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Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits
Janis Joplin

Columbia KC 32168
Released: July 1973
Chart Peak: #37
Weeks Charted: 22
Certified Platium: 11/21/86

Janis JoplinTo her audience, Janis Joplin has remained a symbol, artifact and reminder of late Sixties youth culture. Her popularity never derived from her musical ability, but from her capacity to link her fantasies of freedom and immortality with ours. Jimi Hendrix was no less a significant exponent of those fantasies and lifestyles, but his music has survived his death and one is not so resentful about the continued release of previously unissued material, because he was one of the great innovators of rock music.

Not so Janis Joplin, and I wish Columbia had given it up after the disastrous and painful In Concert. However, they hadn't yet released her Greatest Hits so one can't really complain about this new album -- even if it's packaged with all the tender loving care usually reserved for Mantovani's Golden Oldies, Vol. XIII. The jacket has the smell of mere product to it, although the record has been carefully selected and edited by some unnamed person -- shades of the producerless Cheap Thrills.

Janis Joplin - Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits
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The best cuts are taken from the earliest and latest dates in her career. On "Down On Me," from In Concert, and "Bye, Bye Baby," from the Mainstream LP, she sounds relatively innocent and unaware of the impending flood of pressure. Big Brother was not yet regarded as an inadequate backup band, but as nearly equal in importance. The combination of her sheer, unrefined exuberance and their unapologetic demo-quality music gives both cuts a warmth and naive lack of pretension that collapses into mere incompetence on Cheap Thrills, from which "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime" have been pulled.

It must have seemed incredibly cruel to Janis that when she took the advice of management, record company and critics, and hired a professional backup band, she quickly encountered a new set of criticisms. Instead of solving everything, the second band generated complaints that she had become too professional, smooth, controlled and show businessy. After their disastrous Memphis debut, many realized that as a performer she had always been treading on thin ice. Certainly, for all their polish, Janis Joplin did not make significantly better music wih the Kozmic Blues Band, as the only cut from their joint effort, "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" proves.

Only on the not wholly successful (but still her best) Pearl did she stop relying on changing personnel to improve her music and take stock of her own shortcomings. For the most part, she had determined the quality of her work, and it was her lack of control, insensitivity to nuance and style, and insecure instinct to bludgeon everything into her shallow conception of R&B style that most contributed to making her records so mediocre.

The Full Tilt Boogie Band was the best she played with and on "Cry Baby" she regained the spirit of the mainstream "Down On Me" but added some new-found class, confidence and self-control which intimated that her musical future could have been much more satisfying than her past. It would have been a nice way to end the album but the person in charge got arty and ironic and instead closed it with the live version of "Ball And Chain," complete with her drunken rap about living for today, "because it's all the same fucking day." The applause quickly fades out into the silence of the unmarked rotating grooves.

Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits is no final testament ot an artist, nor is it a document period -- In Concert performed that gratuitous service. It is a record for people who can't get her out of their minds, and for whom she has become some sort of ghost, a permanent image of rock's capacity for generating self-destruction, a picture of someone we really never knew, or maybe did know for only the most fleeting of moments and in only the most limited sort of way -- Janis Joplin, Superstar.

- Jon Landau, Rolling Stone, 8/16/73.

Bonus Reviews!

Long-awaited collection covering the late superstar's career from the earliest days to her final sessions. Selections show the development of Joplin's great vocal style and her ability to sing all material, from rock to ballads to straight blues. A fine set that really does contain her greatest hits. The set consists of recordings done with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis' first band, as well as the Full Tilt Boogie Band and various studio sessions. Best cuts: "Piece Of My Heart," "Me And Bobby McGee," "Down On Me" (live), "Ball And Chain."

- Billboard, 1973.

Well-chosen best-of gathers together tracks from Big Brother and the Holding Company and solo material. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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