Rickie Lee Jones is one of the most acclaimed and talented singer-songwriters of our time. Her career spans nearly three decades of incredible musical output spanning many genres: folk, rock, jazz, soul, spoken word and pop. Always fearless, Rickie Lee has consistently pushed her seemingly limitless creative abilities, as well as the music industry's envelope.
She first arrived on the scene in 1979, with a bang. Her first, self-titled album, released that year, received five Grammy nominations, including Best Song for "Last Chance Texaco", Best Album, Best Pop Vocal and Best Rock Vocal. As it happened, she won Best New Artist, and her career was launched. That album's eventual hit single, "Chuck E's in Love", was an unlikely success due to its bridge, in which the song virtually stops, and Rickie Lee speaks: "Is he here?....I look in the pool hall...Is he here? I look in the drug store. Is he here...?." Against the musical backdrop of that year, when disco and punk were on the rise, the fact that this song hit, and hit big, was phenomenal.
Four months after that debut, Rickie Lee was gracing the cover of Rolling Stone, and 18 months later she was featured on the cover again, kneeling, pink lipsticked, in a black bra and nylons, with some black lace tied around her waist. Her fashion sense was, for that time, unusual and garnered outrageous critical reviews. Many others, such as Prince's musicians Wendy and Lisa, as well as Pat Benatar, started dressing in " Rickie Lee mode", lace gloves combined with slips or spandex pantsuits and a beret. Ultimately, the Material Girl herself picked up the trend and of course we know the rest. Rickie Lee Jones as fashion icon has been documented in detail, perhaps most evocatively by New Yorker writer Hilton Als, but has been largely unheralded as such in the years since. Likewise, Jones' 11 minute video in 1979 was so successful in launching her career that a year later MTV launched its new music video channel for the sole purpose of showing how new media (specifically, video) could truly launch musical careers.
Jones released PIRATES in 1981 and then GIRL AT HER VOLCANO in 1983, which offered listeners an challenging mixture of jazz and pop. 1984 saw the release of THE MAGAZINE, whereupon she took a five year hiatus and moved to Paris. Rickie Lee returned in 1988 to have her only child, Charlotte, and to write FLYING COWBOYS with Steely Dan and producer/musician Walter Becker on her new label, Geffen. While "Satellites" was a 1989 hit, she found real success with her duet with long time pal Dr. John on "Making Whoopie", which won both of them a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance. She had also been nominated the year before for a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal for her rendition of "Autumn Leaves" on Rob Wassermann's DUETS.
Her next two records, TRAFFIC
FROM PARADISE (1993) and NAKED SONGS (1995) were her final Geffen releases.
GHOSTYHEAD, released in 1997, is considered by many fans to be her best
record and certainly among her most unusual, using ambient and aggressive
rhythm tracks against which she recited impressionistic lyrics. The accompanying
live shows to support that release were a Coltrane-like exploration of
sound and emotion. GHOSTYHEAD was followed by another extreme on IT'S
LIKE THIS, a intimate and loving album of covers of a wide gamut of popular
songs, from "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" to "Up
the Lazy River". Continuing Rickie Lee's own tradition of mixing
pop and jazz, ITS LIKE THIS featured Taj Mahal, Joe Jackson, Ben Folds,
and others and was nominated for the Grammy for Best Pop Album in 2000.
The last thing to
mention about Jones is of course her voice. Her unique and boyish tonality,
offering no vibrato, and replete with a 40s-style jazz sensibility, has
distinguished her from every other major singer in the modern era. Much
imitated but rarely credited, Rickie Lee Jones is an unparalleled artist
of great integrity and credibility. Although she is somewhat shy and reclusive
in person, Rickie Lee's music has been a major force in for nearly 30
years, a major influence on the music of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Edie
Brickell, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Michelle Branch and many others.
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