Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits

Janis Joplin

Columbia / Legacy Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/07/2000

I remember the first time I listened to Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits back when I was in high school. I had picked up a used copy of the record for about a dollar and, having known Joplin only for "Me And Bobby McGee" and "Piece Of My Heart," decided it was worth the investment. But after one listen, I wondered what the big deal was, and I shelved the album.

Long-time readers will know that I got a crash course in "Joplin-ology" a few months ago when I reviewed the Box Of Pearls set, which included all four studio albums Joplin recorded, both as a solo act and with Big Brother And The Holding Company. After that, things seemed a little clearer - and with that new knowledge, I felt comfortable to give Janis Joplin's Greatest Hitsnbtc__dv_250 - now in a remastered, expanded CD edition - another try. Guess what - things seemed much clearer this time around.

The thing about Joplin is that it's very difficult for someone who doesn't know much about her or her musical background to come into her catalog stone cold; it's almost like you have to build up a rapport with her, much like you have to season a cast iron skillet. If all you know are the songs that radio plays, you might not understand how Joplin got to a musical level in her career that would have led to her doing songs like "Cry Baby" and "Move Over".

With that in mind - yes, the two major hits that Joplin had are included on this disc. "Piece Of My Heart" captures Joplin at both her most gentle in vocal style as well as her roughest - and that's what I think endured her to her fans. Likewise, "Me And Bobby McGee" gave Joplin a chance to demonstrate her vocal talents without having to constantly resort to the gymnastics she put her vocal cords through.

But Joplin was more than these two songs, as Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits goes out of its way to prove. Songs like "Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)," "Down On Me" and "Move Over" all show that Joplin could well be one of the most underappreciated musicians from this particular period in music history.

A long-standing error is corrected with this expanded release, as the a capella number "Mercedes Benz" finally makes the cut. (Just wondering, though: why wasn't "Combination Of The Two" also included? There's plenty of space on the CD, and it's very much worthy of the distinction.)

The only track I still cannot warm up to is the version of "Ball And Chain" that is featured, a number that segues into a two-minute diatribe and vocal calisthenics that seems to drag on forever. The one thing I do like, though, is how Joplin chooses to end the song with her vocals fading out gently, instead of allowing the band to power-chord through an ending like every other group alive probably would have.

Granted, Joplin's sound and style are acquired tastes, and it may seem odd that the people who could appreciate a greatest hits album like this one are those who have heard most of (if not all) of her previous releases. But Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits - a good album, mind you - is that kind of a disc.

Rating: B+

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.