Not the band, the album: Big Brother and the Holding Company. It’s the much-disdained debut, a year before Cheap Thrills hit #1.
The production is crappy. The band recorded a single in September of 1966 that did nothing, and then recorded ten more songs at the end of the year. Nothing much happened until the band blew people away at Monterey in June of 1967. By August, Mainstream Records, who had the band’s contract, finally released the earlier songs in a rather haphazard manner. The album, which contained only ten songs and ran barely over 23 minutes, contained eight of the later songs, along with the earlier single ... two other later songs were released as a single. Columbia Records then took over the band’s contract and re-released the album with all twelve songs.
As I recall, the general feeling at the time was that Big Brother and the Holding Company didn’t capture the group’s live sound. Heard today, the thin production and psychedelic guitars make the album sound a bit like a lost garage rock classic. But there probably isn’t enough Janis to satisfy the new fans who thought it was Janis Joplin and Her Band of Amateurs. Columbia did what they could. Here’s the original album cover:
And here’s the Columbia re-release:
In the meantime, the band did a short program on the local public television station just as Cheap Thrills was released that included this incendiary version of “Ball and Chain”:
The “underground” FM station took to playing this version at least as often as the one on Cheap Thrills. Meanwhile, Monterey Pop, which featured yet another fiery version of “Ball and Chain”, didn’t come out until December, and I don’t believe there was an audio version of the festival until 1992. Whatever ... both the public TV version and the Cheap Thrills version are great. (And just to show where many minds were, in Monterey Pop, the mid-song guitar break is edited out.)
At this point, that first album was almost forgotten, not a bad trick considering it was only a year old. Which is unfair, for there is some good stuff on there. “Down on Me” was an almost-hit that Janis carried with her into her solo career. “Woman Is Losers” is another good Janis showcase. “Light Is Faster Than Sound” is a cheesy pseudo-sci-fi effort. The version of the all-time classic “Coo Coo” is solid. And “All Is Loneliness” is special.
Still, it probably says something that I spent so much of this post about the first album talking about other music.