February 1971 may have been the commercial peak for Janis Joplin. Her LP, Pearl, hit the stores the first week of the month. By February 27, it was the number one record in the country. But Joplin wasn’t there to see the success. On October 4, 1970, she’d died of a heroin overdose.
Joplin was working on Pearl at the time of her death. In fact, somewhat ironically, the tune “Buried Alive in the Blues” ended up on the album as an instrumental because she was supposedly going to record the vocals the day she died. Yet even though Joplin was not there to complete the album, it is clearly her most polished.
Part of that is due to the fact it was produced by Paul Rothchild, who had produced The Doors (he gave up on the band in the midst of L.A. Woman while working on Pearl). Her voice and the arrangements seem more tailored for a wider audience, something which may have irritated her hard core fans. Additionally, the Full Tilt Boogie Band had a more traditional feel and provided great support for the songs.
Not only was Pearl Joplin’s best selling LP, it spun off a majority of the songs by her you’ll hear on radio today. Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby Magee” was the biggest hit but “Cry Baby” also achieved popularity. I’ve never been a huge Joplin fan but the last four cuts on Pearl are my favorite slice of her work — “Me and Bobby Magee,” the one off “Mercedes Benz,” and, especially, “Trust Me” and “Get It While You Can.”
Undoubtedly, the notoriety of Joplin’s death helped the sales of this posthumous release. That morbid attraction, though, doesn’t undercut the quality of the album. Fans and newcomers alike were treated to a display that showed her talents went far beyond simply belting out hard-edged, whiskey-tinged blues.
Don’t you know when you’re loving anybody, baby
You’re taking a gamble on a little sorrow
But then who cares, baby
‘Cause we may not be here tomorrow, no
“Get It While You Can,” Janis Joplin, Pearl