Betty Davis is more than Miles Davis’ wife. That much is crystal clear in this funk necessity of a self-titled record.
She’s a badass woman who made music that hits hard — like Parliament Funkadelic in their heyday hard. Opener of the 1973 debut LP, “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” like most every song which follows on Betty Davis, features her powerful voice, which rasps and moans and talks, guitars which soar and chicken-scratch, and bass which’ll make your hips twitch.
All of Davis’ album could be the walk-on music for every strong, confident woman I know. Davis takes control of herself and claims agency in each cut here, in a manner sure to make anyone listening completely aware that she’s not simply a muse, but a powerful force in her own right, and you damn well better pay attention.
“Your Man My Man” and “Game Is My Middle Name” demonstrate that Davis isn’t victim to the era’s social mores — actually, wait. That’s the theme of Betty Davis: the singer, songwriter, and arranger states right there in “Oooh Yea”: “I am myself …”
Despite much of the album dealing with how she interacts with men, these songs are about her and how she deals with men, not how men think. It’s how she feels, and Davis puts music behind her that’s hard, funky, and straightforward, just like her lyrics.
“In the Meantime” is the sole exception, and it’s what really gives the rest of the album its power. The song’s a bit of a comedown at the end, and Davis sings of how she’s alone and kind of happy about it, but “tomorrow who knows how I’m gonna feel.” It’s a reflective piece, rather than a declarative one, and it does a fine job of bringing the album back around from the “This is my night out” statement in the opening track.
The lineup on Betty Davis is bonkers. For instance, the backing singers on “Game Is My Middle Name” are the Pointer Sisters and Sylvester. That’s more power in one track than any song should reasonable have, and that’s before you’re listening to songs like “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” wherein there’s a post-Santana, pre-Journey Neal Schon on guitar, and Sly & the Family Stone’s Larry Graham on bass. The horn section on “Walkin Up the Road” is from Tower of Power. Suffice it to say, the band repeatedly locks in and destroys these songs. They’re so damned tight, it’s almost criminal. Penultimate cut, “Game is My Middle Name,” is so locked-in to its soul groove, it almost seems criminal not to play it twice in a row.
Betty Davis is damned near perfect. It’s taken me nearly a month to sum up how much I loved it, because there’s just so much to say, and it’s hard to not just type…“Holy shit, go buy this!” a few dozen times and call it good. It’s the sort of record everyone should love, to the point where this ought to be the new litmus test for friendship. If you play this for someone and they’re indifferent or dismissive, stop hanging out with them.
Sweet Jesus, this sounds good. Light in the Attic releases always have amazing tone, but this LP absolutely blasts out the speakers with intensity. Betty Davis is remarkably vibrant, and it’s the sort of LP you can put on downstairs in one corner, then walk around the house, marveling at how robust it is. You can hear this quite clearly, no matter where you are, and the instant you start up “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” it’s abundantly clear this is going to be a fantastic listen.
Most times, I have no strong feelings regarding the art print which comes with the Vinyl Me, Please releases. This one, though: it’s a cool sort of pop-art of Betty Davis’ name, rendered in funky fonts and interesting patterns which bring to mind a crazy quilt. However, the color scheme is such on the printing that it’s a flat mess. The colors don’t pop, and for the most part, they melt into one another into murk. It’s not a winner.
What is a winner, however, is that dope-as-hell exclusive vinyl colorway pressed for this release. It’s a silver with blue splatter 180-gram vinyl, and it looks like a psychedelic eye. Add in the heavyweight cardstock gatefold jacket with silver foil, and it’s maybe the best-looking album in my collection. It’s superlative. Throw in the included booklet with a short bio of Davis and the lineup which plays on this particular record, and this is a slam dunk in terms of packaging. There’s really nothing finer than the work done by Light in the Attic, and this is the apex of their platonic ideal.
Betty Davis was available as the July Record of the Month through Vinyl Me, Please, and is now sold out. The August Record of the Month will be The National’s Boxer and you can sign up for a VMP membership here.