Monday, August 27, 2007

No. 122: Pearl

Band: Janis Joplin
Album: Pearl
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Janis Joplin had one of the most powerful voices in rock and roll history. Her fourth album, released posthumously, was a tour de force of blues rock.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Eh. I'm not the biggest Janis Joplin fan. I think she symbolizes a lot of things that I don't care for. Still, as a musician, she was great.
Best song: "Cry Baby" probably shows Joplin's pipes as well as any song put to tape.
Worst song: None of the songs are really terrible, though "Trust Me" doesn't float my boat. "Buried Alive In The Blues" doesn't feature any vocals, because the song was not finished. Joplin died.
Is it awesome?: Her voice is awesome. Does that count?

Al Jean, one of the exec producers of "The Simpsons" during their halcyon days, used to tsa that cigarettes and whiskey make for great women's voiceover work. He was talking about Doris Grau ("Lunchlady Doris" on "The Simpsons" and the makeup lady on "The Critic"), but his sentiment could've easily applied to singing and Janis Joplin.

Joplin had the kind of voice that only comes from years of smoking and drinking whiskey, two things Joplin did a whole lot of. The edge in her voice cracked ever so slightly at higher pitches and at louder decibels, giving it a real smoky feeling that spoke of heartache and a lived-in tendency.

"Pearl" had Joplin's third band -- Full Tilt Boogie -- and they were more of a rock band than Big Brother And Holding Company. Fult Tilt Boogie was more of a full-on rock band, so some of the country stuff -- Joplin's roots as a Texan -- fell through the cracks. All that's left is the classic Kris Kristofferson-penned "Me and Bobby McGee."

Also notable is "Mercedes Benz," an a capella number Joplin recorded as a satire f materialism. Oddly enough, Mercedes-Benz used it in two advertisements for the car. Ironic.

Joplin died before the record was released. She took some bad heroin (it was too pure) after getting drunk after her boyfriend stood her up. In my mind, her legacy should only be musical; The hippie lifestyle that was celebrated basically consisted of drinking and getting high, both of which failed to bring any social change. Still, the ability to distort one's voice in the same way a tube amp distorts a guitar sound is amazing and Joplin's voice, if nothing, was amazing.

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