Betty Davis – 1975 – Nasty Gal
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Funk and R&B singer Betty Davis was influenced by close friends like Jimi Hendrixand her ex-husband, jazz legend Miles Davis. In 1975, visionary music mogul Chris Blackwell signed her to his Island Records label, which released her groundbreaking album Nasty Gal.
Davis’ sexy growl conjures images of her the way she looked onstage in the ’70s — thigh-high silver boots, hot pants, massive afro. Davis was Sly Stone, Mick Jagger and The Jimi Hendrix Experience all rolled into one woman. Sly Stone bassist Larry Graham once said that, although Davis didn’t play anything, her mind, body and spirit were her instruments. In this album’s title track, you can hear that her singing doesn’t just represent a voice; it’s a supernatural force she’s using to break social conventions, push funk to the extreme and propel herself as an artist.
Davis could use her vocal power for ballads just as easily as belting, and on Nasty Gal, she proved that she wasn’t a one-dimensional screamer. The song “You and I” marked her public reconciliation with her ex-husband, Miles Davis; the two co-wrote the song about their relationship. Punctuated by his distinct trumpet playing, it’s even more poignant.
A1 Nasty Gal 4:43
A2 Talkin Trash 4:48
A3 Dedicated To The Press 3:47
A4 You And I 2:49
A5 Feelins 2:50
B1 F.U.N.K. 4:25
B2 Gettin Kicked Off, Havin Fun 3:13
B3 Shut Off The Light 3:59
B4 This Is It! 3:31
B5 The Lone Ranger 6:11
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
Funk diva Betty Davis was supposed to break big upon the release of her third album, Nasty Gal. After all, her Just Sunshine Records contract had been bought up by Chris Blackwell and Island Records, and they were prepared to invest not only big money in the recording, but in the promotion of the 1975 release. Davis and her well-seasoned road band, Funk House, entered the studio with total artistic control in the making of the album. This set contains classic and often raunchy street funk anthems such as the title track (with its infamous anthemic lyric: “…You said I love you every way but your way/And my way was too dirty for ya now….” ), “Talkin’ Trash“, “Dedicated to the Press” and the musically ancestral tribute “F.U.N.K.” It also features the beautiful, moving, uncharacteristic ballad “You and I“, co-written with her ex-husband, Miles Davis, and orchestrated by none other than Gil Evans.
It’s the only track like it on the record, but it’s a stunner. The album is revered as much for its musical quality as its risqué lyrical content. This quartet distilled the Sly Stone funk-rock manifesto and propelled it with real force. Check the unbelievable twinning of guitar and bassline in “Feelins” that underscore, note for note, Davis’ vocals. The drive is akin to hardcore punk rock, but so funky it brought Rick James himself to the altar to worship (as he later confessed in interviews). And in the instrumental break, the interplay between the rhythm section (bassist Larry Johnson and drummer Semmie “Nicky” Neal, Jr.) and guitarist Carlos Moralesis held to the ground only by Fred Mills’ keyboards. In essence, the album is missing nothing: it’s perfect, a classic of the genre in that it pushed every popular genre with young people toward a blurred center that got inside the backbone while smacking you in the face.
Heard through headphones, its spaced out psychedelic effects, combined with the nastiest funk rock on the block, is simply shocking. The fact that the album didn’t perform the way it should have among the populace wasn’t the fault of Davis and her band, who went out and toured their collective butts off, or Island who poured tens of thousands of dollars into radio and press promotion, or the press itself (reviews were almost universally positive). The record seemed to rock way too hard for Black radio, and was far too funky for White rock radio. In the 21st century, however, it sounds right on time.