Janis Joplin- Pearl (1971): 21 October 2019

A quick note before we hop in to the review: You can now listen to Your Dad’s Car Stereo on Spotify with a playlist of every song that’s been rated 10/10. The link is on the right side of the page where you can also take a look at other songs I’ve had on repeat this week! This playlist will be updated every time there’s another 10/10, so make sure to follow the playlist and keep on rocking!

Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re covering the second solo studio album by Janis Joplin, and unfortunately, her first posthumous release, Pearl. Pearl was 95% complete before Joplin passed away in October of 1970, leaving only a partially finished song in “Buried Alive In The Blues,” which was sent to pressing without vocals. Joplin had direct input into the album’s content, this being her last album with that input. Pearl is atypical for an early 1970s rock album in that there’s a real variety of songs that you won’t hear anything else. There’s lots of ballads, funk and Motown influences, and even an a capella song. The other thing that stood out to me was that the produce for the album, Paul Rothchild, worked closely with the Doors through the late 1960s, and you can easily hear parallels to the keyboard forward sound of the Doors and the keyboard-centric mixing on the backing band.

Most of my experience with Janis Joplin’s music comes from her time with Big Brother and the Holding Company, particularly the song “Piece of My Heart,” so I wasn’t sure what to expect listening to Pearl and went in with an open mind. I’ll say that I was surprised! The powerful vocals that Joplin was known for were ever present but with the addition of what can almost be considered a funk element thanks to the backing from the Full Tilt Boogie Band.  Pearl is almost overwhelming because of the amount of heart and feeling that Joplin poured into each song. I felt like I needed to take a breath after the album was done. Pearl will make shivers run up your spine, that’s how good the vocal performance is. Sit through this one and enjoy it, this is a piece of art from the storyteller herself, Janis Joplin.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Move Over: “Move Over” is a great way to start off the album. We get a peak at the vocals that Joplin is known for with a funky rock track to boot. This is a sultry, up-tempo song that is really catchy and worth the listen! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Cry Baby: Holy moly. You want to talk about powerhouse songs? Yes? Then you want to talk about “Cry Baby.” Although this wasn’t an original song, Joplin made this all her own and blew it out of the park! The vocals are so intense and full of passion that it’s almost overwhelming. Her ability to the highest, most earth-shattering highs to the most compassionate lows is unrivaled. This may very well be Joplin’s opus magnus, and it will go down in rock and roll history as one of the best vocal performances ever. Dad’s Rating 10/10

A Woman Left Lonely: I’ve said it before; slow songs don’t often hold my attention very well, but “A Woman Left Lonely” was able to do it. The vocals are, once again, spot on, and just as wild as they were on “Cry Baby,” if slightly more restrained. After a track like “Cry Baby” you almost need something more restrained, so credit goes to the production team for organizing the record. This is a great example of a ballad done right. Slow but powerful and building towards a great climax. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Half Moon: A return to a funk inspired sound waits for us on “Half Moon.” This is a great chance to talk about the backing band for the album, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. They don’t get nearly enough credit for their contribution because they’re always overshadowed by Joplin, but this is a great example of the musicianship. At this point, funk was a relatively new genre (having originated in the 1960s) and the Boogie Band did a standup job of introducing it to a wider audience before it took the world by storm with the introduction of disco later in the decade. Great track and great chance for the other musicians to show off their stuff. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Buried Alive In The Blues: This was the only unfinished track on the album and was supposed to have a vocal accompaniment, but Joplin passed away before she could record the vocals. What we were left with is a blues track that would have made her proud. Listening to this, you can almost hear her voice and what she would have been singing. Full credit goes to the Full Tilt Boogie Band for laying down a rocking track. Dad’s Rating 6/10

My Baby: “My Baby” is the only song on the album to feature a backing choir, and while it wasn’t necessary (Joplin’s vocals could have carried the song easily), it’s nice to hear her interaction with other singers. This definitely feels like a southern gospel inspired song with the heavy emphasis on the organ throughout. It’s also a great tribute to Joplin’s southern roots.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Me and Bobby McGee: “Me and Bobby McGee” may be Joplin’s most well-known song and helped propel Pearl to success. At the time, this was a recent cover, the original having been released in 1969. Musically, I love that Joplin uses this song to show off a wide range of her vocal talent, starting quietly and slowly before building into a rockabilly riot at the end while seeming to dance at will up and down scales. The beginning in particular shows that you don’t have to have a loud voice to be powerful; it’s all in how you use it. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Mercedes Benz: This is one of the most unique songs that I think we’ve listened to thus far. Recorded in one take, three days prior to her death, this a capella song is largely understood to be a rejection of consumerism. This is really a landmark song for a rock album. No one else at this time would have dared to put a vocal only track on a rock record, but Joplin did it. This is a true testament to her willingness to experiment with what rock music was and break the barriers of the genre. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Trust Me: “Trust Me” gives me an immediate feeling of the Motown sound. I really don’t have anything bad to say about this song; it’s got a great buildup, passionate vocals, fantastic musicianship, and is everything you would expect from Joplin. This is probably one of the most hidden gems on the album. Most people know about “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Cry Baby,” but this is one of the better ones that most people haven’t listened to. It’s worth a listen, so give it a shot! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Get It While You Can: We’re finishing Pearl off with a rock ballad, and it’s not a bad one by any means, but it doesn’t stand out as much as some of the other songs on the record. “Cry Baby” and “A Woman Left Lonely” hold my attention better and I think they’re more interesting to listen to from a performance standpoint. Dad’s Rating 6/10

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