Janis Joplin/Big Brother – ‘Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills’

❉ Restored to its full glory for its 50th Anniversary, this is a must for anyone looking to revisit 1968, writes Eoghan Lyng.

How cruel critics lumber Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin together due to their same age of demise. Far worthier of comparison was their merging of blues, soul and jazz. There was nothing effete about their singing or presentation, and no attempts to be disavowed by a genre predominantly masculine, inspiring many males to listen to rate a female artist as one of the best in their field. Neither could have it done without the help of their producers (Mark Ronson and John Simon respectively), but it was the uncompromisingly ballsy attack of both artists that made Back To Black and Cheap Thrills the killer albums that they are.

The power of Joplin’s voice is there from opening track Combination of The Two, best described in this package’s sleeve notes by Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick as “spontaneous explosions of every emotion – no holds barred… Janis had no trouble sliding from the apron-clad fifties into the no bra sixties.  We all took every advantage of the new freedoms, and it was reflected in the music… This album, because of its worldwide success, made it possible for everybody to hear the phenomenon that was previously limited to the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, a new generation gets the ‘Cheap Thrills’ experience to enjoy.”

Janis Joplin (Don Hunstein-Sony Music Archives)

The huskiness heard on Summertime is evidence of the empowering nature of Joplin’s voice, Sam Andrew’s psychedelic pyrotechnics heightened to an audience one year before Jimmy Page left them dazed and confused. Staple hit Piece of My Heart is bolstered by drummer Dave Getz’s cymbal flourishes, but make no mistake, Joplin was musically knowledgeable. An additional mix of Turtle Blues shows Joplin correcting a bandmate “it’s supposed to go from E to A”. There are a trove of unreleased demoes here, and Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills (the original rejected title) is a must for anyone looking to revisit 1968. They’re louder than the Esher Demoes for sure!

From the thirty tracks heard here, only five were released beforehand. Tapes and voices show how in tune Big Brother and the Holding Company were to one another rehearsing. Outtakes Roadblock and Flower in the Sun are powerful enough to have made the original tracklisting. Additional pieces Magic of Love, Catch Me Daddy, Turtle Blues and Farewell Song provide an interesting backdrop, and even the five previously released rarities are worth a relisten.

Janis Joplin (Don Hunstein-Sony Music Archives)

The most arresting is a unreleased live performance of Ball and Chain, recorded live at Winterland Ballroom on April 12, 1968. This husky rendition of the Big Mama Thornton standard is a compelling piece of live drama, but one that serves Joplin as one piece of a musical unit,the Big Brother and the Holding Company all flying from their different poses and instruments. The band could make a cover their own, but their own written work has a poignancy not often recognised. The Andrew/Joplin penned I Need A Man To Love shows a soul baring ability, taped by John Simon who had previously geared The Band away from being a back up act into their own unit.

It worked, its August 1968 release a worldwide smash, placing Joplin on the map as one of the icons of the sixties/seventies. It proved her last with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and, sadly, her last indelible statement. But there’s a power to the performances, Joplin’s powerful soaring voice an inspiration to singers, few of whom have come close in the fifty years since its release.

Disc One

1. Combination Of The Two (Take 3)
2. I Need A Man To Love (Take 4)
3. Summertime (Take 2) *
4. Piece Of My Heart (Take 6)
5. Harry (Take 10)
6. Turtle Blues (Take 4)
7. Oh, Sweet Mary
8. Ball And Chain (live, The Winterland Ballroom, April 12, 1968)
9. Roadblock (Take 1) *
10. Catch Me Daddy (Take 1)
11. It’s A Deal (Take 1) *
12. Easy Once You Know How (Take 1) *
13. How Many Times Blues Jam
14. Farewell Song (Take 7)

Disc Two

1. Flower In The Sun (Take 3)
2. Oh Sweet Mary
3. Summertime (Take 1)
4. Piece of My Heart (Take 4)
5. Catch Me Daddy (Take 9)
6. Catch Me Daddy (Take 10)
7. I Need A Man To Love (Take 3)
8. Harry (Take 9)
9. Farewell Song (Take 4)
10. Misery’n (Takes 2 & 3)
11. Misery’n (Take 4)
12. Magic Of Love (Take 1) *
13. Turtle Blues (Take 9)
14. Turtle Blues (last verse Takes 1-3)
15. Piece Of My Heart (Take 3)
16. Farewell Song (Take 5)


‘Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills’ will be available in 2CD (30 tracks) and 2LP (16 tracks) configurations. Released on Friday, November 30. Order now: https://lnk.to/SexDopeCheapThrills.

❉ Eoghan Lyng is a writer, part-time English teacher and full-time lover of life.

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