Wednesday, January 26, 2011

338 Cheap Thrills. Janis and a bunch of guys.

Album: Cheap Thrills
Artist: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Year: 1968
Genre: Rock

Tracks


  1. Combination of the Two
  2. I Need a Man to Love
  3. Summertime
  4. Piece of My Heart
  5. Turtle Blues
  6. Oh, Sweet Mary
  7. Ball and Chain


You have to spare a thought for Big Brother and the Holding Company. In the mid-sixties they were a big band destined for greatness. They played psychadelic rock in San Fransisco, the home of tripped-out music and were among a number of bands who were on the verge of registering chart successes as high as they were. The one thing they decided they lacked was a lead singer. So someone suggested they hook up with a woman who was hanging around looking for a group to sing with. Her name was Janis Joplin and she destroyed the band with the sort of ruthless efficiency that only Yoko Ono could hope to match.

Within a few months of her joining them all media attention turned to focus on the tiny texan with the amazing voice and Big Brother became nothing more than her backing group. The band's sound changed to suit her style and the instrumental music that they had started playing was cast aside in favour of more opportunities for Janis to dominate the stage. You might argue that she took them places where they hadn't managed to go before- Cheap Thrills was a huge selling album and was bigger than anything they might have managed on their own. This might be true but everyone can name the lead singer and more people can name the artist who drew the cover (Robert Crumb) than any other members of the band. When your fame is superceded by the singer you employed and the guy who does the artwork you can be sure you're not making the impact in the rock world you wanted.

After Cheap Thrills was released Janis left to pursue her own hugely successful solo career and left Big Brother's corpse in her wake. They couldn't go back to their old sound because people wanted to hear Joplinesque material. And any vocalist they employed to replace her was never going to be able to make the impact she did. They were ignored and eventually fell apart completely.

The sad thing is that Cheap Thrills is a truly fantastic album. It's not fair to see this as just an early Janis Joplin album, it's a great release by one of the sadly neglected San Fransisco bands. Oh Sweet Mary is a fantastic psychadelic workout in which every band member cuts loose with some great jamming and Janis is content to contribute backing vocals. It makes me wish there were more recordings around of Big Brother without Janis.

Of course I couldn't finish this review without pointing out that Janis Joplin is a truly amazing vocalist and an incredible talent. Her version of Summertime is magnificent and shows off how damn good she really was. I only wish more people would call it "Summertime by Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin on vocals and the great James Gurley on guitar".

Highlight: Summertime (and not just Joplin's vocals)
Lowlight: The strange attempt to pretend it's a live album.

Influenced by: The blues and LSD
Influenced: Female belters the world over.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Poetry is the word of God. I can't find anyone to love me. The main problem with our planet is that Janis Joplin is not recognised as an equal with Jimi Hendrix, although she was at tne time."

-What a strange review. I don't want to sound harsh to someone who is clearly a bit sad but maybe they'd be easier to love if they thought world poverty was a larger world problem than the imbalance between Hendrix and Joplin's popularity?

So do you like your thrills cheap or expensive? Let me know below.


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