Hear the Original Versions of 10 Songs Made Famous by Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin (1/19/43 – 10/4/70) wasn’t much of a songwriter. She penned only a handful of the songs that made her famous during her brief career, including the favorites ‘Down on Me’ and ‘Move Over.’ Joplin found most of her best cuts in various genres that spanned a number of eras: R&B, country and even in the Great American Songbook. Hopefully, our playlist of Original Versions of 10 Songs Made Famous by Janis Joplin will introduce you to some great songs that influenced one of rock’s most magnetic singers.
‘Ball and Chain’
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was an Alabama blues singer best known for singing 1953’s ‘Hound Dog,’ which Elvis Presley took to No. 1 three years later. In 1968 she wrote and recorded ‘Ball and Chain,’ and super-fan Joplin quickly picked up on it, recording a searing version of the song on Big Brother and the Holding Company’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ album the same year.
The original version of ‘Cry Baby’ was the first and biggest hit by Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters, a vocal group from West Virginia. Their version reached No. 4 in 1963. Eight years later, Joplin just missed the Top 40 with her cover, which was released on her posthumous No. 1 album ‘Pearl.’ Joplin plays down the R&B elements a bit, but her soaring voice during the chorus is remarkably faithful to Mimms’ original.
‘Get It While You Can’
Like several other songs made famous by Joplin, ‘Get It While You Can’ was written by Jerry Ragovoy, a Philadelphia-based songwriter who also penned songs recorded by the Rolling Stones (he wrote ‘Time Is on My Side’ under another name), the Small Faces and the Butterfield Blues Band. ‘Get It While You Can’ was originally performed by soul singer Howard Tate, whose version stalled outside the Top 100 in 1967. Joplin’s version fared a little better in 1971.
Joplin had a hand in writing only two songs on her 1969 debut solo album, ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!,’ choosing instead to cover a bunch of old soul and blues classics, like the Chantels’ 1958 girl-group hit ‘Maybe,’ one of the best pop songs ever made. Joplin added some grit and her familiar rasp to her bluesy, soulful cover.
‘Me and Bobby McGee’
Kris Kristofferson was already making a name for himself as one of the era’s sharpest songwriters by the time Joplin recorded her only No. 1 hit. The original version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ was actually recorded by country star Roger Miller, but Joplin used Kristofferson’s take from his 1970 debut album as a template . . . and then totally owned the song (which can be found on 1971’s ‘Pearl’).
‘Piece of My Heart’
Joplin’s breakthrough hit, which she performed with Big Brother and the Holding Company, was originally sung by Erma Franklin, the older sister of the Queen of Soul, Aretha. Franklin’s version of the smoldering R&B cut was released in 1967, a year before Joplin and Big Brother got hold of it for their classic ‘Cheap Thrills’ album. Franklin’s version, a Top 10 R&B hit, reached No. 62 on the pop chart.
Billie Holiday, the great jazz singer whose life was just as tragic as Joplin’s, wasn’t the first artist to record ‘Summertime,’ but she did have the first pop hit with it, way back in 1936, a year after George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward premiered it in their classic modern opera ‘Porgy and Bess.’ ‘Summertime’ has been covered thousands of times over the past 75 years. Joplin recorded it with Big Brother and the Holding Company on their 1968 album ‘Cheap Thrills.’
‘To Love Somebody’
Joplin didn’t exactly make ‘To Love Somebody’ famous'; the Bee Gees‘ original version hit No. 17 in 1967. But her scorching take on the song from her debut solo album, ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!,’ two years later helped cement her reputation as one of the era’s great singers. Joplin slows down the tempo, but otherwise she keeps much of the song’s spirit — including the punctuating horns — the same.
Soul great Bobby Womack actually wrote ‘Trust Me’ for Joplin, who included it on her posthumous 1971 album, ‘Pearl.’ But Womack — whose numbers have been covered by everyone from the Rolling Stones to the J. Geils Band — later cut his own version of the song, instilling a bluesy sway to ‘Trust Me’ that Joplin’s more famous take only hinted at.
The opening cut on Joplin’s 1969 solo debut, ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!,’ was originally recorded by Lorraine Ellison, an obscure soul singer from Philadelphia. She scored a handful of minor hits in the mid ’60s, none of which cracked the Top 40 (her biggest song, ‘Stay With Me,’ stopped at No. 64). Ellison recorded ‘Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)’ during this period, but it didn’t have much of an impact on record buyers. Joplin heard it, though.