Sunday, 8 September 2019

Big Brother & The Holding Company - Cheap Thrills (1968)

Didn't I make you feel....

  

Released on 12 August 1968

Running time 37.11

This was Janis Joplin's second album backed by her band, Big Brother & The Holding Company. It is, bizarrely, overdubbed with crowd noises between tracks to make it sound like a live album, a deliberate move and one that convinced many at the time. It is, in fact, a studio album. To be fair, though, it has a loose, "live" feel to it throughout. It is acid-rock psychedelia in all its glory, but there is also that bluesy soulfulness that Joplin always had. A year before this had come "Sgt. Pepper" but this took rock music to another level altogether in some ways. Had anyone heard vocals so damn passionate, from a female artist too? Janis was no Sandie Shaw or Mary Hopkin. She blew them all away.

TRACK LISTING

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                                            

Beginning with some of that afore-mentioned crowd noise, "Combination Of The Two" bursts from a heavy rock intro to an upbeat, pulsating piece of rock/soul with Joplin trading vocals with others in the band over a frenetic drum backing. It ends with some typical late sixties psychedelic-sounding guitar before some more "ooh-ooh" soul vocals take us to the finish. "I Need A Man To Love" is a slow burning blues rock number that features some blistering, buzzy lead guitar and Janis's vocal is raucously improvisational.

"Summertime" is one of her most well-known tracks and it has a laid-back, melodic and bassy backing that perfectly complements Janis's throaty delivery. This is not just drug-addled psych rock, this is blues rock of the highest quality. Janis was, first and foremost, if you ask me, a blues singer. This track leaves one in no doubt about that. The bass line that runs through the song is sumptuous too. It was one of the very first examples of a rock band covering an easy listening/jazz standard. It was actually quite ground-breaking stuff. Then, of course, there is the sheer bloody magnificence of Janis's cover of Erma Franklin's "Piece Of My Heart". Janis makes the song her own with a wonderfully full-on but soulful vocal, which exemplified perfectly how rock could merge with soul effectively, especially in Janis's hands. It is a true all-time classic.

The blues is back with the acoustic bar-room (complete with breaking glass) whiskey-sodden strains of "Turtle Blues". "Oh Sweet Mary" is the most obviously psychedelic number on the album, featuring some deep, rolling drums, fuzzy psych guitar and rumbling bass. Put this on loud and imagine those swirling kaleidoscope colours, man. Very 1968.

Sticking with the searing guitar sound of those crazy psychedelic parties is the extended closer, "Ball And Chain", which, after a cutting guitar intro, finds itself insistently deep and bluesy. Once more, this is a track with a real "live" feeling to it, as if the band laid it down in one take. That bass is just beautiful, mama. Now, where did I put those incense sticks.....

B

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