RE: LP - Not the best recording. Not the best musicianship (but a lot better than the critics said). Just the BEST singing and most addictive music. I might have worn it out. Almost every song is a classic. "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime" are two all-time treasures of Rock and Blues. If you don't own this album; you MUST get it.
Which came first: Zap Comics or the Big Brother and The Holding Company album “Cheap Thrills?” The answer: It probably doesn’t matter, because Crumb drew from the essence of the emerging hippy underground, and Big Brother and The Holding Company “were” the essence of the emerging hippy underground.
If you were hip, or near hip, “Cheap Thrills” was one album that you had to have. I’ve never been able to distill which was more important to the release, the music or the cover ... both were exquisite, fresh and spirited. There was nothing, and I repeat “nothing” attractive about the cover of Cheap Thrills ... it was a raw, gritty, and dirty comic ... it was exactly what the counter culture was, though those of us who lived through those times would certainly like to imagine that all of the women were as beautiful as Grace Slick or Nico, and all of the men were as cool, hip and clean as Peter Fonda ... truth is, it was a total mess from sun up to sun down. The cover bespoke of no money, drugs, sex, music, frustration, cool, blown cool, the man, and deals gone up, down and sideways. So I ask you, “Who better then R. Crumb to feature the music of one of the grittiest bands of the day?”
I’ve seen Big Brother and The Holding Company about ten times, both with and without Janis. Janis was not an attractive woman ... but she had a quality that was infectious, a spontaneous laughter, a rye smile, and a penchant for living a full life ... not to mention a voice that at the time was second to non, being full of rich earthy tones, and with a heavy blues influence. A typical show would be divided into thirds ... Janis would sing one third of the songs, the guys would sing another third, with Janis backing them up, and the rest would be instrumentals, like “In The Hall of The Mountain King [always a twenty to thirty minute “freak out," that was a major crowd pleaser]. And it was Albert Grossman [yes of Bob Dylan fame], who got the ball rolling, saying that the guys were not good enough to support her, and it quickly became the conventional wisdom of the day, that the band was certainly not up to meeting the needs of Janis ... but Albert was just wooing her, looking to line his pockets again, with the talents of another star. And if you speak with James Gurley “The Fastest Guitar In The West,” or the other members of the band [who still perform today] ... there is a founded sense of betrayal felt towards Janis, because she certainly did not live up to the ideals and values of the times.
Truth be told, the band was incredibly tight, well structured, and rehearsed. They had spent much time performing live at the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom, honing their skills, and working the shape and balance of the shows. And if you listen, you will hear some of the most remarkable, blues, rock, and R&B from the day. The guitar playing was centered and never wondered without a purpose ... the rhythm, lead and bass played off of each other with a well defined language, weaving in and out, without any pretentious psychedelic overtures. This was a skilled band devoid of weakness, and keenly aware of each other's strengths. They had the ability to play to each other with the same grace and spirit they used when playing to the voice of Janis. As for the vocals of Janis, they suited the band, the music and the times ... her vocals may have been off key at times, but like Dylan, her songs came from the heart ... she could have been any of us, just an average person with a passion for singing songs that were pure Americana.
This is a blessed album, a time capsule, a window and more into the psyche of the 1960’s ... “Summertime” is a magical number, haunting and dark, dripping sexuality with each verse, while “Piece Of My Heart” both earns and commands your attention, and “Ball And Chain” ... well there’s nothing I need to say about that.
This is one of those albums that defined your musical tastes, friends would merely pick it up and nod ... the music was so eternal that it never even needed to be played ... though every now and then, I want to make sure that my memories have not strayed.
*** The Fun Facts: As to the band's name, according to Sam Andrew of the band, "There were two names ... Big Brother courtesy of the writer George Orwell, and the Holding Company courtesy of a silly hippy pun, where "Holding" meant "possessing illicit drugs." We decided to put the names together, although some of the more forward thinking among us worried about whether such a lengthy name would fit on a record label or a marquee.
The cover was drawn by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb after the band's original cover idea, a picture of the group naked in bed together, was dropped by the record company. Crumb had originally intended his art for the LP back cover, with a portrait of Janis Joplin to grace the front. But Joplin, an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb, so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia Records place it on the front cover. It is number nine on Rolling Stone's list of one hundred greatest album covers. Crumb later allowed prints of the cover, some of which he signed before sale.
In an interview for the AIGA, Columbia Records Art Director John Berg told design professor Paul Nini, "[Janis] Joplin commissioned it, and she delivered Cheap Thrills to me personally in the office. There were no changes with R. Crumb. He refused to be paid, saying, 'I don't want Columbia's filthy lucre.'"
In at least one early edition, the words "HARRY KRISHNA! (D. GETZ)" are faintly visible in the word balloon of the turbaned man, apparently referring to a track that was dropped from the final sequence. The words "ART: R. CRUMB" replace them. Initially, the album was to be called Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but the title was not received well by Columbia Records. A variation of the title on the cover is used as the logo for the Cheap Thrills record label, owned by British DJ Hervé.
Janis Joplin is great on here and whilst Big Brother and the Holding Company weren't the most proficient studio musicians the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You end up with a fun, loose, album that sounds like it's all recorded live when in fact the only entirely live recording is Ball and Chain which to me is the highlight of the album.