#721: 1968, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Summertime

by Jackie_South on July 19, 2013

Song six in our summer heatwave themedweek‘. We’ve already had one version of Summertime, a couple of years ago by Paul Robeson. Personally, I think the greatest version is the Louis ArmstrongElla Fitzgerald classic 1957 recording, and the Billie Holiday 1936 version is pretty special too.

But what makes this hippy era recasting of Summertime is that Big Brother and the Holding Company take such a classic from the great American songbook and turn it into something very different. If the phrase hadn’t been so overused on X-Factor, I might have said “made it their own”.  In fact, it took me several years of my youth to realise that it was the same song.

The jazz tune is ditched completely, to be replaced by a psychedelic blues double guitar progression. The gospel-influenced singing makes way for Janis Joplin belting out the lyrics Bessie Smith style, straining whiskey-soaked vocal chords to the maximum.

Janis and the boys transform the then 33 year old standard out of recognition, putting it up there in the league of great rearrangements for a cover version with Johnny Cash’s Hurt and Patti Smith’s Gloria.

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