Janis Joplin – Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits – Round 31 – Graham’s Choice

A late change of mind on selections led me to this choice. To be fair to Ms Joplin I didn’t give her the best of introductions as I set fellow members the task of identifying the other 3 members of the 27 Club (artists who have died at that age) who I had so far brought to DRC. That guessing game then continued over the opening track (her version of ‘Piece of my heart’) which on hearing it for the first time, inspired me to buy this album.

Playing this again, really reminded me that I need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this album. Zooming down the motorway with this a full tilt can be an exhilarating listen, but to be frank, sometimes in a more intimate listening environment, what she does with some of these songs can be a very acquired taste.

When I first heard her version of ‘Piece of my heart’, the rawness of it just blew me away. Until I bought this I was aware of her iconic status but couldn’t really name a tune to identify her with. She clearly broke boundaries in her day as a female solo singer that led to her being revered in the period following her death, but I’m not all that sure if her recorded output does her justice. In her short life she managed to bridge psychedelia/soul/blues and inspire female singers to take centre stage. Her reported heavy use of drugs and alcohol, even before any sort of fame and recognition, meant she was unlikely to survive the late 60’s unscathed. Her death at 27 in 1970 brought to an end only a four year period since the release of the Big Brother and the Holding Company debut album.

Still, Columbia Records did quite nicely out of it as the “interweb” tells me that this album has sold 7 million copies since release in 1973.

This was the first ever CD I ever bought, minutes after purchasing my first CD player in 1990. The purchase may have been driven by the fact that not only did I want to hear more of what Janice had to offer, but also that it was part of Sony’s “Nice Price” range and I was probably short of cash!

Spending an hour or so on YouTube is probably a better introduction to her, as her waifishness and vulnerability, combined with raw emotive power give her an level of impact that easy not easy to get across on CD. In my opinion, my other icon selection, Mr Hendrix, leaves a recorded legacy that more than matches his legend.

There are only  2 of her own tracks,  ‘Down on Me’ and ‘Move Over’ which along with ‘Piece of my heart’, ‘Try’ and ‘Me and Bobby Mcgee’, are the highlights of the album for me. The tracks chart her progress through being lead singer of  Big Brother and the Holding Company, moving on to her  solo career, backed by  The Kozmic Blues Band and The Full Tilt Boogie Band.

As a result of the power of advertising, if you buy the 1999 reissue of this album you’ll also receive  ‘Mercedes-Benz’ and you can delight in the irony of how a song about the shallowness of materialism finished up selling its namesake http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjTuRDW2NHY

Tom Listened: Although I can barely remember listening to Janice Joplin’s Greatest Hits album, I’m going to have a go at writing up my thoughts on it anyway.

Once again, Graham has taken me way outside of my musical comfort zone and whilst this is music that I wouldn’t gravitate towards of my own volition, I like the fact that my judgement as far as Janice Joplin is concenred is now a little more informed than it was before (seeing as it was previously based (almost) exclusively on ignorance). Like some of Graham’s other recent choices, this struck me as being a very musically crowded offering…it seemed as though the volume knobs were turned to 10 on every instrument and Joplin’s voice carries enough power to run a small town…and she doesn’t hold back! It’s kind of the opposite of Spirit of Eden (one of Graham’s faves I believe) which I listened to the other day and was mesmorized by, especially the way it consistently shifts from quiet to loud/intimate to threatening in such a subtle and effective way. It says a lot about Graham’s ecleticicsm (and my lack of it) that both these records reside happily in his collection…me I’m glad I’ve heard it but once was probably enough!

Nick listened: Janis’ is a name I’ve known… forever, or so it seems. But, as Tom and Graham both suggest, it’s not for the most positive reasons. Her notoriety as a poster-child for the hippie excesses of the 60s and the voice of Woodstock, and, sadly, as a member of the horrific non-club that is the “27 Club”, has almost completely overshadowed her music. I’d never heard of Big Brother and the Holding Company, or The Full Tilt Boogie Band, and I couldn’t have named you a song by her or told you what she was like as a musician. I think I’m faintly guilty of conflating her with Joni Mitchell in my mind… So I was actually pleased to hear her music at last, and I enjoyed it, but I agree strongly with Graham’s reservation regarding whether she was actually doing something great with every song she interpreted, or just plain murdering some of them. Her sound is amazingly prototypically-late-60s, acid-fried rock, groovy and soulful, and her voice very much fits with that, but I wonder if this of-its-timeness has perhaps been part of why her legend, rather than her songs, are what I knew before the other evening?

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