Big Brother & the Holding Company / Janis Joplin

Piece of My Heart

Composed by Bert Berns / Bert Russell / Jerry Ragovoy

Song Review by

Track #4 on Cheap Thrills is also the first track on Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits, and rightfully so, for "Piece Of My Heart is arguably Joplin's greatest hit in a small catalog of magnificent vocal work. This studio version of a song the band found on a record by Aretha's sister, Erma Franklin, was recorded on May 20, 1968 by producer John Simon and catapulted Janis Joplin into superstardom. For those lucky enough to have first heard the tune pump out of a transistor radio in the sixties, it was a memorable and magical moment that is sustained listen after listen after listen. Writers Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy, not to mention vocalist Erma Franklin, never envisioned the power and explosive fury of this Top 15 hit which made it onto the charts in the Autumn of 1968. In terms of loud music no hit prior to this rendition of "Piece Of My Heart" had the acid-soaked raw nerve of the Sam Andrew / James Gurley sonic attack or Big Brother's pounding rhythm section. This disc was truly a "combination of the two" as it is Janis Joplin's primal scream bursting out of Big Brother's psychedelic quagmire which made it impossible for other songs of the day to compete with in regards to the same level of condensed volume for radio. "Purple Haze", "Journey To The Center Of The Mind", "Magic Carpet Ride" and others all pale in comparison. Even John Lennon's "Revolution", which hit the same chart position two weeks prior to this classic, subsided into a cutesy radical pop tune after its initial blast while Janis & Company ebb & flow from a dark blues to a triumphant noisey dare "You know you got it, if it makes you feel good." This is not your ordinary "oh woe is me" blues tune, because when Janis can't stand the pain she dares her lover, "come on and take it. come on and break it, have another little piece" - taunting him with her heartbreak. It's exhilirating, and it is a driving zenith for "Big Brother & The Holding Company, that experimental band utilizing all their hard learned and hard earned musical tricks to envelope Janis with passionate guitar, drums and bass. The key moment that they build up to is a Joplin cosmic wail off the V.U. meters that occurs three minutes and thirty-one seconds into the four minute plus song. It is a dynamic shredding of notes that just puts the song over the top. On pages 96 and 97 of Clive Davis' book Clive: Inside The Record Business, the former head of Columbia Records and man truly responsible for discovering Janis explains how he personally re-edited the single version of the tune, and how he approached his singer to get her approval. This resonating, pulsating moment in song overshadows Led Zeppelin's "Living Loving Maid" and Paul McCartney's "Helter Skelter" for pure intensity as Janis rides the electric surf of her band for all its worth. There is passion and fury which cuts across the grooves from beginning to end, the guitars blazing away as the singer explains the facts of life. Though the live versions by Big Brother, Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie are great, they are not as precise as this studio take. It's a grand and epic performance from one of the greats with her original band at the peak of their powers.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Cheap Thrills 1968 Audio Fidelity 4:21
In Concert 1972 Sony Music Distribution 4:08
Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits 1973 Sony Music Distribution / Columbia / Sbme Special Mkts. 4:14
No Image 1975 Sony BMG 4:08
The Collection 1995 Legacy / Columbia/Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 4:15
Live at Winterland '68 1998 Legacy / Sbme Special Mkts. 6:41
I Wanna Rock, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 4:28
Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection 1999 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 4:15
Superhits of Rock: 1965 - 1979 1999
Various Artists
L & D 4:16
The Magic Bus 2000
Various Artists
FreeRide 4:27
Big Brother & the Holding Company/Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits/Live at Winterland '68 2001 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 6:41
Love, Janis 2001 Legacy / Columbia/Legacy 4:14
Double Shot of Blues 2001
Various Artists
Polygram 4:15
The Ultimate Jukebox Hits of the '60s, Vol. 3 2001
Various Artists
Collectables 4:15
Jukebox Hits of the '60s [Collectalbes] 2002
Various Artists
Collectables 4:15
40 Years of Jukebox Hits: The 50's, 60's, 70's & 80's 2002
Various Artists
Collectables 4:15
Cheap Thrills/Pearl 2002 Sony Music Distribution 4:16
Very Best of Janis Joplin 2003 Columbia 4:14
No Image 2004
Various Artists
Sony BMG 4:13
Sensational Sixties [BMG Special Products] 2006
Various Artists
BMG Special Products 4:12
The Classic Sixties Collection: '60s Flashback 2006
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Janis Joplin [Madacy] 2008 Madacy 4:09
Greatest Hits [Steel Box Collection] 2008 Sony BMG / Sony Music Distribution 4:15
No Image 2009
Various Artists
Commercial Canada 4:13
Playlist: The Very Best of Janis Joplin 2010 Columbia / Legacy / Playlist 4:15
Haynes Ultimate Guide to the 60s 2011
Various Artists
Sony Music 4:15
Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 2012 BMG / Sony Music
No Image 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music 4:13
Rock Heroes 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music 4:15
Be My Baby, Vol. 2: More Music from the Girls of the Sixties 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music 4:14
Original Album Classics 2015 Legacy
'60s Summer Album 2016
Various Artists
Made in America: All American Classics
Various Artists
Sony Music
blue highlight denotes editor's pick