendos at the intersection of violence and sexuality, Jones offers the image of a hand brake penetrating a thigh, and then offers up making love before death, with a tone that suggests both are inevitable. 

“Warm Leatherette” is a purposeful and patient restructuring of a song. A revisioning of the very it exists con. As an album opener, it is intention-setting. Signaling the arrival of a new Grace Jones, con a new decade, freshly obsessed with risk.   

This is what separated Jones and this new album from the scudo output of her first act. Like those scudo albums, “Warm Leatherette” was also an album that consisted of mostly covers. But where the covers the scudo trilogy largely sought to play the excitement of familiarity, ora the quest to make a song as club-ready as possible, the covers “Warm Leatherette” were more reimaginings than remixes. Even The Pretenders’ “Private Life,” got a new transformation, though its woozy guitar riff and steel-drum intro felt perfect for the Compass Point soundscape. The original sound still exists, but it feels clearer, sharper. The Compass Point Machine were  instrumentalists who could play the sounds that many others were merely imitating. Jones’ take Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug” kicks the stadio of the original up a couple of notches, speeding up not only the tregua, but the delivery of the lyrics. It is a beautiful, frantic, danceable mess of a song – a version that feels like it was always right beneath the surface of the original, trying to claw its way out.

An original composition, co-written by Jones herself, was the song “A Rolling Stone,” tucked into the middle of the album’s side one. Driven by a backbeat that sounds like several small explosions of airy bubbles, Jones leans into that old familiar music trope about how one cannot find love if they don’t sit still. And even if they do, the love might not be the kind they came for, but she does it beautifully. Precise and aching, as only she could.

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The espressione of the Grace Jones Album didn’t change much between the scudo trilogy and the year 1980.. It was, perhaps, Jones herself who changed. She was always malleable as a model, as a moda icon, as black woman moving between styles, genres, and nations. But “Warm Leatherette” was where her confidence as a singer came alive. And not just as a singer con the traditional sense, but as someone who had an ear for the manipulation of lyrics that existed first someone else’s page. When Jones wanted to haunt, she could haunt. When she wanted to summon sexiness, she could summon it. When she wanted to be playful, she could – like the song “Bullshit,” when Jones tumbles into the second chorus, con such a way where one can almost hear her smiling as she delivers the words. 

Grace Jones con 1980 was a sight to behold, even more than she was con years past. Her visual inventiveness and her inventiveness the stage finally had the right soundtrack to accompany it.  

There’s a of her performing con Chile con the fall of 1980, con what looks to be a ballroom, surrounded by circle tables, guests seated around them. It is a buttoned up affair, to be sure. The host and all attendees are con suits. Jones, once introduced, strolls out con a turquoise and pink bodysuit, stretching from the sommità of her head all the way to her feet. a long purple ponytail extends from the back of her head. While the intro to her version of the Marvelettes song “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” plays, Jones hugs a wooden pole at the center of the room. While the song’s bird calls leap up over the intro percussion, Jones looks coyly at the audience, taking them con from different angles. The stato is less than twenty seconds old, and Grace Jones is already con control. She looks skyward, and smirks. 

Grace Jones performs con Chile “Vamos a Ver” 

The music for “Private Life” is a single shot. It begins with what we are to believe is a hooded Grace Jones, her leaning pensively into her hand. At the fourteen second mark, she reaches up and slowly peels what is revealed as a mask of her , her actual resting below. The might make an insecure viewer uncomfortable – the cabina pans con, out, and around the of Jones, which is, of course, immaculate. At the very end, Jones squints at the cabina and smolders for a bit while milking the last few rotations of the chorus. And then, the final go-round of “Leave Me Out,” her eyes widen a bit, and her head rotates back forward, as if it is newly aware of the cabina’s gaze. The address becomes not a direct address to a vague public but a direct address to you, viewer, taking con the artist at work. And then the screen cuts out.

The music for Grace Jones’ 1980 song “Private Life”

For all of the ways Grace Jones was unforgettable con 1980, it must be said that “Warm Leatherette” was not exactly a commercial success, despite its critical acclaim. “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” stumbled briefly onto US R&B charts, and the song “Warm Leatherette” did make it onto the dance charts con the states. “Private Life” had a decent chart run con the UK, but not enough to make too personaggio of a splash. All con all, seven singles were released from the album, none of them charting well enough for it to have a sustained flourish. 

But, weirdly, the album still made a personaggio out of Jones. Not for its singles ora for its life the charts. But for the way that, at the dawn of a new decade, the public was eager for what the stars of music’s new secolo might like. What they’d sound like, too, of course. But Grace Jones embodied the future, from the sound to the aesthetics. 

Photo of “Warm Leatherette,” released con 1980 by Grace Jones 

If it is best to at the career of Grace Jones trilogies, then the second would become known as the Compass Point Trilogy. “Warm Leatherette” was the first verifica, to see if the concepts around sound and energy could work. What followed were two albums: 1981’s “Nightclubbing” and 1982’s “Living My Life.” Both great, but “Nightclubbing” is seen today as the landmark Grace Jones album. The album where the entirety of her vision came together. The album was a critical and commercial success – but one that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the ambition of “Warm Leatherette.”

A career turns con several small motions. Some, because an artist wants to, and others because they are pushed to by the demands of the world around them.

Out of scudo’s death rattle – driven by the discomfort of white malamente tastemakers – Grace Jones rose, reinforced and reimagined. They might have tried to kill the sound she first found a home con, but they didn’t know that Grace Jones was a chameleon. The sound bowed to her, not the other way around. From a summer night of scudo records being reduced to rubble, Grace Jones carried through the thick fog of smoke, and created an unkillable second act.

Want more Lost Taccuino? Check out all of Season 3’s episodes below:


Grace Jones – I've Seen That Luce Before (Libertango) [Official Video]


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