It would be hard for a woman with an earthy, gritty voice to achieve true fame in modern music. There are a million in-tune songbirds with crystal clear vocals, and every one of them can sing songs other people wrote to make a buck for a record label. Fortunately, Janis Joplin wasn’t born in this century. Her raw vocals were perfect for early rock and throaty blues in her time. More importantly, because of the passion and power she brought to every performance, the ten best Janis Joplin songs of all time are still widely played today.
10. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
We all know real love is hard work, and Janis Joplin knew it too. Try Just a Little Bit Harder is about doing everything you can to make love work. This is a tune about pursuing your passions with every last bit of energy you have. It was incredibly late, two-thirty in the morning when she took the stage at Woodstock, and if Janis hadn’t tried just a little bit harder, her ten-song set might have bombed or at least been one of the more obscure things people forgot all about. Instead, she brought everything she had to that performance and secured her place in history despite the lateness of the timeslot she was given. This might as well be a song about her entire life and how she lived which is why it made the list over numerous other outstanding songs that aren’t even in Janice Joplin’s top ten best.
9. Move Over
On September 25, 1970, Janis Joplin played Move Over on the Dick Cavett Show. According to SongMeanings, during her time on the show, she mentioned that the song was actually about men who end relationships but don’t move on. Recorded on the same day as the infamous Bobby McGee, this is one of many songs Janis wrote herself.
8. Kozmic Blues
If you haven’t read the Janis Joplin biography, you really should take the time. As a true rock legend of the 1960s, her work inspired a generation of women to sing and take control of their lives. For Janis, everything was hard work. She ‘competed’ with a lot of very famous men, sharing the Woodstock stage with names like Jimi Hendrix, and held her own despite the general idea that women should not have jobs remaining pervasive in that era. Kozmic Blues is about the feeling that nothing you do is ever quite enough, something women then and now can certainly understand.
7. Down On Me
Although Down On Me often gets passed over in Janis Joplin collections, the message behind this song is at the core of her beliefs. It can seem like the whole world is out to get you. People are negative and nasty more often than we’d like to admit. Down On Me is a simple message about being kinder to the people around you just because it’s the right thing to do.
Originally composed by George Gershwin as an aria for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, Summertime was made much more famous by the incomparable Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. However, Janis Joplin’s cover of this classic stands on its own as one of the best cover songs of the 1960s. Though she was more well known as a 60’s rock and roll voice, Janice Joplin clearly knew how to belt the blues and often chose to do so rather than boxing herself into one genre.
5. Ball and Chain
Although nowhere near enough Joplin fans know it, Ball and Chain was another cover song. This time Janice was singing a song by one of her own musical icons. Big Momma Thornton was someone she often mentioned as a primary influence, and singing this outstanding song was another way to acknowledge her bluesy roots and bring awareness to another artist whose work she adored.
4. Cry Baby
If this were a top ten list of songs you can really belt out, Cry Baby would still be in the top ten. Hearing Janis Joplin sing it is like a window into the soul of the 1960s. Although much of her music, Cry Baby included, was a cover of or influenced by earlier blues legends, Janice always brought her own unique take and vivacious energy that drew massive crowds to any stage she played.
3. Mercedes Benz
If you have never heard Janice Joplin sing the tongue-in-cheek hilarity that is Mercedes Benz, then you have missed out on one of the best satirical music pieces of the era. The idea that prayer will give you anything you ask for is ridiculous, and Janice took a risk by making fun of it. With lines about waiting for delivery on her god-given color TV so she can watch preachers solicit money, this was offensive but also apropos and highly entertaining.
2. Piece Of My Heart
Every great musician does a song about love, but only the best can make you feel their pain. Piece of My Heart was both uplifting and sad. Only one voice, Janice’s, could really tear that song apart in a way that made you want to cry and dance at the same time. This song is the definition of epic music. In fact, it would have been number one if she hadn’t made the next, much more famous and sad love song.
1. Me and Bobby McGee
Everyone who has ever heard Janis Joplin or a cover of Janis Joplin knows who Bobby McGee is. On any list of sad love songs that slap, you will find this song. The emotional maturity in her response of, “He’s looking for that home, and I hope he finds it,” is virtually unheard of in a love song about loss. You can feel the joy at happy memories and the bittersweet sense that she loved ‘Bobby’ truly enough to let him go, even though it hurt. Me and Bobby McGee is the quintessential Janis Joplin song.
The sheer weight of Janice Joplin’s stage presence was virtually unknown before her time. At least as far as women in rock went, the level of openly daring sexuality and charisma wasn’t part of most performances. With gravelly impassioned lyrics and the work ethic of a dozen lesser artists combined, Janice sang her way into history. Every one of Joplin’s top ten songs is a legend in its own right and worthy of any rock collection.