Big Brother and The Holding Company’s debut album put the group on the musical map and their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival during the summer '67 was Janis Joplin’s coming-out party. The stage was set for her to become one of the biggest stars in American music.
Cheap Thrills was released August 12, 1968 and would be the number one album in the United States for eight weeks. By year's end it had sold over a million copies.
This would be Joplin’s second and last album with the group as she would leave in December. In many ways they were the perfect backing band for her as they were raw and loose, intense and at times sloppy, which fit her style well.
Of special note is the cover artwork which was drawn by cartoonist Robert Crumb. It would become recognized as one of the best jackets in rock history. Obviously, the CD insert does not do the cover justice so find an old vinyl copy to see it in all its original glory.
Cheap Thrills was a psychedelic, blues/rock masterpiece. The twin guitars of James Gurley and Sam Andrew set the tone and Janis Joplin did the rest.
While their first album had no track that approached three minutes in length, this one has no song less than four minutes. This extended length would fit the band better as these songs would become concert staples that allowed the band to improvise and stretch out a bit.
Side One contains three classic Joplin performances. The old Gershwin popular tune, “Summertime,” is given a unique and almost painful vocal. The guitar solo on this one is also worth the price of admission. “Piece Of My Heart” is Joplin at her rocking best and it remains a classic song from the late sixties. While it may not be as well known as the precious two, “I Need A Man To Love” has a bluesy vocal refrain by Joplin which ranks among her best work.
Side Two is dominated by the nine-minute “Ball and Chain,” which I played to death back in the day. If you want an introduction to late-sixties psychedelic rock this is a good place to start. The other song of note here is the haunting “Oh, Sweet Mary.”
A classic album to be savored and enjoyed, Cheap Thrills helped define an era in American music and remains an essential listen over four decades on.