Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The album Pearl saw Janis Joplin working with a strong set of songs, a tight band in Full Tilt Boogie, and a simpatico producer in Paul Rothchild. She may not have known she was making a masterpiece, but there was no disguising how well the sessions were going. They came to the most abrupt end possible, however, on October 4th, 1970, when Joplin died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. A few months later, Pearl was released, and while her death couldn’t help but overshadow it, over the years that shadow has receded. More than just a final statement, it sealed Joplin’s place as the best female singer of blues and rock ‘n’ roll of her era, and in “Me and Bobby McGee” it contained her signature song, one that still feels good to hear on the radio.
Pearl has been mined for covers, not just by artists looking to salute Joplin, but by artists looking for good songs. As you’ll soon see, they found what they were looking for. Here’s some of the gold they came up with.
Slade – Move Over (Janis Joplin cover)
Who was the most successful British group in the ’70s? Based on sales of singles, it’s Slade. This may come as a surprise in America, where Slade never quite snagged that brass ring, but their big hooks and good-hearted sleaze won and kept them fans in the rest of the world. They did a cover of Pearl‘s opening track “Move Over” for the BBC; it got such a good reaction that they recorded another version for their Slayed? album. Here’s the BBC take, loud and clear and making you want to move.
Natalie Cole – Cry Baby (Garnet Mimms / Janis Joplin cover)
“Cry Baby” is the first of two Garnet Mimms covers on Pearl; Mimms, still alive as of this writing, was no doubt grateful for Joplin’s willingness to tear up her larynx on this one. 1978’s Natalie… Live! saw Natalie Cole further proving there was more to her than being the near-namesake of her father. She blasted out her own take of “Cry Baby” to an adoring crowd, and in doing so left no doubt as to whom the stage and the song belonged on that night.
Maggie Bell – A Woman Left Lonely (Janis Joplin cover)
There are those who saw Maggie Bell as the Scottish Janis Joplin. Interestingly, her cover of “A Woman Left Lonely” doesn’t see her trying to match or top Joplin’s Pearl take. Instead, she goes prettier, if still powerful. It works, too, as Bell lifts her heart and soul heavenward rather than squeezing it tight.
Rufus & Chaka Khan – Half Moon (Janis Joplin cover)
Rufusized, the second album Rufus & Chaka Khan released in 1974, saw the Chicago funk band kicking ass and taking names if not prisoners. Their work on “Half Moon” shows them traveling the length of the song like they were painted to it, taking curves and hills with no loss of speed and double the thrill that comes from hearing a band at the top of its game.
Paul Butterfield’s Better Days – Buried Alive in the Blues (Nick Gravenites cover)
Pearl‘s lone instrumental wasn’t supposed to be so; Janis was scheduled to sing “Buried Alive in the Blues” the day after she was found dead. The song’s author, Nick Gravenites, was asked to deliver a vocal as a tribute, but he said no, so the backing track was left as is. But the song does have lyrics, and it has been covered with them; one of the better covers came via Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, with Geoff Muldaur picking up what Janis never got the chance to put down.
The Yardbirds – My Baby (Garnet Mimms / Janis Joplin cover)
The Yardbirds were winding down in 1968, with guitarist Jimmy Page setting his Zeppelin table, but they still had viable music in them. One example was “My Baby.” They recorded this a couple years before Joplin did; theirs was one of a very few Garnet Mimms covers that could betray no Janis influence.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson / Janis Joplin cover)
We were spoilt for choices on “Me and Bobby McGee,” as you can imagine. Big names had recorded the Kris Kristofferson song both before Joplin (Gordon Lightfoot, Kenny Rogers) and after her (Olivia Newton-John, the Grateful Dead). But nobody could have made it their own the way Jerry Lee Lewis did. Barreling over and through the song, the Killer crams his name into the lyrics as much as he can, his hands working the keyboard like it was a weaving loom. By the end, he’s worked up a thirst, but he never broke a sweat.
Taj Mahal – Mercedes Benz (Janis Joplin cover)
The last song Joplin recorded, “Mercedes Benz” saw her accompanied only by a click track. Taj Mahal begins his cover by discarding even that. Then he starts the second verse with a bluesy guitar. By the time the drums and tuba show up, the song’s been filled up–not just with more music, but with a feeling of both despair and untrammeled hope.
Larrington Walker – Trust Me (Bobby Womack / Janis Joplin cover)
Bobby Womack, who wrote “Trust Me,” also plays acoustic guitar on the Pearl track. Neither he nor Janis introduced it to the world – Jackie DeShannon got there first, on 1968’s Laurel Canyon. (Womack’s own take wasn’t released until 1975.) Another version was recorded by Larrington Walker, easily the least-known name in this post; he was a British actor who’d immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica when he was ten years old. His biggest claim to fame was starring in Maxell’s famous “My Ears Are Alight” commercial. He also recorded a single, on which “Trust Me” was the B-side. Considering how well he’d reworked it, I wish he’d done more.
Chris Cornell – Get It While You Can (Howard Tate / Janis Joplin cover)
Pearl‘s grand finale, “Get It While You Can” was a Howard Tate cover. Tate was a bandmate of Garnet Mimms, who introduced him to Jerry Ragovoy, the man who cowrote both of Pearl‘s Mimms songs as well as Tate’s. On Chris Cornell’s posthumous covers collection No One Sings Like You Anymore, the song opens the album rather than closing it, and it serves as a clarion call to his listeners. Cornell was nearly twice as old as Joplin when he died at 52, but like her, he was another talent gone far too soon.