Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/2014 Andre’s Pick: “White Collar Crime” by Grace Jones

1986 was a crucially important year for funky music in the decade. The electro/synth based sound that tended to be the dominant force in the music within the past few years were giving way to a sound where electronic instruments were being used as accents to either a fully organic or organic sounding instrumental bed. This came to prominence with songs such as Prince’s “Kiss”,’Duran Duran’s “Notorious” and the  late and  great James Brown’s “Living In America”.  After leaving her original label Island and singing up with Manhattan  Records,she took a stab at co-production with Nile Rodgers for her first album on the label Inside Story. One of the songs on it that always caught my attention was “White Collar Crime”

The song begins with a slow,rolling shuffling beat that’s accompanied by a high pitched digital synthesizer playing a rather Asian style melodic phrase. Grace’s vocals than kick in with Nile’s guitar providing a subtle accent to the lyrics which,through a series of different stories,illustrates the songs chorus of “white collar crime/you don’t have to do time/blue collar crime/you do time every time”-sung to lower volume horn chart/guitar call-and-response playing opposite melodic statements. On the bridge of the song,the horns scale up as grace asks “do they get away with it” before the drum emulator shuffle is let to solo with the horns fanfaring back into the original phrase-after which Nile himself is heard saying “it’s all the same” as Grace responds “it’s a money/power game”

Showcasing Mac Gollehon,Steve Elson and Lenny Pickett on horns and co-writer/instrumentalist Bruce Woolley on synthesizers? This song has a similar quality to Grace’s “Slave To The Rhythm” in the sense that it is what they call a runaway groove. This amounts to a form of dance/funk which has a light and understated instrumental quality-rhythmic enough for a strutting model but un-intrusive enough where it doesn’t interrupt the focus. Of course Grace Jones,being a former model,is a natural to produce a song in such a way. Not only that,but the lightness of the production and arrangement take away from how hard hitting a groove this actually is. And it’s hard hitting in more ways than one.

By this time? The Reaganomics policy of trick down economics and the Wallstreet/Gordon Gekko attitude of “greed is good” was starting to contrast with how American society actually seemed to be functioning. Especially when it came to foreign policy and black Americans. Grace Jones,twice a foreigner as a Jamaican woman having began who career out of Europe,than crossed over in the US,really made her comment very strongly here. Using tabloid/yellow journalistic expletives such as “it’s outrageous nobody cared” and “shocking,it’s all so mocking”? Jones makes lyrical points that would be made in far more direct ways by hip-hoppers such as Public Enemy and NWA in a short two years time. And that was already being explored by hip-hop by KRS-1 and Eric B & Rakim. And that’s basically the treatment of a wealthier criminal versus that of a smaller time hustler. Indeed Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers provide a very stylish groove out of the money/power game.

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2 Comments

Filed under 1980's, Funk, Grace Jones, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Nile Rodgers, Prince, Public Enemy, Reaganomics

2 responses to “Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/2014 Andre’s Pick: “White Collar Crime” by Grace Jones

  1. Very insightful analysis of a song that is sometimes forgotten! I love how you tied in the fact that the musical community in general and the black music community in particular was starting to voice more of a critique of the widening income gap that was developing in the 1980s Wall Street based culture. You make a brilliant and new point about the synergy between this and the critiques that would emerge from Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Rakim, KRS and BDP and many other of that golden wave of creative, conscious, prophetic hip hop. Of course, all of this is taken from a general world view that was in the black and lower income communities as a whole about the hypocrisy of the elite. Public Enemy called it the “Hazy Shade of a Crimminal.” But it’s an outstanding contribution you make in showing the synergy across branches of the tree in addressing these things. They would also be taken up in records like Stevie Wonders “Skeletons” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “System of Survival” and “Evil Roy”. Excellent piece!

  2. Oh, I also wanted to add this is also one of the funky songs in the ’80s that showed the influence of the tragically unsung funk variation of the ’80s, the Washington D.C Go-Go beat! A vital lifeline and new style in funk in the ’80s and early ’90s! Which was also part of the foundation for New Jack Swing.

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