I figured we would start off Glorious Ladies of Rocktober with a blast. Janis Joplin was, in many ways, the first female rock star. Before her, there were plenty of female pop, R&B, blues, jazz, and soul stars, but she was the first woman to show that the ladies could make a mark in rock music too. She drank a lot, did a lot of drugs, and, unfortunately, died young, joining the infamous 27 Club forty-five years ago this Sunday, little more than two weeks after Jimi Hendrix did the same.
More than her penchant for booze and drugs, her bubbly personality, and her untimely death, what sets Joplin apart is that voice. That fucking voice. Janis Joplin had, in my opinion, one of the best rock and roll voices period, male or female. How did a little, young white girl from Port Arthur, Texas manage to sound like a middle-aged blues singer with the energy of a firecracker?
"Piece of My Heart" is my favorite song sung by Joplin. It's one of those songs that I can never get tired of hearing, and for me, it epitomizes Joplin's talent. I couldn't tell you the first time I heard it, but I can tell you that it was definitely the first time I remember hearing Janis Joplin sing, and I was blown away (and still am).
Originally recorded by Aretha Franklin's older sister Emma in 1967, Big Brother and The Holding Company decided to cover "Piece of My Heart" a year later for their second album, Cheap Thrills, adding some distorted guitars and Joplin's voice to make it a classic. While the original did pretty well on the charts (top ten on the R&B charts and #62 on the Billboard singles charts), Big Brother's cover was a bona fide hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard singles charts.
Franklin's version is a more straightforward soul song, but when you compare it to Big Brother's version, it seems too polished. Joplin just tears the song apart, and when you hear her sing it, it's cathartic. You feel her pain and you imagine her, with tears in her eyes, yelling at her man, "And while you're at it, take another little piece of my heart, you asshole!" before throwing an empty bottle of SoCo at his head and giving him some sort of drunken ultimatum. Joplin was only 25 at the time she recorded the song, which is amazing to me because she has always seemed so old (even though I'm now ten years older than she was when she died) and certainly too old for that voice. Next time you see a 5'6" 25-year-old woman, ask her to sing. It will not sound like this. If it does, kidnap her.*
Anyway, don't expect all of my Glorious Ladies of Rocktober posts to be this long. Or maybe you should. Expect nothing, but at the same time expect everything. Here's the song. Listen to it, you son of a bitch, and listen good.
*Do not kidnap her.