Janis Joplin

Me and Bobby McGee

Song Review by

The second posthumous number one single in the rock era (the first was Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"), Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" was a defining performance that remains her signature song. Penned by outlaw country singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, Joplin's lover for a brief period of time, "Me and Bobby McGee" unites hippie-ish ideals of personal and romantic freedom with the wanderlust of Jack Kerouac's On the Road and a rootsy musical backdrop that links those concepts with the essence of America. The song was first covered by country star Roger Miller (best known for his hit "King of the Road"), and appears as the title track of Kristofferson's classic 1971 debut (which was actually issued a year earlier under the title Kristofferson, but repackaged to capitalize on Joplin's massive success). However, Joplin's shuffling, driving blues-rock version became the definitive one, not only for its passion and grit, but also because Joplin seemed to embody the character whose loss she lamented in the song. When many people think of Joplin, they often unconsciously compare her to Bobby McGee himself -- wild, nomadic, free-spirited, impossible to hold onto, yet unforgettable. That's why "Me and Bobby McGee" holds such resonance in the wake of her death and makes such a fitting epitaph. The main point of the song is that the characters willingly sacrifice their relationship for the sake of their personal freedom. Both seem to want things from life that aren't compatible with forming permanent attachments in their youth, and though they don't deny their feelings, neither are they bound by a sense of obligation or a romantic notion of "forever." That love can be both fleeting and enduring, that the memories of a relatively brief contact can last a lifetime, that sometimes what a loved one needs is to move on, that real-life love does not necessarily equal a readiness to settle into a happily ever-after fairy tale -- the practicality of all this subtext feeds into the song's enduring popularity, especially among independent young women. Countless versions of "Me and Bobby McGee" have been recorded since Joplin topped the charts in 1971, mostly by country artists, but even though the song has become a standard, it's still primarily associated with Joplin, and for good reason.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Pearl 1971 Master Sound / Legacy 4:31
No Image 1995 Legacy / Columbia 3:58
Rock 'N Roll Relix: 1970-1978 1997
Various Artists
BCI-Eclipse Distribution / Eclipse Music Group 4:29
Women on Top of the Charts 1997
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 7:01
The Women of Rock, Vol. 1 1998
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:59
Rolling Stone Women in Rock 1998
Various Artists
Razor & Tie 4:32
Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection 1999 Legacy / Columbia 4:31
Super Hits 2000 Epic / Sony Music Distribution 4:30
Big Brother & the Holding Company/Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits/Live at Winterland '68 2001 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 4:31
Chart Toppers [Sony] 2001
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:28
Love, Janis 2001 Legacy / Columbia 4:29
70's Pop Hits 2001
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:31
Once Upon a Song 2001
Various Artists
Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 4:29
The Ultimate Hits of the 70's 2001
Various Artists
Collectables 4:29
Cheap Thrills/Pearl 2002 Legacy 4:31
The Essential Janis Joplin 2003 Legacy / Columbia 4:30
Biggest Hits of the 70's [Sony] 2003
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:32