When the topic of what was your first concert comes up, I usually answer it was at Ravinia on August 5, 1970. That's because it sounds cooler to say your first live show was seeing Janis Joplin rather than Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in the Turnstyle department-store parking lot. I don't remember much about the concert other than there was a lot of alcohol involved, both on the stage and in the audience.
Two months later, Janis Joplin was dead from a heroin overdose. I remember thinking how eerie it was to have seen her in August and a short time later, she was gone. Fifty years later, it's still eerie.
Three months after her death, her second and final solo album, "Pearl", was released. The record was a huge success, selling over four million albums in the United States. That gave it a classification of quad-platinum. The single "Me and Bobby McGee" was a number-1 hit. The reviews were also excellent. All of them in the four to five-star range.
When an album hits a milestone age such as this, you wonder if it still holds up. Is it relevant? Is it something you would still listen to? Should it be in your listening rotation?
I don't remember the last time I listened to "Pearl." It may have more than four decades since I had heard it in its entirety. Sure, I have heard many of the songs through the years, but they were most likely one-offs on the radio. So was it surprising when I played it the other night, to find out how much I still enjoyed it? Absolutely not, because the songs are still great and more importantly, that Janis Joplin voice.
So often through the last five decades, you'd hear a new female vocalist and she'd be described as the new Joplin. Listening to "Pearl" reminded me that there was no such thing as a new Joplin. Janis was one of a kind. She was a true original.
You hear that singular voice early in the album. The first two songs, "Move Over" and "Cry Baby" show off her talents. Her voice is so strong and at the same time has that scratchy quality that made her unique. The woman was made to sing rock and roll as well as the blues. And yet, the big hit on the album is a slower tune, "Me and Bobby McGee", written by Kris Kristofferson. It showed off her versatility.
Fifty years later "Pearl" is still a classic. It's the perfect showcase for Janis Joplin. It's a reminder of who she was and also what she could have been. At only thirty-four minutes long, it's well worth your time to remember the distinctive talent of Janis Joplin.
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