Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: PearlReleased: 1971
Joplin got the idea for this song after riding in Bobby Womack's new Mercedes 600. Womack was having success as a songwriter, and Joplin commissioned him to write a song for her Pearl album, which turned out to be "Trust Me." She recorded that one (which also appears on the Pearl album), and asked for another.
According to Womack (recounted in his book Midnight Mover), he took her for a ride, and she was impressed with the new car. After a few blocks, she started singing: "Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedez Benz..."
When they returned to the studio, the band had gone home, but Joplin put down the vocal track.
This took place on October 1, 1970. As Womack told it, Joplin got a phone call, which he presumed was her drug dealer. She asked him to leave, they hugged goodbye, and Joplin was found dead three days later.
Instead of adding instruments to the song, it was released a cappella and included on the posthumous Pearl album. A quip Joplin made before her vocal take - "I'd like to do a song of great social and political import" - was included as an introduction. In its unadorned state, the song showcased Joplin's humor and raw vocal talent.
Janis Joplin is from Port Arthur, Texas, a small city close to the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana border. In the second verse, the line "Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me" refers to a segment the local NBC station ran called "Dialing for Dollars." The station would announce a password on the air, then call a local phone number at random later on. If whoever answered knew the password, that person would win a cash prize. Variations of "Dialing for Dollars" ran in many cities throughout the United States and Canada in the '60s and early '70s.
Joplin wrote this with a poet named Michael McClure. It is a social commentary on how many people relate happiness and self-worth with money and material possessions.
Janis Joplin never got a Mercedes Benz, but she did have a 1965 Porsche that was painted to become a piece of hippie art.
This song spoke to the shift in the counterculture, as some of the impoverished musicians speaking out against the system were now very rich. As Barney Hoskyns, who wrote about Joplin and the song in his book Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock told us
, "Rock was now big business, and a lot of money was flooding into the pockets of people who never expected to make it. This set up a mixture of expectation and guilt – they were acquiring a taste for the finer things but knew that a good hippie shouldn't be materialistic. By the early '70s it had all changed, and rock stars were the new Yuppies."
In the '90s, Mercedes used this in commercials for their cars. It was one of the great misappropriations of a song in a commercial, as Joplin's song was meant to convey the message that owning a luxury automobile does not make you a better person. Joplin's stepsister owned the rights to the song and allowed Mercedes to use it.