Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” but Damn, Janis, couldn’t you have burned with us just a little bit longer?
Janis Joplin was a ball of raw talent who took a rough childhood and let it inform her musical style. And that almost certainly carried through to the listener. When she sounded sad, so did you. When she was feeling silly, it immediately conveyed. And when she sang in an anguished style, you were right there with her.
What’s more, her band members, whether it was Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band, or the Full Tilt Boogie Band, really knocked themselves out to support her sound. Listen especially hard to the Pearl album, where a lot of the instrumentals were recorded over a ten-day span shortly after Joplin died.
But Joplin’s last recorded album track wasn’t even necessarily meant to be on the album. It was a piece that started out as an a capella goof during a technical breakdown while recording, and the producer decided that it needed to be on the album. What’s more, it needed to remain as-is, without any instrumentation.
“Mercedes Benz” was based on a piece by Beat poet Michael McClure, and it was a comment on the futility of social climbing by gathering material goods. It was an interesting time for rock musicians, because they were starting to get recognition AND the money that comes with fame, and in a lot of cases they purchased expensive stuff such as cars and big houses even as they decried them in their songs. Despite this somewhat mixed message, the car company took the tone-deaf step of using it in one of their ads.
Next week: more surprise cover songs! I keep finding these things. And one in particular was a huge surprise for me.
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