Janis Joplin is one of the undoubted voices of her generation. The singer and the one-time triumphant leader of Big Brother & The Holding Company embodied everything that was good about the sixties, and some of the bad too—but it was in her vocal where Joplin really let loose and let her soul come out to play.
We’re dipping into the Far Out vault and taking a look back at Joplin’s imperious vocal on the classic song ‘Piece of My Heart’ and how, with it, she not only transcended genre and culture but offered up a burning image of the passionate blood running through her veins. She set the bar very high indeed.
So often when listening to the isolated tracks of your most beloved songs you can be left disappointed. After all, if you take away Bonham’s drums and Page’s guitar, is Robert Plant’s vocal really able to tell the story that the full Led Zeppelin outfit can? Probably not.
Well, when that person being isolated is Janis Joplin you can be safe in the knowledge that every note and every breath in between is a volume of the singer’s own tale and it’s an odyssey we’re desperate to be a part of, jumping on board at the very first breath.
There are a few songs which are synonymous with the incredible, and sadly, all too short-lived career of Janis Joplin and most of them were written by somebody else. The singer made her name by making other’s songs her own, taking the emotions of another and empathetically repositioning them, and none more so perhaps than her cover of ‘Piece of My Heart’.
The singer empowered the song with an unstoppable force which its creator never could and, in doing so, made the song an authentic piece of her set and her iconography.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing ‘Piece of My Heart’ after you’ve heard the bold and unabashed performance of Joplin belting out through the speakers. The singer has made the track feel so akin to her character and attitude that it feels impossible to separate the two entities. However, the song was originally composed by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns and originally recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967.
Yet for many, it is on this song that you can hear the power and potency of Joplin’s vocal performance like no other track. This is where Janis ‘Pearl’ Joplin fully came to fruition. That is because Pearl uses her instrument like the ‘Sax Men’ of old blues hangouts, and when listening to her uncanny wail, it’s easy to see the link between genres. Joplin may have been at the forefront of the new counter-culture movement but she always paid tribute to the past.
In fact, her performance and choice of music are so deeply entrenched in the culture of blues, it’s hard to remember the small and childlike vessel her unstoppable beautiful wail was flooding out from. Joplin used her voice to transcend her physical presence and focus on matters of the heart. It wasn’t about style or looking cool, it was all about the expression.
It is this passion and human connection that can be seen more clearly when removing the instruments from the recording of ‘Piece of My Heart’ and isolating the vocal. It allows her voice room to breathe and reverberate as she tackles a toxic love with a closed fist and an open book.
Listen below to Janis Joplin’s powerful isolated vocal on ‘Piece of My Heart’: