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“Slave to the Rhythm” was the first single from Grace Jones’ album of the same name, which was released in 1985. The song and the album were written by Bruce Woolley, Simon Darlow, Stephen Lipson andTrevor Horn and produced by Horn. This was Grace’s first album in three years, and it contained eight variations of the same song (the single’s B-side is another variation, yet to be released on CD). “Slave to the Rhythm” was originally intended for Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a follow-up to their hit debut single “Relax”. The song was assembled and produced by Horn after “Two Tribes”, but the project was given to Jones. Paul Morley says Horn worked on the song endlessly and had hoped it would become one of his biggest and most successful creations.
The song’s lyrics are interpreted in various ways; as telling about slavery in Afro-American history (“Axe to wood in ancient time/Man machine, power line/Fires burn, hearts beat strong/Sing out loud the chain gang song.”) or referring to the music industry and its exploitation of musicians.
“Slave to the Rhythm” was released in Autumn 1985 to a great commercial success. The single became one of Jones’ greatest commercial successes and is considered to be one of her signature tunes. It became one of the biggest chart successes for the singer in the UK (number 12, next to “Pull Up to the Bumper”). The track proved exceptionally popular in Belgium, New Zealand, Italy and German speaking countries, where it made it to the top 10. The original version of the single, and its remixes, also topped the American dance chart in February 1986, despite not entering the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 ranking. “Slave to the Rhythm” was proclaimed the best single of 1985 by The Face magazine. In 1994 a newly remixed version of the song reached the top 40 in the UK charts.
The hit single version of the song is in fact confusingly re-titled “Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones” on the Slave to the Rhythm album. The track “Slave to the Rhythm” on the album is in turn an entirely different interpretation of the song—a fact which apparently eluded Universal Music when they included this version in one of their many best-of packages The Ultimate Collection.
In 2012, Jones performed the song at Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in which she hula hooped for the entire song.