Grace Jones’ 1980 rendition of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” was the first version of the song I became familiar with. It was the flip of her all-world jam “Pull Up To The Bumper”, and without knowing who the hell Tom Petty was (or that it was a remake), I enjoyed it as much as the “A” side. Producers Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare toed the line between reggae and rock with dexterity, and Grace inhabits the song with a menace that intrigued me even as a pup. Plus, there’s cowbell on Grace’s version, and cowbell is awesome. There’s an instrumental/dubby-ahem-breakdown towards the end of the album version that kicks ass.
I didn’t become familiar with Tom Petty’s 1976 original until the mid ‘90s, when I purchased a copy of his first “greatest hits” album. Petty’s original has more swagger than Grace Jones’ version, and obviously rocks a little harder. Grace’s reading of the lyrics is stone-faced, Petty’s is cocky. Both are awesome. Interesting note: Petty wrote an extra verse for the song specifically for Grace’s version.