Cheap Thrills: Rolling Stones # 372 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (2020)

Cheap Thrills
Studio album: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Released: August 12, 1968
Recorded: March 2 – May 20, 1968
Genre: Blues, rock, acid rock

Big Brother & the Holding Company's second album, Cheap Thrills, was their last with lead singer Janis Joplin. The LP features three cover songs: "Ball and Chain,"  "Summertime." and "Piece of My Heart." 

The underground comic book artist R. Crumb best known for his  "Keep On Truckin'..." image, provided the cover art. It's number nine on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Album Covers list. 

In 1987, Rolling Stone magazine listed Cheap Thrills as number 50 on their Top 100 Albums of the Past 20 Years. It's number 372 of their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by  The Library of Congress in 2012, it's preserved in the National Recording Registry.

R. Crumb "Keep On Truckin'..."
R. Crumb
Ball and Chain

The last track on Cheap Thrills is "Ball and Chain."  Blues singer Willie Mae ("Big Mama" ) Thornton wrote and first recorded "Ball and Chain. " She also had the number 1 R&B hit with "Hound Dog" that Elvis Presley covered. Her version of "Ball and Chain" and "Hound Dog" are included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll."

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton
Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton

Producer John Simon incorporated crowd noise to give the impression Cheap Thrills was a live album. In reality, only "Ball and Chain" was actually live. Joplin recorded it on March 8, 1968, at the Fillmore East.


George Gershwin composed "Summertime" for his 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel on which the production was based. Originally performed by American soprano Abbie Mitchell, it holds the record for the most covered song in the world. 

Porgy and Bess 1935 Program
Porgy and Bess 1935 Program

A year after the opera premiered, 21-year-old singer Billie Holiday recorded the first cover of "Summertime" to reach the US music charts. Mahaila Jackson, one of the most influential gospel singers in the world, released her take on the tune in 1956. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong included it in the jazz album Porgy and Bess in 1957.  

Miles Davis made one of the best-known jazz instrumental interpretations in 1958. Many rock & roll artists of the 1960s, including Ricky Nelson and The Zombies, used it on their albums. The track was featured on Cheap Thrills.

Piece of My Heart
Single: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Album: Cheap Thrills
B-side: Turtle Blues
Released: August 1968
Genre: Psychedelic rock, blues rock
Songwriters: Jerry Ragovoy, Bert Berns

The only single released from the Cheap Thrills LP was "Piece of My Heart," originally recorded in 1967 by Aretha Franklin's older sister, Erma Franklin. The song's writer, Bert Berns, was Van Morrison's producer. Berns wanted Morrison to record it for his first solo album, but Van declined. Franklin's version reached number 10 on Billboard's R & B and 62 on their Pop singles', chart. Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin took their cover of the song to number 12 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart. 
"Her version is so different from mine 
that I really don't resent it too much."
Erma Franklin about Janis Joplin
Erma Franklin
Erma Franklin

It was Erma Franklin's biggest hit. When she heard Joplin's cover on the radio, she barely recognized it. In a 1973 interview, Franklin said about Janis' cover, " Her version is so different from mine that I really don't resent it too much." This was also Joplin's most significant chart success until she died. In 2004, it was number 353 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It's one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. "Me And Bobby McGee" posthumously went to number 1 in 1971 for Joplin.


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