Big Brother & the Holding Company / Janis Joplin

Piece of My Heart

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 Columbia 4:15
Rock Classics of the 60s 1989
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:12
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 4:14
Riding in Cars with Boys 2001
Original Soundtrack
Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 4:14