On this week's podcast, we chatted about the curveball R&B persona of the supremely talented Betty Wright, who -- after the first casual listen -- sounds every bit the strong, take-no-nonsense, proto-feminist soul sister . . . until you get to the lyrics. Tracks like 1974's "Secretary" (on which she explains that women are at fault for their husbands' infidelities: "Girls, we make it necessary/For the secretary to put/A little joy in his life") and 1972's "Baby Sitter" (which concludes with the following advice: "So girls if you want your man/And no one else/Buy yourself some sizzle pants/And babysit your baby yourself"), leave little room for mis-interpretation.
To redress the balance, here are a couple of tracks that carry through on the vocal promise of fierce, assertive independence. You probably know Freda Payne by her hits "Band of Gold" and "Bring the Boys Home" but we highly recommend that you seek out minor R&B charter "The Unhooked Generation" -- her first single for Motown splinter label Invictus. No sooner has the sizzling guitar intro done its stuff than Payne weighs in with the defiant statements: "I'm so glad I joined the unhooked generation/I just kicked the habit of being a fool for you." As the song grooves its way to a full head of steam, Payne's personal reflection becomes a rallying cry for all wronged women -- "Hey girls if you're in misery/Get yourself together, come on set yourself free" -- and by the end of the track, she makes sure to let us know that the man she left has lost much of his swagger: "Since I've been gone boy/You don't talk so loud."
The Honey Cone's "While You're Out Looking for Sugar" is another righteous stunner. Released in 1969 on the Hot Wax label (Holland-Dozier-Holland's precursor to Invictus), the song tees us up with the image of a lonely and unhappy woman left at home while her man puts himself about . . . but self-pity is the last thing on her mind. "If I find myself in the arms of someone else/Darling it's all your fault." There's nothing submissive or defeatist about the message expressed by Carolyn Willis, Shelly Clark and Edna Wright, and beat is dangerously infectious, which is probably why the track became a staple on the U.K.'s dance-driven Northern Soul circuit.