Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills

Janis Joplin’s short career was established with her blistering performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and this 1968 major-label debut, which was delayed by contractual wranglings but still shot to the top of the charts and remains a musical highlight for all involved. Joplin’s overwhelming emotionalism coupled with her San Franciscan backing band’s “acid rock”—essentially, the blues distorted and strung out with intense amplification—made for a lesson in sonic overkill. Producer John Simon, upset with the results, had his name pulled from the credits, and the ensuing album, mostly a full frontal assault on the senses, was assembled from studio and live recordings. “Piece of My Heart” became Joplin’s immediate calling card, but it was the extended take on Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” that best exemplified the Texas singer’s anxious, desperate, and heartfelt pleas for understanding. Joplin was driven to push her voice to extremes, and “I Need a Man to Love” and “Oh, Sweet Mary” stagger with her bourbon-soaked voice, which understood the blues as a sad, doomed road to self-destruction. The expanded edition of this album adds two studio outtakes (“Roadblock,” “Flower in the Sun”) and two previously unreleased live tracks (“Catch Me Daddy,” “Magic of Love”). The album is also notable for its artwork, by satirical “underground comix” cartoonist Robert Crumb (whose work would become iconic in the San Francisco counterculture from which Joplin arose); like much of his work, it features a racist depiction of Black people inspired by Jim Crow-era propaganda.

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