Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee” / “Mercedes Benz”, the Netherlands 1980 re-release of the 1971 single, via 45cat
I’ve been trying to track down the source of the striking cover photo for years (which was also used for one edition of her US greatest hits LP), and finally found it! Clark J. Pierson took this in Columbus OH in June 1970.
Just Janis Joplin and a guitar: Me and Bobby McGee demo, July 28, 1970.
What a gem this is! Janis playfully lamenting that her Texas accent is back, to the delight of producer Paul Rothschild and the fellas in the booth, followed by an achingly intimate first take on “Me and Bobby McGee” that reveals the searing pain that you believe would make her willing to trade all of her tomorrows for a single yesterday.
She never sounded more vulnerable, more melodic, and not-so-ironically when you think about it, more powerful. Set yourself at the feet of a master storyteller and prepare to be amazed by a song you only thought you knew.
The familiar (perhaps now even too-familiar) Full Tilt Boogie Band version of the single was released on January 11, 1971, and would spend 9 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s surely been played somewhere on earth every hour of the day since then.
The album Pearl was released the same day and also spent 9 weeks at #1 (the last week of February, and all of March and April), winding up as the 4th best-selling album of 1971.
Janis hadn’t quite completed work on Pearl before she passed, but this was hardly the work of bone-picking scavengers capitalizing on her tragedy. On the contrary, this was the celebration of an artist entering a peak whose height we’ll never know. As you’ll hear here, even Janis had no idea what she was about to unleash.
Unleash she did, nevertheless.
(Tip o’ the hat to the fantastic Barry Feinstein photos in this clip, and the strongest possible recommendation to check out the rest of the gems on the Pearl Legacy Edition, available at your favorite retailer and streaming at Spotify.)
On this day in music history: September 4, 1971 – “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Paul & Linda McCartney hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written and produced by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney, it is the first solo chart topper for the former Beatles bassist. The first number one single for Paul McCartney following the break up of The Beatles come from a number of different sources. It is pieced together from various unfinished song fragments McCartney has lying around. Paul’s uncle, Albert Kendall (married to his Aunt Milly) is also an inspiration while the song is being written. The track is recorded at Columbia Studios in New York City in November of 1970, and features Paul on electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piano, lead and background vocals, Linda McCartney on harmony vocals, Denny Seiwell on drums, Hugh McCracken on electric and acoustic guitars, with members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing brass and strings. George Martin actually co-writes the orchestral arrangement for the song with Paul, but is not credited at the time of its original release. After the initial sessions, more overdubs are recorded and final mixing takes place over the next five months. “Uncle Albert” is rush released as a single in the US on August 2, 1971, nearly three months after the album “Ram”, when heavy airplay by American radio stations forces its release. Entering the Hot 100 at #65 on August 14, 1971, it leaps to the top of the chart just three weeks later, making an impressive jump from #12 to #1. The single wins a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) in 1972. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
Don’t forget the remarkable flugelhorn solo by Marvin Stamm! It was incredibly rare for session musicians to be given credits on record sleeves, but Marvin’s contribution was substantial enough that Paul did exactly that.
At 40, Marvin was a big band veteran whose gigs included Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Benny Goodman, among many others – but among the session musicians he worked with, he was young enough to be known as “The Kid”.
Here’s his retelling of the “Uncle Albert” recording sessions.
After we had recorded all the written brass parts to Uncle Albert, Paul came over to the trumpet section, which included Ray Crisara, Snooky Young, Mel Davis and me. Paul said he had a little horn tune he wanted someone to play. Mel Davis said, ‘Let the kid play it,’ meaning me.
“Paul told me that he wanted the solo to sound a bit like it was coming through an old radio cone. Then he sang it to me. I played it back to him several times until he said it was the way he wanted it. Then we recorded the solo. I played it on the flugelhorn. Then he and Phil [Ramone] did whatever sound alteration he wanted in the mixing session.
“Paul was great to work with. He knew exactly what he wanted from the musicians and was respectful and clear in relating it to us. This was unusual. Most rock stars in those days seldom listed the personnel on their albums. So for about a year, I was the most famous unknown trumpet player in the world.”
He spent most of the 70s touring with Sinatra, then brought out a solo jazz-funk album called Stammpede in 1983. (Yep, I bought it!) At 79, Marvin still tours and leads student workshops. I’m guessing every one of them includes somebody asking about his solo on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.
George Harrison performing Deep Blue during a soundcheck before the Concert For Bangladesh. (1 Aug. 1971)
The b-side to his July 1971 single, “Bangla Desh”, a tribute to his mother Louise’s struggle with cancer. If you haven’t heard it, you’re in for a treat, and like all of his Concert for Bangladesh reworkings, the version in the video above is especially sweet.
George at the piano for the single photo! (This is the French release, via 45cat.) Not that there’s any piano on the track. Just George on acoustic guitars and dobro, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. It was recorded July 4-5, 1971, exactly a year after George saw his mother for the last time before her passing in 1970 (July 4, the same day he won the Ivor Novello award for “Something”).
“Deep Blue” fell out of print, but was finally released as a bonus track on the Living In The Material World CD.
Al Green, I Can’t Get Next To You. This 1972 performance of the title track of his 1971 elpee Al Green Gets Next To You features the 25 year old singer (!!!) bringing the pain with astonishing power. He takes one of the hardest-hitting tracks to ever escape from Motown, slows it down, pours on the gospel, adds sex to burn, and makes it hit even harder.
This really is jaw-dropping. He’d get much smoother, and his songwriting and performing took major leaps in very short order, but this album (plus a couple of other indelible 1971 singles, “Tired Of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together”) is where he truly exploded onto the scene. Few people hit as hard as Al did in 1971, and watching him ride that wave of power into 1972 and beyond was one of the era’s great joys.
Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady” on The Flip Wilson Show, aired January 20, 1972.
Released as a single in February 1971, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the Soul Singles chart, this Aretha-penned track gets a blazing new life just 4 days before the release of the astounding Young, Gifted and Black LP. Not only have you never heard this song like this before, you may never have heard Aretha like this before: pedal to the metal and soaring, even by her own elevated standards.
It’s also inspiring to see the Queen of Soul, “Natural Woman” resplendent in natural hair and an African-inspired gown in this pivotal TV appearance, as detailed in Rickey Vincent’s Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.
Aretha herself said, “I believe that the black revolution certainly forced me and the majority of black people to begin taking a second look at ourselves. It wasn’t that we were all ashamed of our ourselves, we merely started appreciating our natural selves…you know, falling in love with ourselves just as we are. We found that we had far more to be proud of.
“I must say that mine was a very personal evolution – an evolution of the me in myself. […] I know I’ve improved my overall look and sound, they’re much better. And I’ve gained a great deal of confidence in myself.”
(More here, although note that Vincent is off on the date of this broadcast, which I verified here. A great read nonetheless.)
This is the sound of Aretha’s newfound confidence, my friends, with one of 1971′s greatest singles taken to new heights. “Rock steady, baby – that’s what I feel now. Let’s call this song exactly what it is!”
heard this in the grocery store the other day, and it stopped me in my fucking tracks.
i had to know it. and i happened to have it.
The A-side was one of Aretha’s six tracks to appear on the 1971 singles charts, reaching #1 R&B for three weeks and #2 Pop for two weeks, earning a gold single for sales of over one million. This B-side (alas, not charting) may be even better. Not to be confused with the Bill Withers song of the same name, Vivian Reed released the first version of this Van McCoy, Joe Cobb original the year before, and while Melba Moore had a solid, Grammy- nominated hit with it in 1976 (peaking at #17, with 17 weeks on the chart), Aretha’s 1971 version is definitive.