Punk-Funk at its flamboyant flirty best (BYO Afro)
This is one funky album. Before the Black Eyed Peas came along with their “yes to sex” and other puerile lyrical fantasies, there was Betty Davis, who legend has it was as mad as a cut snake, whose own lusty lyrics would make even Beyoncé blush. Betty’s ultimate claim to fame was as the wife of Miles Davis, whose turgid and turbulent marriage lasted for just one year. But while they were together, it was Betty who turned Miles onto the likes of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix (even personally introducing him to the latter), who represented the new sounds of the day, and whose music was light years away from anything Davis himself had been doing, or had ever thought of doing.
This introduction to funk and rock resulted in Miles embarking on a more radical musical transformation, one of the first results being the seminal and game changing Bitches Brew (considering it was released after their marriage dissolved, one can only wonder who the “bitch” really was).
Issued in 1973, Betty’s debut featured a host of first rate musicians, including guitarist Neil Schon (Santana), Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone), the Pointer Sisters, on backing vocals (yes, the same Pointer Sisters who gave us “Jump (For My Love)” only a decade or so later), plus members belonging to other well respected bands. There are no covers, all songs having been written by Betty herself. And they’re not all that bad.
On the first track, “If I’m in Luck, I Might Get Picked Up”, Betty makes it’s pretty obvious that she wants you to take her home, while singing “I’m Wigglin’ my fanny”, just so you get the subtle hint. But it comes with a warning in the lines “So all you lady haters don’t be cruel to me/Don’t you crush my velvet/Don’t you ruffle my feathers neither”. In other words, look out misogynists, because this is one feline predator that just might eat you alive.
Betty’s singing style might not be to everyone’s taste (think a black Janis Joplin, only with more control), but for my money it works. And she can sing, which always helps. Plus Neil Schon’s guitar gives the song a real drive and purpose.
“Walkin’ Up the Road” is another heavy funk tune, where all Betty wants to do is “bump and groove”. It doesn’t quite have the impact of the previous number, but then how could it. Before she wanted you to take her home and have your way with her; or have her way with you would seem a far more likely scenario.
“Anti Love Song” is more on the sensual side, however no less powerful in its delivery. And the lyrics? Well let’s just say you better make sure that the kids have all gone to bed before you put this track on. “Your Man My Man” is fraught with wah wah guitar and copulating keyboards, and is concerned about a three way affair between two women sharing the same man, with Betty, naturally, declaring herself to be the better lover.
“Ooh Yeah” predates the disco sounds that would dominate the nightclubs and every swingers joint only a few years later. In other words, party filler.
“Steppin’ In Her I. Miller Shoes” is about a woman who comes to the city full of dreams only to be exploited and corrupted by “the jungle”. The subject matter for this tune was apparently based on Devon Wilson, another wild woman, who was the off-on girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix. Which makes sense considering that Wilson died of a drug overdose not long before this album was recorded.
“Game Is My Middle Name” is all nasty dominatrix-funk, with some blazing guitar work, and played in a beat reminiscent of The Doors “Five to One”. Here Betty sings “whatever you wanna play/ I said, I’ll play it witcha”. While this writer can’t speak for every man, if I were on a first date with a woman who declared she wanted to mash my nuts between her thighs, I think I’d skull my drink then run for the nearest exit.
“In The Meantime” is a short soul number, and is perhaps the closest to anything which might have had a chance of being heard on the radio. It also reveals that Betty really did have a lovely voice when she chose to stop acting the sexy vixen beast and turn down the heat.
Due to the highly evocative and suggestive nature of the lyrics (for 1973 standards), the album was largely ignored by radio, and therefore quickly got buried in the soul-funk graveyard of obscurity. Copies of the original vinyl fetch high prices on eBay, so too the CD edition, which includes bonus tracks.
Anyone with even a passing interest in early ‘70s funk, yet from a woman’s perspective (it wasn’t all about James Brown), should hear this album at least once, or maybe twice (or twenty times in my case), if only for educational purposes, and when I say educational, I’m also referring to the more non-musical content. Rated R.