photo & text by nacrowe
BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY's CHEAP THRILLS (COLUMBIA, 1968) album is basically the STUNNING major label debut of the LEGENDARY POWERHOUSE singer JANIS JOPLIN. building off the hype that followed her in the wake of her ELECTRIC performance at the MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL the previous year, JOPLIN on CHEAP THRILLS showcases her PRETERNATURAL ability to channel both a sense of GUT-WRENCHING VULNERABILITY and HARD-WON SELF-AWARENESS that is as INTENSE as it is RAW. her UNMISTAKABLE voice today is every bit the PRIMAL SCREAM that it was back in the late 1960s. it is completely INIMITABLE and uniquely JOPLIN. when i consider the thought of similar like-minded singers, the FEROCIOUS yet UNGUARDED genius that was early BLUES singer BESSIE SMITH comes immediately to mind. with both singers there is UNBRIDLED and UNCOMPROMISING AUTHENTICITY to their voice that feels like they reached deep down and took their heart from their chest and placed it on a platter for you to observe. no show business trickery, just PURE INTENTION and DIRECT EXPRESSION.
the STANDOUT tracks from CHEAP THRILLS include renditions of both "BALL AND CHAIN" and "PEACE OF MY HEART." "BALL AND CHAIN" is an EMOTIVE cover of an absolutely BRUTAL BIG MAMA THORNTON song that dwells in the pits of despair over the PAIN, SUFFERING and SELF-DIRECTED ABUSE that comes with LOVE gone SOUR. in a BLUES setting it is an UNSETTLING number and JOPLIN carried that tradition forward in her BLUES ROCK interpretation of such. she is so CONVINVING in her delivery and presentation that it is difficult to not be moved by it. youd have to by a sociopath or dead to be unmoved by "BALL AND CHAIN." likewise "PIECE OF MY HEART" is arguably the most BELOVED song in JOPLIN's short catalogue, which besides a forgotten SUB-PAR, poorly produced debut on the INDEPENDENT MAINSTREAM RECORDS, entails two CELEBRATED solo albums, I GOT DEM OL' KOZMIC BLUES AGAIN MAMA! (COLUMBIA, 1969) and PEARL (COLUMBIA, 197`), before her untimely TRAGIC passing in 1970 from a heroin overdose. written by songwriting duo JERRY RAGAVOY and BERT BERNS, "PEACE OF MY HEART" was originally composed as a R&B/SOUL ballad for ARETHA FRANKLIN's sister ERMA, of all people, but in the hands of JOPLIN became something of a generational 1960s ROCK AND ROLL anthem. again, JOPLIN deftly projects a SEXUAL and PERSONAL CONFIDENCE by basically commanding the ROMANTIC object of the song to take a peace of her heart. its a confidence that is baked in a PALPABLE sense of VULNERABLITY. that UNNERVING CONFIDENT / VULNERABLE dynamic that JOPLIN so incredibly balances is arguably the reason she is such a RENOWNED 20th century icon and undisputedly one of the great MODERN singers of any genre. her voice just taps something PRIMAL and moves people to their core, even decades and generations later.
CHEAP THRILLS is required listening. end stop. for me personally the music of JANIS JOPLIN always reminds me of my mother, who i see channeled to another time and place every instance she hears her voice. i believe she still very much mourns her death like many from her generation. what a UNIQUE TALENT.