Although I did not get the opportunity to ever witness a Janis Joplin performance in real time (so to speak) - surprisingly, perhaps, I was too young for this privilege! - over the years, via the footage I have seen, I have become convinced that this was a very special performer (live, in particular), leading me to rate her up with my other all-time favourite 'frontmen', such as Elvis, James Brown, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and John Lydon. And, as with those other 'rock n' roll rebels' who died before their time - the likes of James Dean, Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, etc - one is always left wondering what might have been (but with a nagging suspicion that, oddly enough, their reputation has been left intact and not diminished by lingering on 'beyond their time').
This Greatest Hits compilation provides a compelling cross-section of Janis' recorded material, with 12 songs (on the extended version) spanning all 4 of her studio albums, plus two songs, brilliant versions of Down On Me and Ball And Chain recorded live (the former in Detroit, the latter Calgary) for the In Concert album. What is, though, one of the most remarkable things about Joplin's recorded material, whichever of her three 'band incarnations' you choose (and all three are represented here, of course) is that even her studio recordings have a 'live feel' - being infused with a sense of raw spontaneity, and her near-unique blend of impassioned blues and soul delivery. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on Piece Of My Heart (which opens this compilation), a rendition whereby the vocal delivery and raw sounding BB&THC place the version on a par with Erma Franklin's (more soul-like) classic.
Of course, there isn't a weak moment here and Janis commands the vocal range whether on the bluesy rockers of Down On Me, Move Over and Ball And Chain or the more soulful sounds of Cry Baby, Get It While You Can or Summertime (a particular favourite of mine - the greatest ever rendition of this Gershwin classic). However, my favourite song here is her simply mesmerising version of The Chantels' song Maybe - this is a goose-pimple/tear-inducing masterpiece, on which the Kozmic Blues Band really show their hand - a brass-driven, song-reinvention par excellence, leaving any other version (Chantells, Shangri-Las, Three Degrees, etc) totally in its wake (although I must admit I would love to hear a Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes version!).
I am not at all surprised that this album is a 7xPlatinum (7 million sales) record.