Having introduced Cheap Thrills to this series, I can’t possibly leave it behind without featuring Ball and Chain. Is it just Janis Joplin’s greatest vocal performance, or maybe the finest live capture of a blueswoman ever, or maybe (not stretching very far) the hottest vocal performance ever recorded by anyone? Probably not, but it’s totally not an insane line of inquiry. In the very unlikely event you don’t know Ball and Chain, turn this up loud. But get a grip on something firm first.
It was written sometime in the Sixties by Big Mama Thornton but it’s not clear whether she ever got much in the way of royalties; some record-company sleazebag got a new Porsche instead, probably.
The Cheap Thrills version is live and features crazed guitar breaks by Big Brother’s Sam Gurley; but this is a Joplin showpiece, end to end. She takes it from a murmur up to a full-blown maniacal howl and then further still, losing control of her voice a few times along the way and that’s an essential part of the performance; she’s a maenad, ecstatically lost in her art, dangerous to be around.
There really is nothing more to say.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. The performance at the Monterey Pop festival was a key moment in Joplin’s career, and that video captures an electric arrangement very much like that on Cheap Thrills, but not as good. Janis is though. Having said that, I really like this 1969 performance from Germany because it’s got a horn section and better camerawork; I feel closer to the ecstacy.