The Day Janis Joplin's Swan Song Hit The Top

02/27/2012
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(Gibson) On this day in 1971, nearly five months after her death, Janis Joplin started a nine-week run at no. 1 on the U.S. album chart with Pearl. Gibson takes a look back:

On this day in 1971, Janis Joplin's swan song, Pearl, hit the top of the charts nearly five months to the day after she passed away in a lonely Los Angeles motel room. It would stay at #1 for nine weeks, but the record's success only served to underscore the cruel irony of her death. Had she lived, Joplin would have been free. Free from her label. Free from the nagging feeling that she shouldn't have abandoned Big Brother and the Holding Company. Free to tell all those doubters all the way back to Port Arthur, Texas where to go. Free to do whatever the hell she wanted. Instead, she found a different kind of freedom.

To trace the origins of Pearl, you have to go back to the other great album of Joplin's all-too-brief career, Cheap Thrills. This sophomore effort by Joplin and the group, Big Brother and the Holding Company, gave the band their breakthrough single, "Piece of My Heart." The heart-rending, soul-bearing Erma Franklin cover went to #12 on the U.S. charts and sent the album soaring to #1 for eight weeks. But somewhere inside the pressure-cooker of success, Joplin decided she had to drop Big Brother and form her own band, having been convinced by management that this was the right move for her career. Big Brother had existed before she ever arrived. They had a sound. They had a direction. Janis needed her own band.

Joplin's first crack at her own group was the Kozmic Blues Band. Modeled on the Stax-Volt R&B bands of the day, Kozmic had a horn section and was decidedly funkier than Big Brother. But things just didn't come together. To start with, the Kozmic Blues Band was hardly Janis' own band. They were a collection of session players put together by her record company, Columbia. And many of them were a little too straight-laced for Janis, whose own relapse into heroin addiction didn't help things. She fired and replaced half the band by the time an album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, was released in September 1969. The album itself found moderate success, but in no way matched the accolades of Cheap Thrills. By the end of the year, Joplin dropped the band completely. more on this story

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