Sunday, January 20, 2013

She Wants More: Fanny and Butterboy

If it only were 1974!

The drugs! The sex! The macramé midriff tops!

That was the time when the leisure suited Me decade was snuffing out the last vestiges of Summer of Love idealism. Where 60s hedonism was about discovery and liberation, the 70s response was cynical and opportunistic. Chemical mind expansion had migrated into addiction and AIDS was on the horizon. But the 70s wasn't just all about solipsistic pleasure chasing, boundaries were pushed and paradigms were shifted, not the least of which were the roles of women. By 1974 the bubblegum anthem I Am Woman had just released its sphincter hold of the radio, sex was being discussed much more openly––Everything You Want to Know Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) was on many home bookshelves as was The Sensuous Woman/Man––and took a much more prominent role in popular music, e.g. Walk on the Wildside, Sexual Healing, Afternoon Delight, Pillow Talk, Jungle Fever, Lady Marmalade, etc... you get the idea.

But those songs all shared a mostly male point of view. Where was the frank description of the female side of things? Enter Butterboy: A women's perspective a million miles away from Chapel of Love or even Torn Between Two Lovers and the precious confessions of the likes of Carly Simon and Laura Nyro (not that precious can't have its place). Butterboy is something different, it throws down the sexy candor from the get go and doesn't even bother with the entendre: "He was hard as a rock but I was ready to roll..." And the chorus: "Go baby go (Get it up boy)/ Show what you know/ There's a fire down below." The narrator will claim she was "shock[ed] to find out [she] was in control" in her presumably new role as jockey of her own carnal rodeo. But, as might be expected of a woman's perspective, things are a little more complicated.

But first, who was Fanny? An all female outfit led by the Philippines-born and California raised Millington sisters, June and Jean. Consensus is they were "the first notable/successful hard rock group made up entirely of women." ("Hard" may be a stretch here but notable––sure––although it's not as if there weren't others.) Of course, they were about 10 years behind Suzi Quatro's sisters, the Pleasure Seekers. (Wiki says Fanny was the third all female group signed to a major label.) Like the Quatros, Fanny were musicians of the sort that could've owned bands like The Bangles and The Go-Gos. Keyboardist Nickey Barclay worked as a session musician and played on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour while the whole band backed-up Barbra Striesand for her rock album, "Stoney End." These ladies weren't just frontin'.

While Butterboy may extoll the liberation of "casual, quick relations," this self-empowerment has its issues. Jean Millington sings to her liaison, "give me more" and he only responds "you're too much." (After all, she says "get it up boy" and not "tongue out til you drop a lung out.") Still, her tool's flesh failures are still not something to sneeze your coke-riddled nose at. Remember, 1974 was only two years after Roe vs. Wade and the pill, introduced in 1962, had only been in wide use for a few years. This was an America where a flaming Conservative president like Nixon could sign a Title X into law (1970), a program which would have government pay to make birth control available for low-income and uninsured women. (The same kinds of women who were called "whores" in the 2012 election cycle.) Considering the post-War milieu in which Fanny came of age, Butterboy's directness was some bold in your face stuff.

And the song just plain rocks. And rocks hard despite its watered-down guitar cocktail, most of its juice coming from the swinging wah-oo-wah-oos, strutting baseline, and the bangin' Jerry Lee lite piano, not to mention a hook worthy of hanging a side of beef. Its bodacious boudoir confessions––hard to imagine any female performer getting equivalently raw these days (unless it's not men you're talking to)––wouldn't make the song worth discussing without it.

Interesting to note the cheesecakey image at top was off-brand for them. (I'd guess some A&R types had ordered them to sex it up.) You can see them in dressed-down action at their website here.

This video, on the other hand, may be the exception: They praise the "stimulating" qualities of tea and the camera lingers for some leering butt shots.

More history on the band here.

Fanny: Butterboy (1974)

Here they are performing some earlier material. Note the condescending intro:

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