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Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin

Album: PearlReleased: 1971
  • This is based on a song called C'mon, God, and buy me a Mercedes Benz by the Los Angeles beat poet Michael McClure. Joplin saw McClure perform it, and on August 8, 1970 she reworked it into her own song, which she performed about an hour later.

    As recounted in the Patti Smith memoir Just Kids, before her show at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, she went to a nearby bar (likely Vahsen's, later renamed Little Dick's) with her good friend, the songwriter Bob Neuwirth, and two more recent acquaintances, the actors Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. Joplin started reciting the line, "Oh, Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" - the first line of McClure's song. The four started banging beer mugs on the table to form a rhythm, and Neuwirth wrote down lyrics he and Joplin came up with on a napkin. They finished the song, and Janis performed it at the show, introducing it by saying, "I just wrote this at the bar on the corner. I'm going to do it Acapulco."

    That show was recorded and widely bootlegged, as it was her penultimate performance and the debut of "Mercedes Benz." Joplin played her last concert on August 12 at Harvard Stadium, and died on October 4.
  • The song is a social commentary on how many people relate happiness and self-worth with money and material possessions. Sung acapella in a blues style, Joplin was poking fun at the mindset that luxury goods will make everything better.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Joplin recorded this song at Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles on October 1, 1970 with producer Paul Rothchild, famous for his work with The Doors. It ended up being her last recording session, as she died three days later (she also recorded a version of "Happy Trails" as a 30th birthday present for John Lennon" in this session).

    The Pearl album was just about finished when Joplin died. Rothchild included her raw take of "Mercedes Benz" on the album, leaving it acapella. 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.
  • In the mid-'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 estate - sister Laura and brother Michael - allowed Mercedes to use it.
  • There are three credited songwriters on this track: Joplin, Michael McClure, and Bob Neuwirth. McClure says he never earned a cent from his poetry, but "Mercedes Benz" paid for his house in the Butters Canyon section of Oakland, California.
  • In an interview published in hE@D Magazine Michael McClure said that Joplin called him before recording the song to get his permission. She sang him the song, then he sang her his original version, and they both liked their own renditions better. "Then she asked me if she could sing it, and I agreed," McClure said. "I had no idea that her songs were worth so much money."
  • The soul singer Bobby Womack claimed credit for inspiring this song. According to Womack, Joplin got the idea for the song after riding in his 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.

    As recounted in his Womack's 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.
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Comments: 31

On January 29th 1886, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the world's first successful gasoline-powered motorcar, was patented. It was built by Karl Benz and was the first automobile designed to generate its own power using an internal combustion engine as the drive system...
Just under eighty-six years later on January 23rd, 1972 the Goose Creek Symphony entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart with "(Oh Lord Won't You Buy Me A) Mercedes Benz"; eventually it peaked at #64 and spent 9 weeks on the Top 100...
The original version of the song was track three on side two of Janis Joplin's 1971 album, 'Pearl', and on February 21st, 1971 the album reached #1 {for 9 weeks} on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart {the album also peaked at #1 in Canada and Australia}...
R.I.P. Ms. Joplin {1943 - 1970}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Anyone ever noticed the musical similarities and ironies between the song Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Mercedes Benz?
I was humming Swing Low in my head today and thought I'd heard the melody for the "Chariot" phrase, or something close to it, in another song. I kept humming it, and then realized that that other song was Mercedes Benz, which is ironically, a modern Chariot.
Further irony, 3 days after Janis sung that song, she was "carried home"
David - Keswick, On
Mike. I don't agree that you have to had come from where Janis lived to understand her. I live in Colorado and even all the way up here in the mountains her soulful and often times hurting voice reverberates across the highest peaks and I more often than not relate to her feelings of hopless alienation and lonliness in the songs she would sing.Jude - Denver, Co
You have to be a contemporary of Janis Joplin and be from where she came from to really appreciate what she did, what she was and what she became. This song is a statement about the world she grew up in SE TX that was often not very nice to her but, she sings it not with bitterness but, with good hearted humor because she knew for better or worse it was part of who she was.Mike - Albuquerque, Nm
Count me in with the group of people bothered by this ending up in a Mercedes commercial. I don't have a problem with popular music being used in TV ads, it's when the advertisers don't do their homework that it becomes an annoyance.

Either way, this is still a great song and a testament to her talent.
Beth - Winston-salem, Nc
my sister is a big Joplis fan..being a teen back then and I LOVE this song!Amanda - Shreveport, La
This song was release on the album Pearl (1971), as noted above. But Janis died in October of 1970. Just like the end of the song, "That's it" (with her little, laughing cackle at the end)

What a legend!
Hype - Austin, Tx
Living your life saves your life...........try to be in Gods will and walk the way of god with every single minute you can find. Smiles Evajo Ann Tate Denman Tate Skelton Tuesday July 31st 2007Evajo - Yuma, Az
Its amazing I made the code I had to type in. I scuba dive so I placed a fish on it with a note then I used 997 which stands for 997 palm street in Yuma Arizona. Their names are Hazel which is now living with me in Wahington State and my father which is with God Cecil Austin Tate. My parents lived at 995 and the rental next door was always designed for me to always have a home so I could take care of my mother. C stood for copyright and 1989 is the year I created the design. Hopefully soon this year mom and I will return to get the things she cherishes so she can be with us for good her family. Smiles Evajo......I love youEvajo - Yuma, Az
I CANT BELIEVE MERCEDES USED IT ! SHAME ! JANIS WAS CLEARLY NOT ABOUT EARTHLY POSSESIONS! SHE WAS JUST SAYING THAT YOU CAN OWN STUFF..BUT WONT MAKE YOU HAPPY AND IT WONT MAKE YOU A FULL PERSON !!!Nora - N/a, Fl
i love this song, because it makes a statemnt about how stupid materialism is by having this outragious wish from God. it's a very clever way of expressing that idea. also, her laugh at the end makes me smile. it's so sweet.Clare - Dallas, Vt
(Lisa) Song had not been written when WOODSTOCK took place.......and was not played by Janis at WOODSTOCK!!!Marco - Juarez, Mexico
Janis Joplin is all time one of the best female rock stars to ever walk this earth when she played this song in 1969 at woodstock all 500,000 hippies, music lovers, and just some ordinary people all stood and went crazy for this song becuase it doesnt matter who you are what color you are what your gender is or even what your income is every can feel the same meaningn from this song.Lisa - Swartz Creek, Mi
That song is called "With A Little Help From my Friends" and it was actually written and sung by the Beatles.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
A beautiful a capella. Janis Joplin is the best female artist (voice IS NOT everything).Jon - Oakridge, Or
Though I like Joe Cocker's version, that song belongs to The Beatles.Jon - Oakridge, Or
Laura Joplin was NOT, in fact, Janis Joplin's STEP sister. They were REAL sisters. They, along with Mike, who is 10 years younger than Janis, all have the same mother and father. They are NO step siblings.Angel - Delaware, Oh
For those of you who disagreed with the tie in with the Car ad --- you're missing the great irony and humor of it. Mercedes' Marketing team didn't even pay attention to the song -- they just said "Hey -- we need to use this song because she says the name of our car, and then all the ex hippies will buy our car!" That boneheaded decision ended up making THEM look foolish for those of us who actually appreciate what the song means.

In other words, Janis is probably laughing her head off right now....

Murph
Murph - Peoria, Il
I always thought when she says "Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends" she is making reference to Joe Cocker's "Little Help from My Friends" song.

Eh, just a thought. Janis was sucha a stron woman, she is greatly missed.
Caitlyn - Brooklyn And Long Island Ny, United States
I liked that a capella song! It was one of Janis Joplin's last songs before he untimely death. I also remember Dialing for Dollars. In the New York area in the mid 60s, the show would come on during a break in the movie and the at home contestant who got the count and amount right was a winner.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
For me, it has always been a goosbumps song. I make my bow for Janis. She will be alive in our memory for ever!Joe - Vancouver, Canada, Canada
This song actually was performed live. At least two versions are in circulation, both during her final shows in August 1970. One is the 8/8/70 performance in Port Chester, and the other is 8/12/70 Harvard Stadium, which was her final concert.Barry - New York, Nc
The Australian girl who sang on the Mercedes ad was at my school (some kind of motivational talk) and sang it for us, totally impromptu, standing in the middle of the three storey-high gym with no microphone. She filled the place with her amazing voice, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.Alex - Morninton, Australia
...One of the greatest song ever heard!!!Maria - Naples, Italy
One of the coolest songs ever recorded with no instuments!Jonathan - Oklahoma City, Ok
Rock on Janis!Myrene - Papakura, New Zealand
Mercedez completely missed the point of this song. Janis Joplin is certainly not a whore for advertising like some artists.Kieran - Harlow, United States
Absolutely the Greatest Song by the Greatest singer ever to come from the Greatest StateMarcus - Ft. Worht, Tx
i WAS REALLY PISSED OFF by the advertisement.Actually the song is against materialism!Janis - Port Arthur, Tx
Janis Joplin all the way.Abby - Huntsville, Tx
which came 1st? Janis' version, or goose creeks' version?Tom - Mooresville, Nc
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