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Cream of The Crate: Album # 167 - Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits


  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 167 - Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits

    She was a remarkable, if erratic, singer, and she proved it, live and on record. Anyone who exhibits qualities of greatness earns certain privileges."(Jack Shadoian - Rolling Stone Feb 18, 1971)

    "Her wailing rendition of Ball And Chain signalled the arrival of a feisty blues shouter who made up in attitude what she may have lacked in technique"(Chris Jones BBC 2008)

    "... her legacy grows, and her music, her songs that she poured her soul into, remain alive for surely her soul is is reformed everytime we listen to her music." (This review}

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    This is album review number one hundred and sixty seven in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    When we talk about female blues singers we tend to automatically think of the greats such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith or maybe Memphis Minnie. These women were indeed, utterly brilliant, but so was a woman born in 1943 and who by the mid to late 60s was announcing, she was "the" female blues singer of the time.

    I am talking about Janis Joplin and the album I'm featuring is titled - Greatest Hits and was Released on vinyl in 1973, some three years after her death. Released under licence from CBS on the then budget label K-tel it has the identifying code of NA 568. This album has only ten tracks, and features Janice with the three groups she is most famously associated with.

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    Track Listing:
    1. "Piece of My Heart" (Bert Berns, Jerry Ragovoy) – 4:14
    2. "Summertime" (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Dubose Heyward) – 4:02
    3. "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" (Ragovoy, Chip Taylor) – 3:57
    4. "Cry Baby" (Berns, Ragovoy) – 4:00
    5. "Me and Bobby McGee" (Fred Foster, Kris Kristofferson)
    6. "Down on Me" (Janis Joplin) – 3:09
    7. "Get It While You Can" (Ragovoy, Mort Shuman) – 3:27
    8. "Bye, Bye Baby" (Powell St. John) – 2:37
    9. "Move Over" (Joplin) – 3:44
    10. "Ball and Chain" (Big Mama Thornton) – 7:59

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    Janis Joplin's story, in many ways, has been told many times through the life and times of many female blues singers. A rise to fame in the face of a male dominated industry, singing the blues with passion and feeling that belies the pain and anguish that many women undergo as they seek to find their way in a man's world, and yet, desperate seek acknowledgement as a woman and as an artist and yet, wanting to be "one of the boy's"!

    If you look at the lists of the "best" female blues singers Janis never appears in the top 10 - that seems to be the domain of the greats of the 30's, 40's and 50's. yet in my mind she was one of the true greats. her voice was not that of a lark, in fact at times it was as raw as a voice could come. What she had was passion, feeling and a way that just touched the listener's soul.

    There are many great biographies and stories of Janis' history, but I have taken material from one of the best.

    Janis Lyn Joplin was born on January 19, 1943, in Port Arthur, Texas. Breaking new ground for women in rock music, Joplin rose to fame in the late 1960s and became known for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals. She grew up in a small Texas town known for its connections to the oil industry with a skyline and dotted with oil tanks and refineries. For years, Joplin struggled to escape from this confining community, and spent even longer to trying to overcome her memories of her difficult years there.

    Developing a love for music at an early age, Joplin sang in her church choir as a child and showed some promise as a performer. She was an only child until the age of 6, when her sister, Laura, was born. Four years later, her brother, Michael, arrived. Joplin was a good student and fairly popular until around the age of 14, when some side effects of puberty started to kick in. She got acne and gained some weight.

    At Thomas Jefferson High School, Joplin began to rebel. She eschewed the popular girls' fashions of the late 1950s, often choosing to wear men's shirts and tights, or short skirts. Joplin, who liked to stand out from the crowd, became the target of some teasing as well as a popular subject in the school's rumor mill. She was called a "pig" by some, while others said that she was sexually promiscuous.

    She eventually developed a group of guy friends who shared her interest in music and the Beat Generation, which rejected the standard norms and emphasized creative expression (Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were two of the Beat movement's leading figures).

    Musically, Janis Joplin and her friends gravitated toward blues and jazz, admiring such artists as Lead Belly. Janis was also inspired by legendary blues vocalists Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Odetta, an early leading figure in the folk music movement. The group frequented local working-class bars in the nearby town of Vinton, Louisiana. By her senior year of high school, Janis Joplin had developed a reputation as a ballsy, tough-talking girl who like to drink and be outrageous.

    In January 1963, she ditched school to check out the emerging music scene in San Francisco with friend Chet Helms. But this stint out west, like her first, proved to be unsuccessful, as Janis struggled to make it as a singer in the Bay Area. She played some gigs, including a side-stage performance at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival—but her career didn't gain much traction. She then spent some time in New York City, where she hoped to have better luck getting her career off the ground, but her drinking and drug use (she'd begun regularly using speed, or amphetamine, among other drugs) there proved to be detrimental to her musical aspirations. In 1965, she left San Francisco and returned home in an effort to get herself together again.

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    Janis circa 1964/65

    Janis slowly returned to performing, and in May 1966, was recruited by friend Travis Rivers to audition for a new psychedelic rock band based in San Francisco, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Joplin blew the band away during her audition, and was quickly offered membership into the group. In her early days with Big Brother, she sang only a few songs and played the tambourine in the background. But it wasn't long before Janis assumed a bigger role in the band, as Big Brother developed quite a following in the Bay Area.

    Their appearance at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967—specifically their version of "Ball and Chain" (originally made famous by R&B legend Big Mama Thornton, brought the group further acclaim. Most of the praise, however, focused on Janis' incredible vocals. Fueled by heroin, amphetamines and the bourbon she drank straight from the bottle during gigs, Joplin's unrestrained sexual style and raw, gutsy sound mesmerized audiences—and all of this attention caused some tension between her and her bandmates.

    The album Cheap Thrills helped solidify Janis Joplin's reputation as a unique, dynamic, bluesy rock singer. Despite Big Brother's continued success, Joplin was becoming frustrated with group, feeling that she was being held back professionally. She struggled with her decision to leave Big Brother, as her bandmates had been like a family to her, but she eventually decided to part ways with the group. She played with Big Brother for the last time in December 1968.

    Following a historic performance at Woodstock (August 1969), she released her first solo effort, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, in September 1969, with the Kozmic Blues Band.

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    With the Kozmic Blues Band

    Some of the project's most memorable songs were "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" and "To Love Somebody," a cover of a Bee Gees tune. But Kozmic Blues received mixed reviews, with some media outlets criticizing Joplin personally. Feeling uniquely pressured to prove herself as a female solo artist in a male-dominated industry, the criticism caused distress for her.

    Janis' next album would be her most successful, but, tragically, also her last. She recorded Pearl with the Full Tilt Boogie Band and wrote two of its songs. The first was the powerful, rocking "Move Over" and the second was, "Mercedes Benz," a gospel-styled send-up of consumerism.

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    Janis 1970

    Following a long struggle with substance abuse, Janis Joplin died from an accidental heroin overdose on October 4, 1970, at a hotel in Hollywood's Landmark Hotel. Completed by her producer, Pearl was released posthumously in 1971 and quickly became a hit. The single "Me and Bobby McGee," written by Kris Kristofferson, a former love of Janis', reached the top of the charts.

    So to the album - Greatest Hits. Whilst all her albums are worthy of collecting, particularly Cheap Thrills, the one thing about this album is that it does cover most of her best tracks. The one glaring omission is Mercedes Benz.

    Let me, as usual, start with track 1 - Piece Of My Heart. Originally recorded by a relatively unknown gospel/blues singer singer - Emma Frankln in 1967, just one year later Janis working with Big Brother and The Holding Company recorded it and her interpretation far more successful. Apart from the magnificently passionate delivery by Janis, this arrangement has not just one guitar solo, but no less than three and, they are loud, they are crazily psychedelic and they just provided the perfect adjunct to Janis' delivery. The guitar work, and indeed the arrangement of the song, was courtesy of Sam Andrew of the Holding Company, who would eventually leave the group to form the Kozmic Blues Band with Janis before eventually returning to Big Brother.

    Big Brother has had a number of musicians play with it during its fifty years of existence, in fact it is still working today. However in 1966 - 68 it's membership was:
    • Janis Joplin - lead vocals
    • Sam Andrew – guitar, vocals
    • James Gurley – guitar, bass
    • Peter Albin – bass, guitar
    • Dave Getz – drums, piano

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    Janis with the Big Brother and The Holding Company

    The track sold 500,00 copies, it went gold and was listed in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

    Piece Of My Heart

    Track 3 - Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) is the only track on this album that was recorded by Janis and the Kozmic Blues Band. The track is from the album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! which was released in 1969, going Platinum with sales exceeding one million. The album contains two outstanding tracks, one being Kozmic Blues, and the other being this track, Try. The group was a mixture of group members and session members but the core along with Joplin was keyboardist Stephen Ryder as well as Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist Sam Andrew and future Full Tilt Boogie Band bassist Brad Campbell.

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    Janis with the Kozmic Blues Band

    The track is another gut-wrenching, semi-screamed almost cathartically sung piece, with Janis holding nothing back.

    Try, try, try just a little bit harder
    So I can love, love, love him, I tell myself
    Well, I'm gonna try yeah, just a little bit harder
    So I won't lose, lose, lose him to nobody else.
    Hey! Well, I don't care how long it's gonna take you now,
    But if it's a dream I don't want No I don't really want it
    If it's a dream I don't want nobody to wake me.

    Yeah, I'm gonna try yeah, just a little bit harder
    So I can give, give, give, give him every bit of my soul.
    Yeah, I'm gonna try yeah, just a little bit harder
    So I can show, show, show him love with no control.
    Hey! I've waited so long for someone so fine
    I ain't gonna lose my chance, no I don't wanna lose it,
    Ain't gonna lose my chance to make you mine, all mine.
    All right, get it! Yeah!

    Try yeah, try yeah, hey, hey, hey, try yeah,
    Oh try whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,
    Oh anybody, oh anybody, oh anybody,
    Try oh yeah (just a little bit harder)
    Whoa I gotta try some more,
    I said try yeah, aw I said try,
    I said try try try try try try,
    Oh try oh yeah, try oh yeah!

    Hey hey, I gotta talk to my man now,
    You know I, I gotta feel for my man now,
    I said I, I gotta work for my man now,
    You know I, I gotta hurt for my man now,
    I think-a every day for my man now,
    You know it, every way for my man now.
    I say try, try yeah, oh try yeah,
    Hey hey hey, try yeah-hey, oh, try...

    The track kicks off innocently enough, with a gentle throbbing bass, in comes the drums and Janis shows some restraint at the beginning. The track smacks of the Stax approach with some great brass punctuating the track, and the guys in the group providing backing vocals. After the middle eight music solo Janis kicks it up a notch and no one could accuse her of not trying as she stretches her voice in that magnificent Joplin style. Them at the end, the group drop out, leaving a short capella moment, before slowly and gently the music returns building up to a crescendo pushing Janis to the point of a vocal climax!


    Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)

    As in said at the start, any track on this album deserves to be spoken of and remembered, but we pause on the final track on side one, track 5 - the memorable Me And Bobby McGee, with Janis fronting The Full Tilt Boogie Band. Now the track was recorded by many artists both prior and post Joplin, including by its writer - Kris Kristofferson.

    Janis recorded it on the fantastic Pearl album which also had the memorable tracks Cry Baby and Mercedes Benz. When the track was recorded and released by the group in 1971, consisted of:
    • Janis Joplin – vocals, guitar on "Me and Bobby McGee"
    • Richard Bell – piano
    • Ken Pearson – organ
    • John Till – electric guitar
    • Brad Campbell – bass guitar
    • Clark Pierson – drums

    No wonder the album went 4x Platinum, it is a great album with some sublime tracks, and in fact the word sublime is the perfect descriptor for this track. In fact composer Chris Kristopherson didn't listen to Janis' version until after her death. He is reported as saying in a talk later, "I walked all over L.A., just in tears. I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up."

    By the time she recorded this track, her voice had matured, and she had gained an amazing control over it and so the decision to record this track at this time, was a perfectly timed decision. This is a blues track through and through, and like many female blues singers that came before her, such as Ma Rainey and Memphis Minnie, Janis breaks her heart, and she breaks ours. This is a blues track that is sung by a woman who was suffering, both from her own hand through her addictions to hard drugs and alcohol, but also suffering the confusion and pain of a woman who wanted to be loved and cherished like a woman, but was operating in a "man's world" and in what is quite a contradiction, was desperate to be treated like "one of the boys".

    Me And Bobby McGee

    Track 1 on side 2 is also from the debut Big Brother and The Holding Company album by the same name. The track Down On Me is a traditional blues track that saw Janis writing additional lyrics for. It is a very good track amongst some great tracks, and so the question could be asked, why this track? Well, it is pure raw unadulterated no holds barred Joplin.

    When Janis sings, "Believe in your brother, have faith in man, Help each other, honey, if you can - Because it looks like everybody in this whole round world Is down on me", we cannot help but to be touched. The music is laid-back, almost uplifting and the delivery is as well. Yet if we listen to the words carefully we cannot be certain as to whether she is being predictive as to how she would see the world some four or so years later, or whether she was reflecting the state of affairs of the section of society (the west coast hippies) that she was part of.

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    Janis - 1969

    As I said, not the strongest track on the album, but that reminds us of how far her voice came, it's not as powerful at this time of her career, but that rawness would be shaped into more powerful deliveries which didn't surface until later in her career.

    So if we want "balls" and we want to finish with a powerful reminder of Janis and her style, we move to the final track - track 5 on side 2. Ball And Chain which was recorded in 1968 land and appeared on the Cheap Thrills album. The version on the album being reviewed is a live version and whilst it is a track that never rose to any giddy heights, it is so goddamn good!. Originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton, it was no wonder Janis picked it up, as she was a self declared fan of Thornton.

    Kicking off with a subdued "scream" from Janis and a semi-extended guitar solo, it takes almost a minute before she takes over. A slow blues rendition, the group has backed right off leaving her to set the scene - and already we are hers! Then, she opens up with the full passion and what is at times an almost disturbing delivery, when she says "P-l-e-a-s-e", we are totally under her spell!

    A combination of a beautifully 'distorted' guitar and expressive playing from the rest of the band, we can in our "mind's eye" see Janis down, pleading to her man - pleading to the audience.

    Sitting down by my window
    Looking at the rain
    Sitting down by my window
    All around I felt it

    All I could see was the rain
    Something grabbed a hold of me honey
    Felt to me, honey like a ball and chain
    You know what I mean

    Say whoa honey, this can't be
    Just because I got to want your love, please leave me be
    Whoa honey, this can't be just because I got to need ya daddy
    Please don't ya let me down now
    Honey, I wanted to love ya

    Whoa honey, just can't be
    I wonder if someone if they could tell me
    Tell me why
    Just because I got to want your love

    Honey, just because I got to need, need, need your love
    I say, I don't understand
    Honey, when I wanna try and say hi
    Try, try, try, try, try, try, try

    Honey, when everybody in the world wants the same damn thing
    When everybody in the world, who needs the same lone thing
    When I wanna work for your love daddy
    When I wanna try for you love daddy
    I don't understand, how come, your gone, man

    I don't understand why half the world is still crying, man
    When the other half the world is still crying too, man
    I mean, if you gotta care for one day, man
    Say, maybe, you wanna care for 365 days, right?

    You ain't got it for 365 days, man
    You got it for one day, man
    Well, I'll tell you that one day, man, better be your life, man
    Because you know, you can say
    "Oh man, you can cry about the other 364"

    But your gonna lose that one day, man
    And that's all you got
    You gotta call that love, man
    That's what it is

    If you got it today, you don't wear it tomorrow
    'Cause you don't need it
    As a matter of fact, as we discovered on the train
    Tomorrow never happens

    It's all the same fucking day, man
    So you gotta, when you wanna hold somebody
    You gotta hold 'em like it's the last minute of your life
    You gotta hold


    'Cause some day some weight
    Gonna come on your shoulders babe
    Ball and chain

    The track ends capella - with Janis simply dropping the microphone, and we hear the thump of it hitting the stage - or, is that the thump of our heart dropping?

    Ball And Chain

    Sadly, as most of us know, Janis Joplin died on October 10 1970 from a heroin overdose. Her substance abuse and her overuse of alcohol is well documented, but somehow I can't help but to feel in many ways her death had started well before this date. She was so talented, and like many of her talented but tormented contemporaries like Brian Jones, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, her death left an enormous hole in the music scene, and many unanswered questions.

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    Janis was only 27 years old and I see no value in looking at her "dark side", but rather to remember her for her all too short, but truly brilliant contribution to contemporary music in general, and the blues specifically. As the years go on quite rightly her legacy grows, and her music, her songs that she poured her soul into, all remain alive for surely her soul is is reformed everytime we listen to her music.

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    I have two other albums in my collection, but chose this one because it gave me a chance to look at her music over her career, and with the three key groups in her career. I cannot imagine any record collection not having at least one Janis Joplin album, be it vinyl or CD. In regard to Greatest Hits, the CD is readily available for under Au$10.00 and the vinyl album between $10 and $40.00 on ebay and Discogs.

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    VIDEOS - there are some great clips of Janis live on Youtube, and here are some that are relevant to this album.

    Summertime (1969)

    Cry Baby (1970)

    Get It While You can (1970)

    [The amazing] - Move Over (1970)

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed by me, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed by me, just click here

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    Past album Reviews - Numbers 151 onward:

    Number 151 - The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

    Number 152 - The Animals: The Animals

    Number 153 - Omar Khorshid: Live in Australia 1981

    Number 154 - Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)

    Number 155 - Billy Thorpe: Tangier

    Number 156 - Aretha Franklin: The Best Of

    Number 157 - Big Bill Broonzy: Big Bill Blues [His 23 Greatest Songs]

    Number 158 - The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go

    Number 159 - The Band: Stage Fright

    Number 160 - Ray Brown & The Whispers: Hits and More 1965 - 1968

    Number 161 - Guitar Junior: The Crawl

    Number 162 - Jimi Hendrix: Radio One

    Number 163 - Memphis Minnie: Queen Of The Blues

    Number 164 - Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

    Number 165 - The Loved Ones: Magic Box

    Number 166 - Various Artists: On The Road Again [An Anthology Of Chicago Blues 1947 - 1954]
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