Women Singers: “Piece of My Heart” Big Brother & The Holding Company

Though not written by Janis Joplin (or performed strictly by her) “Piece of My Heart” is a song that has become identified with her more so than the band she fronting at the time – Big Brother & the Holding Company.  “Piece of My Heart” was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns, and then recorded by Aretha Franklin’s sister Erma.  While Franklin’s version was a top 10 R&B hit, Big Brother’s version catapulted the song into the mainstream.

Just as Erma’s sister Aretha transformed “Respect” into a powerhouse, Joplin and Big Brother completely reinvented “Piece of My Heart”.  Their version is noisy, and bluesy and for my money I’d say Joplin gives one of the greatest vocal performances in rock in this song.  The verses are quiet are soft, but not entirely quiet but they’re a calm before the storm of the chorus.  The music itself would be exciting, but Joplin takes over the chorus.  She wails “come on, come on” several times, before the damn breaks, and releases the supercharged scream of “and Take it!”  It’s defiant and desperate.  You can tell that Joplin is giving all that’s she got in this performance.

You can tell the pain that she’s in this song.  But rather than be bound by it, she’s taking control of it and belting out her frustration.  It’s as if she saying, “Come and see what happens if you take this part of me.”


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