Listen to 12 essential Janis Joplin tracks

Music journalist Holly George-Warren, author of the new biography, “Janis: Her Life and Music” (published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS), offers “CBS Sunday Morning” a roster of favorite Joplin hits – well-known and rare – that capture the brilliance and power of the rock and blues singer.

Check out the tracks below, and don’t miss Anthony Mason’s interview with Holly George-Warren on “Sunday Morning” October 20!

“Down on Me”

This is one of Janis’s favorite songs that she and Big Brother and the Holding Company worked up together after she joined the band in 1966. Janis called it “an old spiritual revitalized and slightly bastardized with new treatment.” (This is a live performance recorded at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1968.)

“Bye, Bye Baby”

Janis was given this song by its author, Powell St. John, her former bandmate in Austin bluegrass group The Waller Creek Boys in 1966, right before she left Texas for San Francisco. (From the 1967 album “Big Brother & the Holding Company.”)

“Ball and Chain”

Janis and her Big Brother bandmates saw Big Mama Thornton at a club performing this song, which Thornton had written but not recorded. Janis jotted down the lyrics and they asked Thornton after the show if they could cover it. Fortunately, she said yes! It was their breakthrough number when they performed it at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1966 (which was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker for his documentary, “Monterey Pop”).

“Piece of My Heart”

Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady gave Big Brother bassist Peter Albin the 45 rpm recording of Erma Franklin’s version of this song. The band “Big Brother-ized it” (as drummer Dave Getz put it). It became their first big hit single, kicking off their #1 album “Cheap Thrills” in 1968.

“Turtle Blues”

Janis wrote this song while performing as a solo blues singer when she lived in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1965-1966, before moving to San Francisco. (From the album “Cheap Thrills.”)


As a young girl, Janis loved this song on the “Porgy and Bess” soundtrack. Her version with Big Brother was inspired by Nina Simone’s 1959 recording. (Here she performs “Summertime” in Frankfurt, Germany.)

“One Good Man”

Janis wrote this blues number for her first solo album, “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!” in 1969. Michael Bloomfield is on guitar.

“Kozmic Blues”

Don’t expect any answers, dear
For I know that they don’t come with age, no, no
Well, ain’t never gonna love you any better, babe
And they’re never gonna love you right
So you’d better take it now, right now

One of my favorite Janis originals, the heartbreakingly gorgeous lyrics give voice to her philosophy of dealing with life’s slings and arrows.

“Little Girl Blue”

Janis named this Rodgers & Hart standard, from the Broadway musical “Jumbo,” as her own favorite among her repertoire; her version is devastating.

“Half Moon”

Johanna and John Hall wrote this song specifically for Janis’ album “Pearl.” Johanna Hall’s lyrics were inspired by Janis’ star-crossed love affair with David Niehaus, whom she met in Brazil in February 1970.

“Me & Bobby McGee”

Janis learned this Kris Kristofferson ballad from her friend Bobby Neuwirth, who’d learned it from Gordon Lightfoot, who was playing it in manager Albert Grossman’s office.  Janis’ version, recorded for “Pearl,” was a posthumous #1 hit and put a then-unknown Kristofferson on the map.

Get It While You Can

Another signature Joplin song (written by her favorite songwriter Jerry Ragovoy), she debuted it on “The Dick Cavett Show” in June 1970 with her Full Tilt Boogie Band.

For more info:

  • “Janis: Her Life and Music” by Holly George-Warren (Simon & Schuster), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon

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