Record Machine: Pearl by Janis Joplin

“Me and Bobby McGee” may be the more well-known song in the Janis Joplin oeuvre, but my Pearl favorite is the short, (nearly) a capella tune that follows.

Janis Joplin - Pearl

“Mercedes Benz” is just shy of two minutes long, and it’s more or less the same refrain repeated, but I love it. It’s the sort of tune one might sing hanging around with friends, already a little drunk and feeling good. It was the last recording session she completed before her death in October 1970.

Apart from that splash of simplicity, Pearl is an album that undulates with the blues. Janis sings of love, lust, loneliness and the realization that working hard doesn’t always produce results. She is unapologetic and full on, and I bet that seeing her live was Rock n Roll Church.

Much of Pearl was indeed recorded while she was on the road with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and though the album was released posthumously, she had already approved each of the tracks. Only “Buried Alive in the Blues” remained incomplete after her death, as she had yet to record her vocals. The instrumental marks the midpoint of the album, closing out Side One.

Now, don’t think I lack love for the Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster-penned “Me and Bobby McGee.” It is an outstanding song, a country jaunt away from the previous blues/jam band moments.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Another favorite from the album is “A Woman Left Lonely.” Janis sings of a relationship gone quietly bad, where “she knows he’s takin’ her for granted” and although she blames the man’s behavior for “crazy things on lonely occasions,”  it reminds me a lot of relationships I’ve had where chronic loneliness and bad behavior met. Blame can be placed all around.

A simple conversation
With a new man now and again
Makes a touchy situation
When a good thing’s comin’ to an end

But what else can be said about Janis Joplin? She was a legend gone too soon, yes. She was otherworldly in her appearance, in her voice, and in her attitude. She could bring a room to a standstill. There’s nothing more to say. All that remains is the desire for a good pair of headphones that will allow the music to come as close as it can to a wholly consuming experience. I’m so pleased that I own it.

Janis Joplin - Pearl (back cover)Side One

Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues

Side Two

My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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