by Brian Smith
Jesus. Sexual tension is one thing. So's groove and grind and funked-up singsong done with enough furrowed-brow fervor and sweat that one can't help but slide in. These Betty Davis records are like that.
The lissome chick who youthified Miles Davis (the years-ahead-of-its-time BDSM anthem "He Was a Big Freak" is said to be about old Davis: "I used to beat him with a turquoise chain") gave huge voice, thigh-high platforms and ass-power to female sexuality when these records dropped in '73 and '74 when the air was still cloudy with bra smoke. The opening line of Davis' self-titled debut sets a tone of unironic liberated sexuality: "If I'm in luck I just might get picked up." Hence, she commanded unmitigated respect and loathing with more verve than any of her ball-hanging peers. Radio ignored her, right-wing groups squealed and Davis was even blacklisted by the NAACP!
Each record gives you panoramic glimpses of the world around her one fraught with subterfuge, mythology, joy and pain; she was as un-self-censored as, say, Joanna Angel or Amy Winehouse is now, but on a much broader and more intellectually challenging platform. (It was the early 1970s, contextualized swimmingly on the debut's "Anti Love Song.")
Every musical and lyrical nuance that comes through is absolute, flowers or dirt, and can still challenge those nasty little elements that hide behind our eyes, hide behind so many closed doors. Hers rose on the guttural brawn of funk, soul, rock 'n' roll and attendant free-sexuality (and there are hints of Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith and Sly Stone); her voice cuts, lifts, hums, screeches, coos, needles and push-pulls atop the dancefloor explosives of a crack band, which included some Pointer Sisters and vets of Sly Stone, Santana and Tower of Power.
It's pussy-powered punk-funk whose bellwether was an intuitive and sharp all-American woman born in North Carolina. So it's no wonder mainstream record buyers ignored her; the challenge was too big, too futuristic Davis appeared to have too much of a take-me-as-I-am-or-fuck-you 'tude. When she later signed to Island records, she got dropped and was all but done by 1979.
These essential Light in the Attic CD reissues of the original Just Sunshine albums are beautifully repackaged, each with photo-crammed 24-page color booklets, bonus songs and audiophile-quality remastering from original mix-down tapes; the label that did same for Karen Dalton, so kudos.
Brian Smith is the features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.