The Best Songs Written By Janis Joplin

April 5, 2021

Janis Joplin wrote her own songs for her solo career and for Big Brother & The Holding Company. Although she didn’t write ‘Summertime’ nor ‘Piece Of My Heart’, she created some iconic tracks of her own. Here are a list of the best songs written by Janis Joplin..

Janis was born under the Texan sun in 1943. Her South American school life consisted of playground insults like ‘ugliest man’ and ‘pig’. Janis was driven into the shadows alongside some other local outcasts. From there, she discovered the blues, ignited a love of Bessie Smith and began singing and writing her own music.

The Best Songs Written By Janis Joplin

1. What Good Can Drinking Do? 1962

“I’ll drink all night but the next night I still feel blue”

Inspired by her new blues heroes and beat poetry, she began to write and perform songs. Her first ever recorded song is ironically titled ‘What Good Can Drinking Do?”. Even though the song is quite simple, her voice has more impact than a Donald Trump tweet.

2. Hesitation Blues, 1964

“Well, if the river was whiskey, said, I was a duck
You know I’d swim to the bottom”

Janis ran away to San Francisco. With beatniks on every corner, reciting poetry and listening to modern music, it wasn’t long before she met someone who would compliment her vocals with a flair for the guitar. Jorma Kaukonen (who would later become the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane) invited Janis over to his house to record some music while his wife endlessly typed a letter in the background. ‘Hesitation Blues’, along with the typewriter sound is quite charming.

3. Turtle Blues, 1965

“If you just want to go out drinkin’, honey, won’t you invite me along, please.”

Whilst more and more teenagers were flocking to San Francisco like it contained the cure for acne, Janis indulged in speed, heroin & Southern Comfort; a modest diet that slimmed her down to just 88 pounds. It earned her a bus fare home. Under the concerned gaze of her parents, she managed to kick her habit and majored in anthropology.

If her singing career ended here, perhaps Janis would have gone on to work as a typist and fall in love. Maybe she would have lived a long life and songs like ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ would have just been another Roger Miller song. But in this dimension, Janis didn’t give up her love of music. In 1965, she recorded herself singing whilst strumming her guitar. She wrote ‘Turtle Blues’ and recorded it in one of her favourite places- a bar.

4. All Is Lonlieness, 1966

“Loneliness come botherin’ round my house”

By 1966, 60s rock Big Brother & The Holding Company heard about the little Texan with the big voice. Unaware of her previous problems with narcotics, they encouraged Janis to join them in San Francisco. Like a moth to a flame Janis returned. Once there, Big Brother maintained a “no needles” policy. A drug-free Janis blossomed as a lead singer and fitted in with the boys like jam to a doughnut. They released a record in the form the psychedelic ‘Blindman’ and ‘All Is Loneliness’. Although the record didn’t sell well at the time, it was a huge step up from her previous DIY recordings.

5. Down On Me, 1967

“Looks like everybody in this whole round world down on me.”

After a performance at Monterey Pop Festival, Big Brother & The Holding Company, the album, was released in 1967. Janis showed off her style by adding her own arrangement to the 1920s classic song ‘Down On Me’. It was released separately as a single along with ‘Bye Bye Baby’, ‘Coo Coo’ and ‘Call On Me’.

6. I Need A Man To Love, 1968

“I want to just put my arms around you, like the circles going around the sun”

Big Brother’s hype was as high as Mary Quant’s mniskirt. So they began working on their first major studio recording, Cheap Thrills. Janis proved her dedication by being the first to arrive to the studio and the last to leave. She worked relentlessly on the arrangement and included her old song ‘Turtle Blues’ and something new; ‘I Need A Man To Love’, written with Big Bro guitarist Sam Andrew. Covers of ‘Piece Of My Heart’ and ‘Summertime’ were also included on the record and became the band’s biggest hits. Although, I can’t shake the image of Marge Simpson singing whilst listening to ‘Summertime’.

7. One Good Man, 1969

“Some girls they want to collect their men, they wear ’em like notches on a gun.
Oh honey, but I know better than that, I know that a woman only needs one.”

When one member of the band is singled out for all the glory, you can bet your ass that the rest of the band will resent it. Following the increasing tensions in Big Brother, Janis announced she would be leaving and taking Sam Andrew with her. Together, they formed the Kozmic Blues Band and set out to write a whole new album.

At the time, drugs were more available than croissants and Janis couldn’t resist picking up a few with her morning coffee. Making music started became a distraction from getting high. But despite not being as focused, she managed to burp out the ‘I Got Dem Old Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’; a nod to her love for the blues. She then wrote ‘One Good Man’ about her favourite subject- searching for her perfect man. Although the album featured the guts and gravel of her talent, her live performances were beginning to suffer. What should have been a knock-out performance at Woodstock, became a half-hearted fart. Noticing that Janis wasn’t getting clean, Sam Andrew left to rejoin Big Brother and the Kozmic Blues band split up.

8. Move Over, 1970

“Either take this love I offer or honey let me be.”

Knowing that she now had a problem, she attempted to quit her drug habit and flew to Brazil. She met someone new and fell in love. But he left her as soon as she had a relapse in New York. Attempting to get clean once more, she poured her energy into making a new album, this time with the Full Tilt Boogie Band. She wrote the snappy ‘Move Over’ about her breakup. Janis’ fiery personality is wrapped up in this song like a feather boa.

9. Mercedes Benz, 1970

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?”

In a New York bar, Janis found herself inspired by the beat poet Michael McClure. There, she wrote the acapella ‘Mercedez Benz’, scribbling on a bunch of napkins. A few days later, heroin called her name like an old friend, familiar and sweet. She had forgotten why she had left it in the first place. Alone and unhappy, she took the needle and overdosed, making ‘Mercedez Benz’ the last song she ever recorded.

She left behind only fragments of songs for her album Pearl. The record company, band and producers worked with what they had and released the record a few months after her death. Pearl was the final works of a girl, who despite being adored by so many, felt so alone.

P.S. If you wanna discover more great sixties music, add yourself to the waitlist for my Guide To Sixties Music out this year. Click here to sign up.


  • HK
    April 9, 2021

    I was expecting to see Kozmic Blues?

  • MandyMorello
    April 12, 2021

    To be fair, Kozmic Blues is pretty awesome too.

  • John
    July 12, 2021

    I don’t think she wrote All is Loneliness. she got the lyrics off a guy named Moondog (?) on the streets of NYC. He was blind and wore horns on his head. She talks about on Joplin In Concert.

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