Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Big Brother and the Holding Company - Cheap Thrills 1968

If you've never heard this album in its entirety, which I hadn't before about a month ago, go out and find a copy and sit down and give it a spin. Then get up and flip the record. You'll likely flip it several times; yes you will.

Then top it off with watching D.A. Pennebaker's documentary footage of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (thank you AFI SilverDocs Film Festival who recently screened this gem) and be prepared to be blown away by Janis Joplin's powerful, rending of garments vocals. Her performance at Monterey Pop of "Ball and Chain" even had Mama Cass (The Mamas and the Papas) watching the performance in jaw dropped awe. Joplin's performance was over-the-top powerful, especially for a relatively unknown white girl from Texas singing the blues.

So back to the album, their second, which is filled with the aforementioned powerful and raw vocals from Joplin, as well as blues beats, and doo-wop inspired energy. "Piece of My Heart" is the obvious hit from the album, but also the band's rendition of "Summertime" is full of screeching guitar riffs complimented by Joplin's raspy howls to re-invent this classic. Her sheer heart attack power at lead absolutely dominates the recording. This should not in any way imply the rest of the band holds back or is not up to the challenge. They lay down a steady full groove. She just snatches it up and sets it on fire. You can hear occasional coughs and bottles breaking in the background. Parts seem like they were recorded in someone's party barn. This is a perfect album for an afternoon in the summer; a few beers, maybe an Arnold Palmer, very little responsibility.

Also worth serious consideration, is the album artwork; most notably the front cover illustration by underground comic legend Robert Crumb. His seemingly simple style belied the artists absolute mastery of layout, lettering, and caricature. His "ideal" image of Janis Joplin as the ultimate hippy (hipsome as well) chick with a big round bra-less bod is classic Crumb. He has a well deserved reputation as being somewhat sex obsessed, especially with the curvy ladies. Thing with Crumb is that he doesn't so much objectify the big ladies as he worships them.  The fact that Joplin asked him personally to do the art gives some merit to him being way more special than just being some random pervert comic guy. With it's bright colors, clean lines, and one panel mini-stories, Crumb deftly incorporates all the album information into one mega pop sleeve. He fluently combines out of luck turtles, stoner freaks, and the merriment of the movement into the mix. An awesome black and white photo of Joplin was relegated to back cover status in deference to Crumb's illustration's obvious power and uniqueness. Watch this interview snipet with Crumb about his work on the cover. You'll be glad you did.

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