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‘How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)’: The Pointer Sisters’ Classic

The group’s No. 1 hit announced that their days as a gimmick act were coming to a close.

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The Pointer Sisters Steppin album cover
Cover: Courtesy of Geffen Records

When they released their debut album in 1973, The Pointer Sisters played on the then-current nostalgia for the previous generation. For Anita, Ruth, Bonnie, and June, it made sense: Their tight harmonies were tailor-made for a revamp of 1940s, big-band jazz swing. When critic Vernon Gibbs’ wrote about a performance by the group in the NME, he peppered the review with words like “vintage” and “tradition.” Writer Ellen Willis saw the same show, and said the group’s nostalgia was “fantasy that didn’t risk getting too real.”

For at least a few years more, though, the Pointers found it useful to keep one foot in the 1940s and one in the future. Their self-titled debut mixed laments that “they’ve taken my memory lane and made it a six-lane freeway” and the New Orleans funk of Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can.” Their next album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, followed the same blueprint, with a selection of harmonized jazz standards (“Black Coffee”), slick R&B (“Love in Them There Hills”), and country (the Grammy-winning “Fairytale”). But what can you be when you’re everything at once?

Listen to The Pointer Sisters’ “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)” now.

That was the question that the Pointers attempted to answer with their third album, Steppin’ (1975). As Ruth wrote in her 2016 autobiography, Still So Excited! My Life as a Pointer Sister, “The Pointer Sisters’ nostalgia act was starting to get a little stale.” They wanted to show the public who they were, “our own spirit,” as Ruth put it. And if you’re going to show them, show them.

How Long (Betcha' Got A Chick On The Side)

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That’s just what they did on their first single from the album – “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)” – written by Anita, Bonnie, and David Rubinson. This isn’t a song that looks back. This is a unique style, combining all the pieces of funk, R&B, and disco that make those genres great. This is lush strings punctuating funky guitar. This is a beat that builds and builds, waiting to explode. It begs for dance floors and house parties. The signature harmonies that made them famous are there throughout, too. They show up again in the whispered refrain, with Ruth’s deep alto holding down Anita’s lead. The result is powerful, assured. The song would score the Pointers their first (and only) R&B number one.

They’d made something special, and they knew it. “The album was a mother,” Ruth writes. With songs written or co-written by Stevie Wonder (“Sleeping Alone”), Isaac Hayes (“Easy Days”), another Toussaint (“Going Down Slowly”), and appearances by both Wonder and Herbie Hancock, Steppin’ tapped into something new for the Pointers, something that both artist and audience could feel. With the album, “We planted our flag as true song stylists,” Ruth writes. “We felt our days as a gimmick act were coming to a close.”

Listen to The Pointer Sisters’ “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)” now.

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