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9.11-PIECE OF MY HEART (Big Brother & the Holding Company)

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin

LISTEN

[Intro]

Come on! (4x)

Didn't I make you feel
Like you were the only man?
Didn’t I give you nearly everything
That a woman possibly can?
(Honey, you know I did.)
Each time I tell myself that I think I've had enough
Well I'm gonna show you baby that a woman can be tough.

        I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on
        (And take it!)
        Take another little piece of my heart now baby.
        (Break it!)
        Break another little bit of my heart now.
        (Have a---)
        Have another little piece of my heart now baby.
        You know you got it if it makes you feel good.

You're out on the streets lookin' good
And baby deep down in your heart
I guess you know that it ain't right.
Hear me when I cry at night.
(Baby I cry all the time.)
Each time I tell myself that I can't stand the pain
But when you hold me in your arms I'm singing once again.

        [Chorus]

[Break]

        [Chorus (2x)]

[Coda]


Cheap Thrills was the most anticipated album of 1968. Though immensely popular in the San Francisco area, Big Brother and the Holding Company was for the most part unheard outside of the U.S. West Coast (the same could be said of the Grateful Dead at the time). I had heard of Janis Joplin for months through such magazines as Rolling Stone, and looked forward to the record upon its release. But this was not a psychedelic record, despite Sam Andrew’s ability to mimic (in my opinion, poorly) the psychedelic guitar licks of Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane. It was a high intensity blues record fueled not by pot and LSD but (as we would later learn) Southern Comfort whiskey. By this point it was apparent that one didn’t really have to participate in the psychedelic aesthetic to have a hip hit record.

Janis Joplin was following up on a gambit that had already been attempted with some success by Creedence Clearwater Revival (see my review of Suzie Q) and Canned Heat (On the Road Again), but whereas these previous releases had tapped old songs probably unfamiliar to much of the audience, Piece of My Heart had been a moderate R&B hit for Erma Franklin (Aretha’s older sister) in just the previous year. The audacity of restructuring a recent song to such a degree as to be unrecognizable kicked the “blue eyed soul” of say, the Righteous Brothers, to a much raunchier level. Joe Vigilione, writing for allmusic, points out that Piece of My Heart was louder than anything else on the radio at the time, exceeding the assault of the Beatles' Revolution, its loudest contender on the charts. But what I believe really set Piece of My Heart apart from most psychedelic music was the passion with which Janis Joplin delivered her songs. Passion was a new value in an aesthetic which had largely been cool and detached, transcendent. Exception might be made for Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, but one has to remember that the psychedelic ideal for a woman singer had been icy Grace Slick.

However, I view Piece of My Heart as an entry way to another (R&B derived) form of popular music, using familiar psychedelic tropes in order to make the shift more palatable to a White audience. Janis Joplin is one of the great women singers of the 1960s, but in the last analysis, she made her way without a psychedelic prop, having more in common really with Aretha Franklin than the Jefferson Airplane. This is the only mention I will make of her (or the group that she soon abandoned) in these pages.

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