Janis Joplin sang lead. Big Brother & the Holding Company was one of the groups she sang with before going solo later in 1968. Until her death in 1970, this was her biggest chart success and best-known song (the posthumous "Me And Bobby McGee
" went to #1 in 1971). Although she wasn't the first to record it, the song remains most associated with Joplin and continued to get airplay long after her death.
The song is about a lovelorn woman so enraptured by her man that she's willing to break off yet another piece of her heart if only he will take it. Joplin showed off her extraordinary vocal dexterity on the song, which was right in her wheelhouse in terms of dynamics and subject matter.
Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns wrote this song. Aretha Franklin's younger sister Erma sang the original version and put it on the R&B charts in 1967. Big Brother & the Holding Company quickly covered it and took it to #12 on the Hot 100. For Erma Franklin, it was her biggest hit. She went on to sing backup on some of Aretha's songs, and ran a childcare agency called Boysville. Erma died of cancer in 2002 at age 63.
Franklin's original version made its UK chart debut in 1992 - 25 years after initial release - thanks to its being used in a Levi's jeans commercial.
The song's writer Bert Berns was Van Morrison's producer at the time - Morrison had signed to Berns' record label, Bang. Berns wanted Morrison to record this song for his first solo album in 1967, but Van declined, choosing to record his own songs instead. Berns never got to hear Joplin sing it; he died of a heart attack on December 30, 1967.
Janis Joplin sang this at Woodstock in 1969 as part of her encore.
This song has been covered in a number of styles over the years, and five different artists have taken it to the US Hot 100. Erma Franklin's original made #62 in 1967, which was followed by the #12 placing for Big Brother & the Holding Company. The rocker Sammy Hagar revived the song in 1982, taking it to #73. In 1997, the reggae/rap star Shaggy made it to #97 with his rendition, then in 2005 the song was included in a medley duet by Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone that went to #32.
When Faith Hill covered it in 1994, her version went to #1 on the Country charts. In the UK, the first version to chart was Shaggy's, which made #7. In 2006, the British Soul singer Beverly Knight recorded it for her 2006 best-of compilation, Voice, and her version peaked at #16 in the UK.
When Erma Franklin heard Joplin's cover on the radio, she barely recognized the song. She graciously said in a 1973 interview: "Her version is so different from mine that I really don't resent it too much."
The Australian singer Danielle Stearman enjoyed a moment in the spotlight when she sang this with a Country flavor on the talent show Popstars, which was a sensation in Australia at the time. She came in second to Scott Cain that season, but her performance landed her a record deal with Warner Music, but she released just one single: "Tell Me If You Like It" in 2002.
Melissa Etheridge sang her version at Woodstock '94 as part of a four-song medley of Joplin tunes.
Clive Davis, the legendary record company executive who nurtured Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, called this "the first record that I even attempted to be involved with." Joplin was the first artist he signed.