Betty Davis: self-titled (1973)


The original punk-funker.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1969 jazz legend Miles Davis courted and married ex-model and songwriter Betty Davis, a fiercely outspoken woman who was half Miles’ age. During this time she served as his muse, turning him on to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone which directly inspired Miles’ creation of jazz-fusion with the landmark album Bitches Brew.

Although a hard-partying free-thinking drug enthusiast Miles found his dynamically hedonistic wife to be too unbridled for him, and divorced her within a year. She continued to channel her boundary-free persona into her music, unleashing her boundary-free debut album Betty Davis in 1973.

Sounding like Tina Turner with the swagger of Ike Turner, Betty Davis decimates preconceived notions of genre, gender and etiquette within its first thirty seconds in the cement hard funk–rock of “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up”. Davis’ singular howl is equally demonic, anxious and horny, and hearing her wail about her sexual prowling is intriguingly scary.

Utilizing musicians from Sly & Family Stone and Santana plus vocalists The Pointer Sisters and Sylvester, Davis extracts the hardest, roughest elements from rock and R&B and fuses a new, raw, diamond-hard clamor. It’s a sound tough enough to support tunes about being the other woman and liking it (“Your Man My Man”), her general anything-goes lifestyle (“Game is My Middle Name) and the death spiral of her junkie friend (“Steppin In Her I. Miller Shoes).

THE FALLOUT: Even though the early seventies was reveling in its first flush of feminism, a Black woman singing aggressively about sexual gratification went over like a pimp at a day care center.

It was too Black for rock radio, too Black for Black radio, and some cities banned it altogether, leading to pitiful sales and a short print life. Davis released two additional albums before retreating from public view in 1979.

Betty Davis is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Betty Davis makes a stunning statement about the unification of music and its empowerment of the individual with an uncaged, unheard shriek.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: More fun with time-bending.

UM’s First Birthday!

It’s been a whole year, and I’ve been keeping score.

Most Hard Luck Uppity Music Artist:

Q-Tip had the indignity of having not only his second album shelved (Arista Records’ Kamaal The Abstract) but his third one as well (Dreamworks’ Records Open. Has anybody even heard this one?) His fourth album is due from Motown this year but even Tip’s accountant thinks its release is iffy.

Most Popular Uppity Music Review:

By an extremely wide margin the most popular review has been (ta-da!) Q-Tip’s Kamaal The Abstract. Shockingly I’ve received several emails thanking me personally for sharing this album. At this point I can’t see Arista Records ever releasing it unless:
A) Q-Tip bites the big one, or
B) they think they can sell half a million MP3s of it in the iTunes Music Store.
Neither scenario is very likely.

Richard Pryor’s Craps and Divine Styler’s Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light were also quite popular. Hey that’s interesting, these albums aren’t in print either.

Best Uppity Music Label:

V2 Records bravely signed both New Kingdom and Chocolate Genius to multi-album deals, although all their albums have since been deleted Stateside, unlike Little Axe-soundalike Moby and retro-blues duo The White Stripes. Nothing says “fortune” like aping Black music.

Most Prolific Uppity Music Producer:

When pop producers The Neptunes aren’t creating hit songs for Snoop Dogg and Britney Spears, they’re having their feeling hurt by shepherding excellent but low-selling tracks for Cee-Lo, Common, and Kenna.

Best Uppity Music comeback:

Cee-Lo’s Soul Machine flopped silently like a ninja in the marketplace, but as one-half of Gnarls Barkley he scored a #1 single in England this year with “Crazy”, a song that’s poised to become the overplayed song of the summer.

Most Public Uppity Music Supporter:

Trent Reznor, aka Nine Inch Nails, slotted both TV On The Radio and Saul Williams as support acts on his recent tour. Maybe Trent wears black on the outside cause that’s how he feels on the inside.

In closing, I’m humbled that you come back every week to read my rantings. The first month of Uppity Music garnered 82 page views, and last month had over 20,000 page views, which is a helluva lot more. And since I have you, the audience, let me know what you’d like to see. Want an Uppity Music forum? Want to wear an UM T-Shirt? Drop me a line.

See you next Wednesday.


Miles Davis’ wife exorcises some demons.

Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981)


The funk stops here.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: While Parliament rode high in the charts singing about motherships and star children, Funkadelic dealt with more underground concepts like America eating its young, maggots and slop. At least they did before they moved to Warner Brothers Records, when they jettisoned their guitar-heavy Black-nationalistic raunch’n’roll for synth-happy radio-friendly tunes from George Clinton’s Assembly-Line-O’-Funk.

Their turning point came in 1981 when the band realized Warner Brothers no longer had any interest in them, so they recorded an album solely to please their die-hard fans, the ultra-wacky The Electric Spanking of War Babies.

A shiny but spiny dance treat with a surprising world music edge, War Babies brought back lovely layers of nasty fuzztones and angry coded politics. The title track refers to the media’s eager participation in promoting our governments’ pro-war propaganda machine. A weighty topic for a weighty song, it bounces from a sprightly march to a raging metal singalong.

Along the way Funkadelic performs their take on reggae (the goofy “Shockwaves”) and African polyrhythms (the all-drum tour de force “Brettino’s Bounce”), while adding a major dose of giggles to the major league curse-off “Icka Prick”:

…If you think that’s nasty
Follow me to the men’s room
Watch me write on the wall

(This excerpt is the only clean part of “Icka Prick”. I was going to add more lyrics but the printed page misses how gleefully filthy the song is in context).

“Hmm” said the label. “That’s CLEARLY not single material.”

THE FALLOUT: Warner Brothers rejected the album cover, eventually printing it with a censored flap. Warner Brothers also rejected the length, refusing to release it as a double album. They dumped it in the marketplace, pressing only 90,000 copies even though the previous album, Uncle Jam Wants You, moved half a million units.

The only P-Funk product they did like was the soon-to-be-released debut album from Roger Troutman, who had recorded it for George Clinton’s label Uncle Jam Records. Warner Brothers did the unthinkable and secretly purchased the master tapes from Roger, releasing The Many Facets of Roger in 1981. Clinton promptly sued Warner, rightly claiming that he was the original owner of the tapes since he’d paid for the entire recording.

The courts agreed and George Clinton was awarded a chunk of cash, all the master tapes from the four albums Funkadelic recorded for Warner Brothers and the immediate termination of Funkadelic’s contract. Although this made them free agents the P-Funk army imploded under label stress and financial woes, and neither Funkadelic nor Parliament released another album again.

Well, not under those names anyway. The very next year George Clinton released his first solo album which was chock full of P-Funk alumni and featured a song Warner Brothers deemed unfit to include on War Babies: “Atomic Dog”.

Wow, what visionaries.

The Electric Spanking of War Babies is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A kiss to their fans and a kiss-off to their label, The Electric Spanking of War Babies is the best P-Funk album you’ve never heard.

NEXT WEEK: The first birthday of Uppity Music. Who’s bringing the cake?

Los Lobos: Kiko (1992)


A Cinco De Mayo special: unsung Latino uppity music.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: As we last read in the Bobby McFerrin entry, a number one record can get a musician a temporary “autonomy pass “. After scoring a fluke number one single in 1987 with a rock-by-numbers cover of Richie Valens “La Bamba”, Los Angeles roots-rockers Los Lobos essentially refused to record anything that generic ever again. Each album became slightly more eccentric than the last, culminating in 1992’s dreamy experimental Kiko.

Every song calmly shares space with the ghosts of Los Angeles, back when it was known as Mexico. Draped with touches of traditional Mexican instruments the band solidly locks into gritty gray introspection (“Wake up Delores”) and weary pink dirges (“When The Circus Comes”).

Drums shock and rattle like hollow skulls of ancestors in the hypnotic “Angels With Dirty Faces” and transmit secret messages in “Wicked Rain”. The surreal lullaby “Kiko And The Lavender Moon” charmingly mirrors the quixotic aloofness of housecats:

Kiko and the lavender moon
Out dancing making faces at
A big black cat
And then he flies
Up to the wall
Stands on one foot
Doesn’t even fall
Dance and dance
Still dancing till
He goes off to sleep

He always sleeps
Till the sun goes down
He never wakes
Till no one’s around
He never stops
Can’t catch his breath
It’s always there
Scares him to death

This curious waltz became the centerpiece of their greatest work…

THE FALLOUT: …and their poorest seller. Expensively recorded and indifferently promoted Kiko flatlined at retail. Los Lobos recorded only one additional album for their label before being dropped. The album did become a fan favorite, and in 2005 the band responded by playing concerts featuring Kiko in its entirety.

Kiko is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A landmark of American music, Kiko seeps into your pores like smoke from fine incense and lingers with distinct pleasure.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Funkadelic goes out with an electric bang.