THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT – Betty Davis – Just Sunshine Records – 1974
The world was not ready for Betty Davis.
Before Prince, Madonna, and Beyoncé were boldly owning race, gender, and sexuality in their music, there was Betty Davis: raw, explicit, and brazenly emancipated from everything expected of women in 1974.
At 16, Davis moved to New York, became a model and scenester, and fell into a crowd of friends and lovers that included Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Miles Davis (whom she later married — for a year). After her debut album underperformed, she took full creative control and produced her follow-up entirely on her own. The result was They Say I’m Different: a bold, unfiltered album that exposes the power of a woman confident with her gender, race, and sense of self.
In this episode, we discuss the impact of this album on society: how it fit into the time it was released, and how it has influenced artists today, both musically and politically.
We recorded this episode on Sunday, just hours before this year’s Grammys. We waited anxiously for Beyoncé’s masterpiece Lemonade to be deservedly rewarded. The album is a clear continuation of Betty’s legacy: aggressively independent, proudly black, profoundly female, and willing to take names of those who object; the words Betty growls on 1974’s “Don’t Call Her No Tramp” are echoed in Beyoncé’s howl on 2016’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
It’s the kind of music that can scare people. Betty’s provocativeness led to her mainstream demise, but she laid the groundwork for women like Beyoncé who came after her. When we recorded this episode, we were excited for this to be a way to say “Look how far we’ve come.” Instead, the results of this year’s Grammy ceremony showed us that, 42 years later, this kind of music still scares people, and we still have a long way to go.
Listen to They Say I’m Different: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube
Episode notes and postscript corrections
- This is pretty much everything that was happening in music in 1974.
- Shoutout to ABBA.
- Shoutout to CBGB’s first year.
- Betty Davis was married to Miles Davis from 1968 to 1969, and is often credited with introducing him to the emerging psychodelic rock scene (particularly through her friend, Jimi Hendrix), and inspiring his genre-changing album Bitches Brew.
- Shoutout to Macy Gray. Our apologies for our subpar attempt at singing that song from our childhood to convey similarities between your voice and Betty’s.
- A clear line from Betty Davis to Beyoncé can be drawn for more than one of their shared characteristics. We are definitely not the only ones who think so.
- Here are the lyrics to He Was a Big Freak. Maybe don’t open them up on your work computer if your boss is around.
- Betty Davis and Jimi Hendrix were close friends. So close, that Miles Davis thought they were having an affair, even though Betty was pushing for the two to work together. Ultimately, Hendricks died before any collaboration could take place.
- If you know what the instrument from the intro to “Don’t You Call Her No Tramp” is, let us know. Hit us up: @77MusicClub on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org and always feel free to get in touch.
- Peep the related articles below to read in full what the New York Times had to say about Betty in 1974.
- Most people had a strong reaction to Betty’s music in her heyday — but not always in a good way. The NAACP wanted radio to ban her songs and called her “a disgrace to her race.” She did not react kindly to this.
- Peep all the name drops in “They Say I’m Different” with the full lyrics here.
Favorite track: Special People (Carly) | Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him (Carrie)
Least favorite track: 70s Blues (Carly) | 70s Blues (Carrie)
- Betty Davis – Producer, Vocals
- Debbie Burrell – Vocals
- Elaine Clark – Vocals
- Mary Jones – Vocals
- Trudy Perkins – Vocals
- Mike Clark – Drums
- Nicky Neal – Drums, Vocals
- Willy Sparks – Drums, Vocals
- Ted Sparks – Drums
- Pete Escovedo – Timbales
- Victor Pantoja – Congas, Percussion
- Errol “Crusher” Bennett – Percussion
- Buddy Miles – Guitar
- Jimmy Godwin – Guitar
- Cordell Dudley – Guitar, Vocals
- Carlos Morales – Guitar, Vocals
- Larry Johnson – Bass
- Merl Saunders – Electric Piano
- Fred Mills – Keyboards, Vocals
- James Allen Smith – Keyboards
- Hershall Kennedy – Clavinet, Keyboards, Organ, Electric Piano, Trumpet, Vocals
- Tony Vaughn – Bass (Vocal), Clavinet, Keyboards, Piano, Electric Piano, Vocals
- Mel Dixon – Photography
- Bob Edwards – Assistant Engineer
- Tom Flye – Mixing
- Ron Levine – Cover Design
- Bill Levy – Art Direction
Nasty Gal: The Many Lives of Betty Davis — documentary coming soon
Cult heroes: Betty Davis – blistering funk pioneer and female artist | The Guardian (July 2016)
Betty Davis: A Cult Genius Revealed, Once Again | MTV (July 2016)
Sleazy Listening: Betty Davis Rides Again | The New York Times T Magazine (November 2009)
Nasty Gal: Betty Davis | Dazed (July 2007)
A Funk Queen Steps Out of the Shadows | SFGate (May 2007)
The Pop Life | The New York Times (June 1974)