Big Brother & the Holding Company

Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills

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For a band that recorded one of the seminal albums of 1968, a pretty important year in the history of rock, Big Brother & the Holding Company don't get much respect. Their second album, 1968's Cheap Thrills, was a major popular and critical success in its day, but a great deal of the credit is usually given to their lead singer, Janis Joplin, while her bandmates are often regarded as also-rans who rode her coattails in their day in the sun. The 2018 collection Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills is a fine starting point for a reassessment of Big Brother; it features 29 outtakes from the Cheap Thrills sessions, most of them unreleased, along with one live number from 1968, and as the songs evolve over multiple takes, they give a clearer picture of how important the musicians were to Joplin's creative development, and vice-versa. Guitarists Sam Andrew and James Gurley took the mix of blues and psychedelia that was common among San Francisco bands of the day and gave it a hard-edged attack and adventurous melodic sense -- a distinct, roaring sound that was robust and room-filling, with clean lead lines riding over a gloriously dirty bedrock. Bassist Peter Albin and drummer Dave Getz were a rhythm section that was equally comfortable with the group's rock and blues facets, and together they created a sound that was big but also left just enough room for Joplin's voice. And while Joplin would work with more technically skilled sidemen after leaving Big Brother, she ultimately never had more sympathetic collaborators than these guys. She doesn't sound like a vocalist with a backing group behind her on these tracks, she's part of a band, and there's a give and take and a sense of freedom and possibility that's unique in her recorded work as she puts her heart and soul into this music. While the sequence jumps back and forth between various takes of the songs that comprised Cheap Thrills (along with the deliberately silly unreleased tune "Harry" and a few other songs abandoned along the way), the versions that comprised the final product are not included, making this set feel like the bonus material in a box set that somehow lacks the main attraction. However, if few of these performances seem noticeably superior to what was on Cheap Thrills, the live-in-the-studio approach allows each take to have a personality of its own, and Vic Anesini's mixes are clean and clear enough to fully appreciate the interplay between the musicians, especially the guitars of Andrew and Gurley. Cheap Thrills was the album that made Janis Joplin one of the biggest stars of her era (and rightly so), but Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills reminds us she didn't go it alone, and it's the work of a strong and memorable band as well as a world-class singer.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Janis Joplin
5:33
2
feat: Janis Joplin
8:05
3
feat: Janis Joplin
4:10
4
feat: Janis Joplin
4:55
5
feat: Janis Joplin
1:12
6
feat: Janis Joplin
4:46
7
feat: Janis Joplin
4:23
8
feat: Janis Joplin
7:28
9
feat: Janis Joplin
5:42
10
feat: Janis Joplin
5:34
11
feat: Janis Joplin
2:42
12
feat: Janis Joplin
4:35
13
feat: Janis Joplin
5:26
14
feat: Janis Joplin
5:02

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Janis Joplin
3:13
2
feat: Janis Joplin
6:55
3
feat: Janis Joplin
3:14
4
feat: Janis Joplin
4:07
5
feat: Janis Joplin
3:15
6
feat: Janis Joplin
4:22
7
feat: Janis Joplin
7:08
8
feat: Janis Joplin
1:11
9
feat: Janis Joplin
4:27
10
feat: Janis Joplin
3:58
11
feat: Janis Joplin
4:58
12
feat: Janis Joplin
3:19
13
feat: Janis Joplin
3:59
14
feat: Janis Joplin
4:35
15
feat: Janis Joplin
4:32
16
feat: Janis Joplin
5:12
blue highlight denotes track pick