Katie Ellen’s debut album, 2017’s Cowgirl Blues, saw frontwoman Anika Pyle kicking against the traditions and norms that come with adulthood—namely, love, major life changes, cohabitation, and domesticity. She penned the anti-marriage anthem with “Sad Girls Club,” a standout track that featured the defiant heartbreaker of a chorus: “Sad girls don’t make good wives.” On the Philly band’s new, five-song EP, Still Life, Pyle is still trying to wrap her head around these things.

On opener “Lighthouse,” Pyle reckons with warring thoughts—wanting to be brave enough to swim into life’s uncharted deep end, but feeling tied down by the anchor of fear and anxiety. Later, on the EP’s title track, she surrenders to the idea that love is more powerful and wild than our capacity to tame it: “You can’t make love stay / Do your best to hold it in place.”

Musically, Pyle flexes a few new tricks she’s trying out, like on “Still Life,” where her voice spirals into borderline operatic delivery, a far jump from the quick and dirty style she cut her teeth on in her former pop punk project Chumped.

Still Life is out on Lauren Records.


released June 3rd, 2018



Toronto Canadian band Great Lake Swimmers have established their alluring sound through a combination of low-lit ambiance and celestial soundscapes, essential ingredients that have helped lend an atmospheric element to their wholly mellow musings. For their latest opus, titled The Waves, The Wake, these Juno Prize contenders operating under the leadership of chief helmsman Tony Dekker opted to take things down even further in terms of their unobtrusive settings.

The object was to record the album absent one of a key instrument: acoustic guitar. Presumably that means someone was on furlough, but as evidenced by the results, that timbre was barely missed at all. The band still manage to ply their lovely, if elusive, melodies, and if specific tracks—“The Talking Wind,” “In a Certain Light” and “Falling Apart”in particular

“The Talking Wind,” seems especially hushed, it’s merely an outgrowth of their usual unassuming approach. When asked about the new song, Dekker replied, “’Alone But Not Alone’ is a straighter shooter than some of the other tracks on the new album, with a little more of a familiar 12-string jangle, and it’s sort of a bridge back across our fifteen-year, seven-album catalogue. We set out to make a breezy, 1960’s AM radio inspired kind of thing, with a few twists and turns, because it seemed to be what the song was asking for, in the midst of experimenting with sounds for some of the other new songs. As for the lyrics, sometimes it can be easy to find yourself in a crowded place but still feel utterly alone. This song is a reflection on that sense of suffocating connectedness while still feeling disconnected at the same time. In the end it’s a pretty lonely place, but there’s a resolve to keep an open heart and mind.”

The shimmer that illuminate such songs as “Mouth of Flames” and “The Open Sea” are contrasted, albeit briefly, in the upbeat tick of “Alone But Not Alone” and the quiet insistence of “Side Effects,” but it’s the acapella “Visions of a Distant World” that best defines the effort overall. The album was recorded in the 145 year-old Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London, Ontario, and given the environs, it gives some indication as to the sedate, worshipful nature of the songs.

While some may tend to interpret those twilight tones as a slumber fest, the overall beauty of The Waves further illuminates its charms. The delicate pluck of strings that resonates throughout “Holding Nothing Back” and “Unmaking the Bed” simulates the sound of a lullaby while underscoring melodies that are both elusive and surreal. Granted, it’s hardly the kind of thing one would play for guests at a wild party or as the prelude to a night out, but it resonates all the same. The Waves, The Wake is simply an extension of Great Lake Swimmers’ ongoing instincts, and in that regard, it finds them following through to until they realize those very last strokes.

Amber Arcades brand new single ‘Where Do You Go’ is out today, accompanied by the final part of the ‘European Heartbreak’ Trilogy.
A beautiful film written & directed by Eliott Arndt.

Annelotte says the following about the third single ‘Where Did You Go’:

“This song is about the irrational nature of love. You need to keep telling yourself you believe in it in order for it to exist at all. On the other hand, maybe it’s a cool thing because of that. If it were more “real” it would just be another “thing” you can choose, like a brand of peanut butter. And I’m not so sure about whether always being able to choose all the things makes us better or happier in the end.

These Films by Amber Arcades – Part 1 of 3 Music – Goodnight Europe Director – Elliott Arndt “A lot of the themes Annelotte de Graaf has written about for her record struck very close to home. What I found especially poignant in her lyrics is how it’s mostly through a study of herself and a nonchalant look outside her window that Annelotte makes us get a sense of the political turmoil that’s affecting her. In that respect, I was interested in trying to represent this sense of “banality” in a young adult couple in 2018, who are not only the fruit of a vibrant European Union, but also perhaps the ones most directly affected by its dismantling. I wanted to depict a static, homesick, glitchy romance. And here it is, trying all it can to grow against, amongst and beyond the constricting geographical barriers surrounding it.”

Music video by Amber Arcades performing Simple Song. Heavenly Recordings

Gene Clark Sings For You

Though he’s been and continues to be the subject of numerous reissues and releases, Gene Clark still remains somewhat of an enigma.  The founding member of The Byrds (1944-1991) only released six solo studio albums within his too-short lifetime, bolstering a discography also containing group and collaborative efforts.  But he left behind what seems like scores of unreleased tracks, much of which has been mined in the years since his death.  In 2013, the Omnivore label issued his demos for the A&M album White Light, and now the label has tackled the holy grail of Clark’s demos – a 1967 acetate entitled Gene Clark Sings for You.  An expanded edition of the original acetate has been joined on CD by A Trip Through the Garden from The Rose Garden, a group which enjoyed Clark’s support and patronage.

The eight recordings on the original Gene Clark Sings for You were recorded near the end of 1967 at West Hollywood’s Larrabee Studios and the venerable Gold Star StudiosClark, accompanying himself on guitar, was joined by simple instrumentation including calliope, Chamberlin strings (a keyboard device similar to the mellotron) and electric piano.  Alex del Zoppo of Sweetwater played the piano, though the other musicians’ identities remain a mystery.  One track boasts strings, leading to speculation that it may have come from an earlier session led by Leon Russell as arranger-conductor.  All of the songs reveal a young, talented singer-songwriter at the crossroads, with plenty of talent and ambition but perhaps lacking a clear vision as to how to best deploy those gifts.  The result is a set of original songs in the best sense of the word, even if they may not have been commercial enough to attract an interested label.  It’s also worth noting that Clark never released any of these songs, a testament to his prolific nature as a songwriter.

The Dylan influence so evident in The Byrds’ recordings is also clear on “Past Tense,” though Clark’s own evocative poetic sensibility comes into its own with “Past My Door.”  Eschewing the expected, Clark also employed a tempo shift midway through.  Violins – perhaps arranged by Leon Russell – appear on “That’s Alright by Me,” adding a note of elegance to the folk-rock track.

Clark conjured San Francisco on many of these demos including “On Her Own,” about a beguiling girl he found there, and the mournful “Down on the Pier” (featuring atmospheric, ironic calliope).  The similarly doleful “Yesterday, Am I Right” (previously recorded for Hugh Masekela’s Chisa label but unissued) features Clark’s drawl at its most vulnerable.  Clark’s well-documented country leanings come to the fore on one track alone: the twangy, laconic “7:30 Mode,” on which he adds harmonica and is accompanied by an unknown guitarist.

This first-time commercial release of Gene Clark Sings for You is bolstered with an additional six tracks intended for The Rose Garden – a five-song acetate and one more demo.  The troubadour first encountered the band at the Ash Grove, joining them onstage for a set of Byrds tunes.  The awestruck band were thrilled to work with, and receive songs from, their hero.  The acoustic tracks on the acetate (which has never been heard outside of band circles) include the Dylan-ish “On Tenth Street,” the upbeat love song “Understand Me Too,” and the moving “A Long Time,” which The Rose Garden opted to cover on the band’s sole album.  Two full-band performances were also presented to The Rose Garden: the blues-rocking “Big City Girl” (complete with wailing harmonica) and “Doctor, Doctor,” the most produced and Byrds-esque track on the acetate with double-tracked vocals and harmonies.  “Till Today,” also recorded by The Rose Garden, is included here in a Clark demo.

The Rose Garden is the subject of A Trip Through the Garden, the first-ever anthology dedicated to the band.  And what an anthology it is, appending 16 tracks (14 previously unreleased) to the group’s lone 1968 album.  The band is, of course, best remembered today for the opening track of that LP, “Next Plane to London.”  The top 20 hit still gets airplay today, and earned The Rose Garden the “one-hit wonder” tag.  But as with most artists given that moniker, there was more to the group than just that one tune.
The Los Angeles-area band (John Noreen, Jim Groshong, Bruce Bowdin, and Bill Fleming) was enamored with The Byrds, which made it all the more fortuitous when Clark dropped into their set the Ash Grove.  (They went by The Blokes at that time.)  With the addition of singer Diana De Rose, The Blokes gained a gal and rechristened themselves The Rose Garden (a play on their newest addition’s surname.)  A showcase at hot spot Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip landed the still-underage band a deal with Buffalo Springfield managers Charles Greene and Brian Stone.  They got The Rose Garden signed with the Springfield’s label, Atco, and set about producing their first album.

The Rose Garden - A Trip Through The Garden

The Rose Garden is an amiable folk-rock effort with heavy pop leanings and a solid dose of Byrds-esque chime (courtesy of Noreen’s Rickenbacker) and sparkling harmonies.  Notably, while emphasizing vocals over instrumentation in Greene and Stone’s production, the band played on the record as a self-contained unit, without any intervention from the Wrecking Crew or other studio aces.  The liner notes reveal that the album’s repertoire was selected from songs picked by Greene and Stone as well as the band members.  (Only one track is credited to the band: “Flower Town,” a flower-power adaptation of the folk ballad “Portland Town.”)

In addition to Kenny O’Dell’s obviously catchy “Next Plane to London,” featuring Diana’s enjoyably burnished vocals, The Rose Garden offered a trio of songs by future Redbone founder Pat Vegas: the slow “I’m Only Second” (which somewhat recalls “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), the bright Byrds-meets-Mamas-and-the-Papas confection “February Sunshine,” and the jangly “Coins of Fun” with strong duet vocals from Diana and Jim.  (The latter isn’t as trippy as its title would indicate, though.)  The group’s lustrous harmonies were also in evidence on the folk adaptation “Rider.”  An attractive cover of the Bob Dylan ballad “She Belongs to Me” led by Groshong joined Clark’s “Till Today” (slightly evoking The Fortunes’ “You’ve Got Your Troubles” in the band arrangement) and “Long Time,” which gained a Motown-style bassline.  Bob Johnston and Wes Farrell penned the exquisite, soft ballad “Look What You’ve Done.”

Omnivore’s expanded edition now has a running time of nearly 80 minutes, with an impressive array of bonus tracks.  Kenny O’Dell’s gorgeous “If My World Falls Through” was backed with the uptempo “Here’s Today,” co-written by John Noreen for a follow-up, non-LP single.  The B-side is a surprisingly commercial track that could have held its own as a A-side.  These are heard in both mono and stereo versions.  They’re joined by tracks for a proposed second album that was never completed, including a take of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire” performed by Young, Stephen Stills, and Mac (Dr. John) Rebennack.  The crunchy backing track was presented to the band by Greene and Stone due to their Buffalo Springfield connection.  The illustrious triumvirate of Bob Crewe, Al Kooper, and Irwin Levine supplied “The World Is a Great Big Playground,” which is charming but falls short of the team’s other accomplishments.

Of interest to Gene Clark fans will be two additional appearances of “Till Today”: a rehearsal with Clark himself, and an acetate alternate.  Five live songs captured onstage at West Hills, California’s Chaminade High School round out the set: “Next Plane to London” and an array of covers not recorded in the studio by The Rose Garden including The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and Clark-penned “She Don’t Care About Time,” Sonny and Cher’s “It’s the Little Things,” and Bo Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me,” also by way of Sonny and Cher.  The sound is better on these tracks than might be expected, and they offer a taste of what the band’s strong live sound.

John Einarson, author of Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark, has penned the erudite liner notes for both releases, with the story of The Rose Garden proving particularly fascinating.  Gene Clark Sings for You and A Trip Through the Garden are essential snapshots of the unparalleled creativity of the L.A. music scene in the late 1960s.

Both titles are available now:

Gene ClarkSings for You

The Rose GardenA Trip Through the Garden: The Rose Garden Collection

Untitled (LA) is the second taste from Swearin’s upcoming full length Fall into the Sun, is their first for five years.

It is another cracking track. Opening on the back of a great riff, the song sets off in a hurry and doesn’t look back – melodic, garage punk at its best.

From the album Fall into the Sun, out October 5th, 2018 on Merge Records.


The third single from Paul McCartney’s forthcoming album, Egypt Station (due out September. 7th on Capitol Records), is here. It’s called—ahem—“Fuh You,” and it appears the 76-year-old legend is no less spry today than he was in 1969 when The Beatles recorded “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” which echoes a similar lyrical sentiment. The song’s sonic elements, however, couldn’t be more different from an Abbey Road track’s—poppy keys, a chorus of back-up voices and an autotune playback suggest plenty of modern influences. The snappy, feel-good track arrives with an equally pleasing lyric video, which you can watch below.

McCartney explained the idea behind this cheeky new single:

With this one I was in the studio with Ryan Tedder whereas the rest of the album has been made with Greg Kurstin … We were just thinking of ideas and little pieces of melody and chords and the song just came together bit by bit. And then I would try and make some kind of sense of the story. So it was like “Come on baby now. Talk about yourself. Tell the truth, let me get to know you,” and basically I wanna know how you feel, you make me wanna go out and steal. I just want it for you. So that was the basic idea and it developed from there … sort of a love song, but a raunchy love song. There you go—fuh you.

The Egypt Station album announcement arrived in June, along with the first two singles: the suggestive, upbeat rock track “Come On To Me” and the more mellow piano ballad “I Don’t Know.”

Earlier this summer, McCartney joined James Corden for a memorable episode of Carpool Karaoke, during which the two Brits toured the former Beatle’s childhood home in Liverpool. The response to the segment was so far-reaching that the folks behind Corden’s The Late Late Show are extending it into an hour-long special. Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool airs August. 20th on CBS.

listen to “Fuh You” below.

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Last month, Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, teased the release of her 10th album with 80 seconds of scenic views and husky, hymn-like vocals. The visual featured a snippet of the album’s title track: Wanderer, out this fall via Domino Recordings, The release will break the artist’s six-year hiatus following the release of Sun.

Marshall has now shared the first single from Wanderer: “Woman,” featuring supporting vocals from her former tour-mate Lana Del Rey. It’s a pulsing Americana track, with thick vocals from Marshall intermingling with Del Rey’s whispery tones. The track is bolstered by a solid guitar riff that reflects hazy late nights and Marshall’s southern roots. The singers repeat “woman” over and over until it becomes an icy affirmation against the backdrop of a vast landscape. “I’m a woman of my word / Now you have heard / My word’s the only thing I truly need”—a testament to feminine power.

The song also comes with a video directed by Greg Hunt. It’s a simple visual, switching between shots of Marshall and her band on a rooftop at sunset, and in a studio with deeply saturated blues and pinks.

Wanderer was written, recorded and produced by Marshall herself, and it reflects the themes of rootlessness that come with being a touring musician. The album comes out on October. 5th, but you can watch the video for “Woman” below.

“Woman (feat. Lana Del Rey)” features on ‘Wanderer’, the new album from Cat Power, out 5th October on Domino Record Co.

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Ian Sweet, the recording project of Jilian Medford, has announced a new album titled Crush Crusher, with a video for its lead single “Hiding.”

Of the song, Medford says “Hiding is a song I wrote for myself to be reminded to never get consumed with anything to the point of forgetting about my own needs. This song is a projection of a sanctuary in which I feel safe and strong in my own desires. It is something I long for, to be confident in the things that make me, me. The song opens with convincing myself that it is ok to hide/shy away from situations when really I should never have to convince myself of anything other than what, just…feels good. This is my admittance to losing and forgetting something to someone else, but demanding to take it back.”

Crush Crusher is due to be released October 26th on all formats.

Additionally, Ian Sweet has announced a Fall tour with Young Jesus that includes dates with Sean Henry.

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has announced he will release a memoir, titled Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), on November 13th via Penguin/Random House.

The book’s subtitle bills it as “A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.” and its 304 pages promise to delve deep into Tweedy’s past—from his childhood in Bellville, IL, to the Chicago music scene that birthed his most famous outfit—and the music that the iconic singer-songwriter has penned over the years, whether with Wilco, Uncle Tupelo or as a solo artist, plus thoughts on his family, including Tweedy’s sons Spencer and Sam.

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) is now available here (UK).

Tweedy also has a number of solo tour dates coming up this fall. He plays next at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, CO, this weekend.

January 1, 1968 - Die amerikanische Sängerin Janis Joplin mit der Band Big Brother and the Holding Company, USA Ende 1960er Jahre. American singer Janis Joplin witth the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, USA end 1960s. Copyright: Roba/Roba-Archiv UnitedArchives03393 (Credit Image: © Imago via ZUMA Press)

Big Brother and the Holding Company were a band before the summer of 1967. They had gigs, fans and even a full-length record ready for release. But all that early history was eclipsed after they took the stage at the Monterey Pop Festival in June for a pair of performances that transformed Janis Joplin& her bandmates. from San Francisco scenesters to cultural giants. Joplin herself would describe the weekend as “one of the highest points of my life.” The lonely and misunderstood young woman from Texas proudly wrapped herself in her newfound fame a substitute for the love she was denied during her lonely and painful adolescence.

Monterey was a gold rush for the recording industry, and major labels flocked to stake out their claim. For Big Brother, their trajectory would become the quintessential overnight success gone awry. Within a year, the searing spotlight trained on Joplin would cause the band to come unglued. But during its brief big-league run, Big Brother assembled their first and only true artistic statement for a global audience. Issued on August 12th, 1968, Cheap Thrills is undeniably a masterpiece of the psychedelic age, a set of top-shelf electric soul. Yet it also reflects the commodification of the fading hippie dream.

Presented as a document culled from wild, spontaneous San Francisco nights, it was actually crafted in a studio run by one of the largest record manufacturers on the planet. To say Cheap Thrills is inauthentic would be false, but there’s a premature melancholy to the production, as though it were a Gatsby-esque exercise in re-creating good times that had already passed. Joplin’s mournful version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” seems only to underscore the shift in mood from the Summer of Love to the Summer of Violence that greeted the album. A week after its release, police would beat up demonstrators at Chicago’s Democratic National Convention. A month later, Joplin and Big Brother parted ways for good.

The album was supposed to be called Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but Big Brother’s label nixed it. Even so, the rest of the record – produced by John Simon – defined the group with its vibrant blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll. The breakout star was undoubtedly Joplin, one of the most dynamic singers of her generation who set the template for anyone standing behind a microphone. Just ask Robert Plant where he got part of his banshee wail.

Things kick off with the driving “Combination of the Two,” which boils over at times thanks to James Gurly’s blistering guitar. Joplin and guitarist Sam Andrew share vocals, but she ably steals the spotlight. The band’s celebrated cover of the Gershwins’ “Summertime” ranks as one of the finest takes on this often-covered standard. Joplin delivers a near-fragile performance while the swirling guitars provide a solid web surrounding. Gurly and Andrew’s fuzz-drenched solos in the middle of the song are electric-guitar poetry.

Side one ends with the band’s cover of Erma Franklin’s (Aretha’s sister) “Piece of My Heart,” which hit No. 12 and became the group’s signature song. Joplin’s soulful performance made her a star. “Turtle Blues,” on the other hand, is pure blues, with just acoustic guitar, piano and vocal steering it. The haunting rocker “Oh Sweet Mary” follows, slithering along with mighty fine guitar work anchoring one of the most blatantly psychedelic songs in Big Brother’s catalog.

It all leads up to the album’s tour de force, “Ball and Chain,” a highlight of the band’s live sets (including the career-making one at Monterey), Big Brother take on Big Mama Thornton’s song and turn it inside out, making it their own. Once again, vicious guitars weave in and out of Joplin’s fiery performance. The 10-second pause at the start of the song remains one of the most spine-chilling moments of the era.

Cheap Thrills – which wasn’t quite the live album it claimed to be, since studio recordings and overdubs make up a bulk of the tracks – was a huge hit, staying at No. 1 for eight weeks. Engineer Fred Catero remembered the sessions as being frustrating. “Janis always sounded good, take after take, But it was hard to get the band to play in tune and in time. They just weren’t very good musicians.” Even though they may not have been virtuosos, the members of Big Brother & the Holding Company gave Cheap Thrills a certain ragged glory. The album ended up being the band’s last album with Joplin, who left by the end of the year to launch a solo career.

Cheap Thrills is a showcase for the band at its best, stocked almost exclusively with its most beloved songs, including “Combination of the Two,” “Ball and Chain,” and “Piece of My Heart.” On the album’s 50th anniversary, here are 10 facts you might not know about its creation.

Joplin offered to sleep with Clive Davis to seal the deal on their CBS recording contract.
Clive Davis had just begun his tenure as the head of CBS Records when he fell hard and fast for Big Brother and the Holding Company following their performance at Monterey. He wanted to sign them immediately, and the fact that they were already committed to the independent Mainstream Records imprint was of little concern. After some legal wrangling, and the appointment of impresario Albert Grossman as the band’s manager, Davis sent Mainstream packing with a check for $200,000. It was an audacious move for the relatively green label chief — only a year earlier, fellow San Franciscans the Jefferson Airplane made headlines for scoring an RCA advance worth just $25,000.

Cheap Thrills was originally intended to be a live album.

Big Brother and the Holding Company’s self-titled studio debut, issued in August 1967 on Mainstream, was decidedly lackluster. Joplin herself even dubbed it “our shitty record” and it sold accordingly, peaking only at Number 60. For their first major-label appearance, it was felt that a live album would be a better showcase for Big Brother’s abilities. “They had a reputation for inspiring a level of excitement in their audience that was as much a part of their show as their performance,” John Simon, the album’s producer, said in 2015. “In order to capitalize on that excitement they were eager to record a live album.”

They rented a remote recording console and recorded two shows at Detroit’s Grande Theater beginning on March 1st, 1968. Unfortunately, they hit a series of snags. Off the bat, the ear-splitting volume of their live performances pushed the recording meters permanently into the red. What’s more, the audience response was effectively nonexistent. “They’d never heard a woman sound like that,” engineer Fred Catero said in Alice Echols’ Joplin bio Scars of Sweet Paradise. “Every time she’d finish a song, people were just, like, ‘Huh?’ There was no reaction.” Even more troubling for Simon, the band’s “avalanche of energy” couldn’t mask the “mistakes a-plenty” that he heard. The producer decided to move sessions to a formal recording facility, Columbia’s Studio B in New York, where bum notes, wrong chords or fluffed lyrics could be remedied with surgical precision. But retreating to the studio presented another problem, albeit one of the nonmusical variety. “Word had already spread and already a live recording of Big Brother and the Holding Company was enthusiastically expected,” Simon recalled. “I didn’t want their fans to be disappointed.” So instead, they endeavored to make a studio album that sounded live.

Some of the faux-audience background noises were recorded at Barney’s Beanery, where Joplin would have her last meal.

Re-creating the excitement of a swirling San Franciscan psychedelic odyssey in an airless and sterile Midtown Manhattan recording facility would pose a challenge. The fundamental methods of studio tracking ran counter to the way the band preferred to make music. “Everything’s fairly isolated,” bassist Peter Albin observed in Scars of Sweet Paradise. “You have headphones on. The vocalist is in a soundproof vocal chamber. The drummer is baffled like crazy. . . . It’s a very non-together way of recording.” In the hopes of improving the overall vibe, a stage was assembled in the live room, complete with lowered curtains, a spotlight and even the band’s PA system. To enhance the effect on record, Simon created tape loops of fake audience reactions, with studio secretaries, engineers and assorted members of the group’s entourage enlisted as the crowd. “We gave them tambourines and whistles and stuff,” Catero told Echols, “and said, ‘Can you stand out here and whenever you feel like reacting just whoop and holler, shake your tambourines and blow your whistles?’ ”

While the album credits claim that the “live material” was taped at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, the sole concert recording — a nine-minute version of “Ball and Chain” with a new guitar solo tracked in the studio — was made at Graham’s other local stronghold, the Winterland Ballroom. “John [Simon] was good — he came up with a real concept for the album that worked,” drummer Dave Getz says in Echols’ book. “It created a picture for people who hadn’t been to the San Francisco ballrooms.” Even the intimate “Turtle Blues” was treated with ambient noise recorded at Barney’s Beanery, a bar on Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard that was one of Joplin’s favorite watering holes. She dined there on the night of October 3rd, 1970, just before heading back to the Landmark Hotel, where she would inject a fatal dose of heroin after midnight

Erma Franklin didn’t recognize Joplin’s version of her song “Piece of My Heart.”

Three of the seven tracks on Cheap Thrills were covers that had been, in Peter Albin’s words, “Big Brotherized.” They include a revamp of “Summertime” and a minor-key reimagining of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” stretched out ad infinitum. But chief among these is “Piece of My Heart,” a tune that would become the band’s first and only Top 20 hit.

The song had been written by producer and Bang! Records founder Bert Berns and his collaborator Jerry Ragovoy. Berns initially passed it to Van Morrison, then signed to the Bang! roster, but Morrison declined. Instead the track was offered to Erma Franklin, Aretha’s elder sister, who had all but retired from music after issuing a string of unsuccessful singles earlier in the decade. By 1967, she was working as an administrator for IBM when Berns coaxed her back with his new composition. Originally arranged as an off-kilter calypso, “Piece of My Heart” was ultimately given a strident soul treatment that sent it to Number 62 on the Billboard charts. A full-length album was planned for Franklin, but Berns’ fatal heart attack on December 30th, 1967, threw the label into turmoil, and the follow-up never materialized.

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The members of Big Brother and the Holding Company greatly admired “Piece of My Heart,” and came up with a psychedelicized version to fit their unique style. “We didn’t want to imitate Erma Franklin,” Albin later said. “Erma’s ‘Piece of My Heart’ had a delicacy and a sense of mystery that was just beyond us.” Big Brother’s rendition, with Joplin’s soulful wailing at the fore, would overshadow the original commercially, and become what many feel is the definitive version of the song. If having her song snatched bothered Franklin, she tried not to let it show in interviews. “To be honest, I never even recognized the song when I first heard Janis’ version on the car radio,” she told Blues & Soul in 1973. “Naturally, it would have been great to have gotten the exposure, airplay and sales that she got, but her version is so different from mine that I really don’t resent it too much.”

Clive Davis played Big Brother’s version of “Summertime” to Richard Rodgers. It didn’t go down too well.

Richard Rodgers dropped by Columbia’s New York headquarters one day in 1968 to have lunch with company bigwig Goddard Lieberson and discuss funding for his upcoming musicalAs the Broadway icon waited, Davis reverently approached and introduced himself. Over the course of their brief conversation, Davis invited Rodgers into his office to hear an advance tape of Big Brother’s version of “Summertime.” He believed the older man would appreciate a fresh take on the Porgy and Bess chestnut.

Rodgers took a seat and Davis pressed play. “He listened without expression,” Davis writes in his memoir. “When the song ended, he didn’t say anything, which unnerved me.” Fearing that “Summertime” was a little too close to Rodgers’ theatrical wheelhouse for an unbiased response, he changed tactics altogether. “I decided to play ‘Piece of My Heart’ for him. Now, that was a mistake.” Within 90 seconds, the composer of Oklahoma!, The Sound of MusicandThe King and I asked him to turn the tape off. “He told me that not only did he not understand what he was hearing, but he could not understand why anyone would like it,” Davis continued. “As for Janis’ singing, it was impossible for him to imagine why anyone would think she was talented.” By this point Rodgers had worked himself into something approaching a tizzy, apparently telling Davis, “If this means I have to change my writing, or that the only way to write a Broadway musical is to write rock songs, then my career is over.” A flustered and quite embarrassed Davis quickly dropped the issue, accepting that Rodgers “simply couldn’t hear the new sounds.”

The album almost included a brief jam called “Harry,” and a version of the national anthem.

On some early printings of the Cheap Thrills cover, the words “HARRY KRISHNA! (D. GETZ)” are faintly visible underneath “ART: R. CRUMB” in the speech bubble emanating from a man wearing a turban. John Simon’s initial mix of the album was slated to include this brief track before label execs intervened, fearing that it was too ragged. A version of “Happy Birthday” was also reportedly elbowed by Columbia brass, but it was Simon who put the kibosh on another arrangement of an old standard. Guitarist Sam Andrews tried to sell the producer on a run-through of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but the idea was quickly dismissed — much to his dismay. “A year or so later, Jimi Hendrix did an instrumental version,” he told author Ellis Amburn in Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin. “But how much more revolutionary would Janis’ singing of this song have been a year earlier?”

The original album cover featured the group naked in bed together.
“I slept with all of them,” Joplin once said of her Big Brother brethren. “They’re like my family — I’ve balled ’em all.” So, on paper, the initial cover concept depicting the band mates tucked up together must have seemed like the perfect choice. But when they arrived at Columbia creative director Bob Cato’s New York set, they found an embarrassment to hippie crash pads: a Madison Avenue mélange of pinks, frills and swirling Peter Max prints. Joplin took one look and shrieked, “Let’s trash it, boys!” And trash it they did, tearing down the offending accouterments and replacing them with detritus from around the studio to get that true Haight-Ashbury edge. “Then we took off all our clothes, jumped in bed, and smiled for the camera,” Sam Andrews told Amburn. “It was a very merry morning.” In the photos taken that day, a carton of Marlboros, Joplin’s fifth of Southern Comfort, and a candle (apparently) for cooking heroin are all visible among the nude bodies. It was all too much for the label executives, who decided to scrap the idea. A cartoon by Zap Comix cult hero R. Crumb, originally destined for the back of the jacket, was used instead.

The label rejected the band’s preferred title: Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills.
The original cover wasn’t the only thing that was too hot for the record company. Columbia also balked at the band’s initial choice at a title, Sex, Dope and Cheap ThrillsBorrowed from the infamous anti-drug propaganda film Reefer Madness, the phrase had taken on special significance for Andrews. “We looked on it as an antidote to being overly serious about our music and what the movement was doing,” he said to Amburn. “It was a way of saying, ‘Lighten up!’ — of being tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing.” In an era when both the Mamas and the Papas and the Rolling Stones were barred from showing a toilet seat on their album covers, the use of “sex“ and “dope” in a title was deemed over the line, and the phrase was shortened simply to Cheap Thrills.

The album sold 500,000 copies before it was even finished, resulting in a rush release and a marathon 36-hour mixing session

Two weeks of sessions in New York that March resulted in only three completed songs, so Simon and the band decamped to Columbia’s Los Angeles studio in April to finish the album. Recording continued there for nearly a month, but work was still far from complete. Complicating matters was the fact that Simon’s perfectionist streak was seriously at odds with the band’s laid-back style. “Here’s this dude from Princeton with perfect pitch telling them that they’re playing their guitars out of tune, and telling her that she’s singing out of tune, and making them do a million takes,” fellow producer Elliot Mazer recalled to Echols. It was probably a relief to all concerned when Simon had to depart in June to honor his commitment to produce the Band’s second album. Now it was Mazer’s job to take Cheap Thrills across the finish line, and a sizable part of his duty was fending off antsy Columbia execs who wanted the project wrapped ASAP. Mazer was still in the midst of “trying to figure out how to put the second side together” when he got a phone call from Clive Davis informing him that the album, which didn’t technically exist yet, had already been certified gold for shipping 500,000 advance units. “That’s the last thing I’d ever want to say to a band trying to finish a record!” Mazer told Amburn.

As the pressure mounted, Joplin and Sam Andrews spent a marathon 36-hour session with engineers to mix the final record. “A day and a half with no sleep and very little to eat,” Andrews recalled. But the grueling sessions and long hours were worth it: “We felt like we had something. We thought there was a good chance it would be well received.”

Joplin announced she was leaving Big Brother and the Holding Company just weeks after the album was issued.
The seeds of Joplin’s departure from Big Brother were sown before the band ever set foot in the studio to record Cheap Thrills. Albert Grossman and the rest of the new management team made their intent clear with press kits in which the guys in the group were effectively phantoms. Concert billings suddenly became “Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company,” and Grossman kept turning up the heat behind the band’s back. “The first thing Albert told her was to get rid of Big Brother,” says musician and Joplin associate Nick Gravenites in Pearl. “He came at her with a record deal and said, ‘I can get you a quarter of a million dollars, but it’s strictly for you. The deal doesn’t include Big Brother. Think it over.’ ”

Joplin also faced mounting pressure from outside the band’s circle as 1968 progressed. “Once we left warm and cozy San Francisco, the critics attacked Big Brother because we were very limited musically,” Getz admitted to Echols. “Ultimately, that’s what split up the band.” The Los Angeles Free Press insisted that Joplin was “too full of soul for the Holding Company partners,” and Rolling Stone called the band’s Boston gig “messy and a general musical disgrace.” Joplin herself tried to laugh it off, freely admitting that they were “lousy musicians” in interviews but proclaiming that they were like family. Yet even she knew that in order to progress toward the horn-based soul sounds favored by her heroes like Etta James and Otis Redding, she had to go her own way. In mid-September, weeks after the release of Cheap Thrills, Grossman issued a press release announcing her “amicable” split with Big Brother and the Holding Company. They played their last show together on December 1st, 1968, in San Francisco. “It was a very sad thing, man,” Joplin told Rolling Stone’s David Dalton in 1970. “I love those guys more than anybody else in the whole world, they know that. But if I had any serious idea of myself as a musician, I had to leave.”

Big Brother and the Holding Company
  • Janis Joplin – vocals
  • Sam Andrew – lead guitar, bass, vocals
  • James Gurley – guitar
  • Peter Albin – bass, guitar
  • Dave Getz – drums

Cheap Thrills was released in the summer of 1968, one year after their debut album, and reached number one on the Billboard charts in its eighth week in October. It kept the top spot for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks, while the single “Piece of My Heart” also became a huge hit. By the end of the year, it was the most successful album of 1968, having sold nearly a million copies. The 1999 re-release of Cheap Thrills features the outtakes “Flower in the Sun” and “Roadblock” as well as live performances of “Magic of Love” and “Catch Me Daddy” as bonus material.