Betty Davis, Miles Davis' ex wife ..., reissues ..
Betty Davis, Miles Davis' ex wife ..., reissues ..
May 22 2007, 03:10 PM
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I just bought these a couple of months ago, and now they reissue them with bonus tracks.
Betty Davis / They Say I'm Different
[Just Sunshine; 1973; 1974; r: Light in the Attic; 2007]
Rating: 8.9 / 8.6
It's rare that a pop history footnote looms as large as the figures she's meant to support, but then again, Betty Davis is one hell of a footnote.
Malcolm Gladwell groupies can tell you all about "connectors," roaming person-to-person hubs that link disparate corners of society. Well, in the late 1960s, Betty Davis-- then Betty Mabry-- was the link connecting such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Miles Davis, the latter ultimately contributing his last name through a relatively short but tumultuous marriage. His 1968 album Filles de Kilimanjaro features then-model Betty on the cover; the track "Mademoiselle Mabry" was inspired by her.
As legend has it, Miles grew jealous of Betty's friendship with Hendrix (which Miles allegedly suspected may have been more than that), but Betty's place in the middle of this intersection of geniuses apparently resulted in more than just divorce filings. By popular account, it was Betty who turned Miles on to Sly and Jimi, which in turn may have been the catalyst for Miles' most radical musical evolution: the still awe-inspiring Bitches Brew, released in 1970, a year after his separation from Betty.
Betty Davis' own response was her self-titled 1973 debut, a groundbreaking slab of funk that featured a huge hunk of the Family Stone (it was produced by drummer Greg Errico) and fused soul, sex, and hard rock like the best Sly or Funkadelic disc, albeit from a female perspective. But if George Clinton waved his freak flag proudly, Betty Davis wore it as underwear then rubbed your face in it. An oft-quoted passage in Miles Davis' autobiography gets it just right: "If Betty were singing today she be something like Madonna, something like Prince, only as a woman," wrote Davis back in 1989. "She was the beginning of all that when she was singing as Betty Davis."
No doubt. Betty Davis never gives up in its aim to seduce and destroy; songs like "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up", "Ooh Yeah", and "Game is My Middle Name" are raw and relentless in their intent. Then-Afrophile nympho Brian Eno might have called it Music for Fucking, though the semi-classic "Anti Love Song" is music for fucking with, specifically fucking with a former lover many suspect is Miles, but who might as well be any man stupid enough to do Betty wrong (in every sense).
Davis' part banshee/part Amazon shriek isn't the smoothest delivery system for seduction, but it does get the point across. Supposedly it was Marc Bolan who encouraged Davis to write her own songs, and there's no question Davis understood the best way for her to perform them was to wail like she was about to bite someone's head off.
As underscored by Oliver Wang's informative liner notes (drawn in part from one of the only interviews Davis has consented to in the last several decades), Davis' ever-growing sense of empowerment played a part in her decision to self-produce her 1974 record, They Say I'm Different. While the self-titled disc's band (which also included Neal Schon on guitar and future disco queen Sylvester on backing vocals) was dissolved, the sound remained mostly the same, and Davis' outré sexuality just as out there.
On "He Was a Big Freak", she essentially spars with a lover over who is freakier: the whipped or the whip-wielder. "Git In There" is house party in progress. The defensive title track finds Davis casting herself against her grandfather's more traditional blues favorites, while "Don't Call Her No Tramp" makes a distinction between an "elegant hustler" and a hooker (according to Wang, the song drew the ire of the NAACP for its "demeaning" depiction of black women). It's a slightly slicker album than its predecessor, but no less unreserved.
Yet despite the fact that these albums drip with personality, Betty Davis remains something of an enigma. Her catalog (including a short but confusing and uneven string of follow-ups to They Say I'm Different) have gone in and out of print over the years, while the singer herself is reportedly living in Pittsburgh, broke, bemused but largely ignoring the attention her brief career continues to garner.
And no wonder: Light in the Attic claims Davis never received any royalties from previous releases. Without steady checks coming in, what's cult fame even worth? Better to just keep on keeping on and let other folks parse out the legacy, but hopefully these reissues will remedy the situation. Anyone whose albums sound as electric as ever over 30 years late deserves more than Davis has received.
-Joshua Klein, May 22, 2007
May 22 2007, 03:11 PM
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Joined: July 5 05
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yeah, I wanted to pick these up last week, but newbury didn't have 'em... haven't had time to go hunt them down elsewhere yet...
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