Big Brother obtained a considerable amount of attention after their 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and had released their debut album soon after. Cheap Thrills was a great success, hitting #1 on the charts for eight nonconsecutive weeks in 1968. Columbia Records offered the band a new recording contract, but it took months to get through since they were still signed to Mainstream Records. The album features three cover songs ("Summertime", "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain"). The album also features Bill Graham, who introduces the band at the beginning of "Combination of the Two". "Ball and Chain" is the only song on the album recorded entirely live, and even though the cover credits assert that the live material was recorded at Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium, it was actually taken from a concert at the Winterland Ballroom in 1968. The album's overall raw sound effectively captures the band's energetic and lively concerts. The LP was released in both stereo and mono formats with the monophonic pressing now a rare collector's item. The album had been considered for quadraphonic format in the early 70's and eventually in 2002, was released as a Multichannel Sony SACD. The original quadraphonic mix remains unreleased.
The cover was drawn by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb after the band's original cover idea, a picture of the group naked in bed together, was dropped by the record company. Crumb had originally intended his art for the LP back cover, with a portrait of Janis Joplin to grace the front. But Joplin—an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb—so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia Records place it on the front cover. It is number nine on Rolling Stone's list of one hundred greatest album covers. Crumb later allowed prints of the cover, some of which he signed before sale.
In an interview for the AIGA, Columbia Records Art Director John Berg told design professor Paul Nini, "[Janis] Joplin commissioned it, and she delivered Cheap Thrills to me personally in the office. There were no changes with R. Crumb. He refused to be paid, saying, 'I don't want Columbia's filthy lucre.'"
In at least one early edition, the words "HARRY KRISHNA! (D. GETZ)" are faintly visible in the word balloon of the turbaned man, apparently referring to a track that was dropped from the final sequence. The words "ART: R. CRUMB" replace them.
Initially, the album was to be called Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but the title was not received well by Columbia Records.
A variation of the title on the cover is used as the logo for the Cheap Thrills record label, owned by British DJ Hervé.
Cheap Thrills was released in the summer of 1968, one year after their debut album, and reached #1 on the Billboard charts in its eighth week in October. It kept the #1 spot for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks while the single, "Piece of My Heart", also became a huge hit. By the end of the year it was the most successful album of 1968, having sold nearly a million copies. The success was short-lived however, as Joplin left the group for a solo career in December 1968.
Outtakes originally to have appeared on the album have since been released on Janis Joplin compilations such as Farewell Song (In which Big Brother's original instruments were replaced with studio musicians from 1983, angering the band) and the Janis compilation box set featuring all original studio songs and live recordings. The 1999 re-release of Cheap Thrills features the outtakes "Flower in the Sun" and "Roadblock" as well as live performances of "Magic of Love" and "Catch Me Daddy" as bonus material.
In a contemporary review, Rolling Stone magazine's John Hardin somehow believed Cheap Thrills lived up to its title and is "merely satisfactory: What this record is not is 1) a well-produced, good rock and roll recording; 2) Janis Joplin at her highest and most intense moments; and 3) better than the Mainstream record issued last year."
Robert Christgau was more enthusiastic and accurate in his column for Esquire and called it Big Brother's "first physically respectable effort", as it "not only gets Janis' v
oice down, it also does justice to her always-underrated and ever-improving musicians." He named it the third best album of 1968 in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine's critics poll.
In a retrospective review, AllMusic's William Ruhlmann hailed Cheap Thrills as Joplin's "greatest moment" and said it sounds like "a musical time capsule [today] and remains a showcase for one of rock's most distinctive singers."
Marc Weingarten of Entertainment Weekly called it the peak of blues rock, while Paul Evans wrote in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) that the record epitomizes acid rock "in all its messy, pseudo-psychedelic glory". In 2003, Cheap Thrills was ranked #338 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The magazine previously ranked it #50 on their Top 100 Albums of the Past 20 Years list in 1987. It is also listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. On March 22, 2013, the album was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and thus it was preserved into the National Recording Registry for the 2012 register. So much for Rolling Stone magazine's John Hardin's opinion... Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
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