064: Janis Joplin & Tom Jones, ‘Raise Your Hand’

Posted by on Dec 1, 2021 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week |

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones, ‘Raise Your Hand’

Photo by Richard Avedon

I was explaining to a friend recently why I avoid live performances, especially in the rock idiom. I tried to explain that it’s because I’m an effete snob, that I want to listen to the best music possible, that rock at its best is studio music. Back in the day, I had no interest in hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash trying to recreate on stage the perfection they achieved in the studio. I hit my zenith (or nadir, as the case may be) in 1969, when I respectfully declined VIP tickets and an interview with The Who on their first Tommy tour. It’s also why I left Woodstock after one day. I went for the music, I got rain and mud and shmutz. So I went home, showered, put on my headphones, and listened to Sgt. Pepper.

But when the friend asked me what the best live show I ever saw was, I said, “Ah,” with a smile of sweet recollection. “No contest. Janis Joplin, with Big Brother and the Holding Company, 1969.”

“Wow,” said the friend.

In those days I was writing for a twice-weekly college newspaper with a circulation of 25,000. That made me very popular with the record distributors. Unfortunately, they never offered me the graft or the other perks I’ve read about, but they did stock my record collection generously, and got me interviews with whoever passed through our fair burg.

So it was that Janis came to town with her band, less than a year after the release of her first real LP, “Cheap Thrills” (‘Combination of the Two‘, ‘Piece of My Heart‘, ‘Ball and Chain‘) and a semi-bootleg of unauthorized demo tapes by a small label (including some very, very fine cuts such as ‘Down on Me‘ and ‘Call On Me‘). I had an ‘interview’ backstage with her before the show, which meant just hanging with her and the band, schmoozing with her while she guzzled her Southern Comfort. Yes, she really did. She was down-to-earth, friendly, warm, jovial, unpretentious. She was also quite diminutive in stature and homely. She made me feel quite comfortable, although I was just a kid of 20, and she was a star of 26.

But when she got on stage, it was something wholly other.

She moved me. She moved the hall. She sang about love and rejection, about pleasure and pain. Every second was real, profoundly honest and exposed, engaged to the very marrow of her bones. There are lots of stories about how unpopular she was in high school in Port Arthur, Texas, how she nurtured all kinds of resentment and an addict’s need for the audience’s affection. Speaking from experience, that sort of resentment can be one powerful motivator.

I was so moved that at the end of the finale, ‘Piece of My Heart’, while the audience was on its feet thanking her, I jumped up on stage to hug her. I guess perhaps I meant to kiss her on the cheek. But her juices were in full flow, and she gave me a full-blown Janis kiss, deep and memorable.

Her performance on stage taught me all sorts of things. For example, it enabled me to understand the attraction of human sacrifice. It’s one thing to read about the purging, cathartic impact of the hero’s tragic end on the 5th century BCE Greek stage. It’s another to watch Janis sing “Take another little piece of my heart!”, and mean it quite viscerally. That’s what she did, she bled for the audience. She pulled out her pain right there on the stage, tore it out of her heart, and offered it up to us. I’ll give you my very lifeblood, just love me. More bloody and gory than the slashiest flick or real morgue (I’ve witnessed a couple of autopsies). She was carving up her soul, and handing it to us to share. That’s how deep her need for approval was. So it’s really no surprise at all that two years later she was dead.

Together with the memory of that event, the defining image I carried with me of Janis for many years was, ironically enough, her guest shot on The Tom Jones Show.

Huh? Yeah, exactly.

Tom Jones, for all you Martians out there, was a very popular Welsh pop-soul singer (b. 1940). He had a strong voice, danced lithely and provocatively, and ‘ladies of a certain age’ were wont to throw their panties at him. We effete snobs (see above) viewed him as a cheap, dumb-headed purveyor of offensively shallow pop pap. Here he is in that period at his crass best. The clip is worth watching. Just keep a barf bag handy.

In 1969 he had a network television show on which he hosted some pretty good musicians. There weren’t a lot of network shows on which we could see ‘our’ musicians, so we swallowed our pride, took a Dramamine, and tuned in. Even when he duetted with fine artists, he pulled them down to his level rather than rising to theirs. Which was a shame, because he had some really fine chops. He could have been a good singer if he would have just refrained from pandering crap. Here he is singing with Wilson Pickett, exactly the kind of music to which I prefer silence.

Here’s one that’s a little better, singing ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ with Little Richard. Fortunately, the manic Mr Penniman is so detached from the reality around him that he keeps on keeping on despite the Welsh welching.

And if you say it’s not fair to pair him with a male, thereby denying him all of his testosteronic histrionics, here he is singing soulless soul with Aretha herself.

You can almost see Ms Franklin blush. Even the regal Aretha she can’t elicit anything real from Plastic Tom.

Tina Turner fares better here, in this medley. She’s as hot as—well, as hot as only Tina can be, and Tom sings quite admirably, I’ll admit. He’s clearly focused more on keeping up with Tina than in pandering to the saggy tomatoes in the crowd. But it’s still Vegas. It’s nothing that will be imprinted indelibly in your musical memory.

And then Janis came on the show. First she sang one misguided effort, an unfortunate misinterpretation of a really fine ballad, ‘Little Girl Blue.’ But then they sang together. Watch this. I’m not comparing Aretha or Tina to Janis, but in the Me-Tom-You-Jane matchup, they pale in comparison. Watch Janis transmogrify him where so many had failed before her. Watch her open the floodgates of her energy. Watch her invest that flat sound stage with terawatts of sexual electricity. Watch her turn him on and lift him up.

That, folks, is the magic spell that Janis Joplin cast on me, on my friends, on my generation. That’s the altar on which she sacrificed herself for our voyeuristic satisfaction. After his tens of thousands of conquests, this is how old Plastic Tom remembers his duet with Janis fifty years later.

I don’t mean to brag or anything, but at the end of ‘Raise Your Hand’, Tom tries to hug Janis and she pushes him away. Me she graced with a kiss I still haven’t gotten over.

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Recruiting Animal
Jan 9, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Generally, I had the same feelings about Tom Jones as you did. The Italian guys at the restaurant where I worked on weekends thought he was great but I knew that he wasn’t for my crowd. Even so, I liked What’s New Pussycat which was the first thing I ever heard from him. And I became more generous towards him as the years went by. Maybe it started after his version of Kiss – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuH1XDtN4rE – It surprised me. I thought it was good. Then a couple of years ago I found him on YouTube singing Thunderball in concert. I had never heard Thunderball before and it’s not Goldfinger (which I think is a great song) but I think it’s very well done here and he has a lot of presence on stage. He’s not even wearing his tuxedo.

Kevin Hodgkiss
Jan 9, 2015 at 3:00 pm

O ‘ell yeahhhhh. Bravo! Nothing, nobody like Ms. Joplin. As a teen I saw Janis a few times, unfortunately never with Big Brother. My brother brought Cheap Thrills home. I remember hearing it from his room and being mesmerized. He would get annoyed at me because he would always find it in my room after that. I was 13. I remember being at some “Peace Festival” at Shea Stadium one summer. Like an early Lollapalooza they had lots of bands. At the end of a long day just before dusk a helicopter landed on second base and the door flew open and all you could see where long colorful feathers. It was Joplin, running out, onto the stage and damn closing that show. “Raise Your Hand” was one of the songs she did. Unfortunately I didn’t get to kiss her…..Ha! Funny, I often go back to that Tom Jones clip. For me it is a perfect example of how commanding and exciting and real her performances were. She didn’t care if it was Tom Jones, or maybe that just made it more exciting for her. She commands that stage by her sheer joy at what she is doing. Infectious. She can even bend plastic (Tom). Ha! One of a kind. Nothing, nobody. Nice tribute Mr. Jeff but …..did you really kiss her???

Jan 9, 2015 at 3:06 pm

wow… it’s like he had no musical aura…. disturbing to watch ( :
Interesting to see how these musicians each relate to him.
Tina and Janice are a marvel to watch.

Kevin Hodgkiss
Jan 9, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Oh and I hear ya with regards to live performances. I feel that way about live recordings but I imagine you have never seen a Ramones show or a Patti Smith Group concert? Talking Heads were fabulous live as well as the Stones, and Jefferson Airplane, Mad Dogs and Englishmen…??……But that’s just me. 🙂

Jan 9, 2015 at 3:26 pm

LIVE at Filmore East…Laura Nyro….magnificence masterpiece…Pointer Sisters sounded at least as good as in the studio, but I have to agree,MOST pale in live performances.

Jan 9, 2015 at 3:38 pm

More the other way around, but yes, indeed.

Steven Salemi
Jan 9, 2015 at 7:07 pm

Jeff, I hope you’ve received treatment for whatever malady led you to refuse that once-in-an-eternity Who opportunity. My Buddy here, an old rock and roll groupie, actually slept with Janis one night in the heady 60s, but says they were both too drunk to enjoy (or even remember) it.

Jan 10, 2015 at 3:53 am


Jan 10, 2015 at 6:26 pm

They say that Janis complained that there were no male groupies.
I wouldn’t know…

Kevin Hodgkiss
Jan 15, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Susan….YES, yes on the Laura Nyro at the Fillmore!! I used to ditch my bike after my paper routes, get on the LIRR with my brother and we would go see shows at the Fillmore nearly very weekend! Always cool. But Laura at Christmas was the best. Oh yes. 🙂

Steven Salemi
Jan 17, 2015 at 8:35 pm

I was speaking carelessly when I said my buddy was an old rock and roll groupie. In fact, he was an old rock and roll “tour manager.” He worked for Neil Young and Devo, among other notables. His assignation with Janet was not as a groupie, but just as a guy who was “in the scene.” All else still applies…

Feb 8, 2015 at 11:34 pm

It’s too bad you didn’t grow up in San Francisco during the 60’s like me.I saw Big Brother more times than I could count.Many of the groups that played the Fillmore Auditorium,Avalon Ballroom,California Hall,Fillmore West,Carousel Ballroom were MUCH BETTER LIVE than on their LPs.The groups that were dependent on vocal harmonies didn’t fare as well,with the exception of Moby Grape (best debut album ever!)Buffalo Springfield (depending on if Neil Young decided to show up)and the Jefferson Airplane which never disappointed and were the biggest band at the time.I agree,most groups weren’t as good as their albums,Led Zeppelin being a huge disappointment (other than their first U.S. Tour).Even Jimi Hendrix never played like he did at Monterey.Janis,on the other hand,was so good,it’s hard to describe for the people that weren’t there.After she left Big Brother,she was left on her own,her band merely “backed her” rather than “being on a trip” with her.One last comment;you blew it not seeing the Who;they were,by far,the best live band ever.

Recruiting Animal
Feb 14, 2016 at 3:51 am

I think this is a good live performance of Thunderball by Tom Jones back in 69 or thereabouts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2noz5wLvT8k

Jul 4, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Never saw her live, but I did get to see 100s of acts while I was a young photojournalist and stringer for Rolling Stone. I will say that part of what is usually missing in a live performance is the appropriate sound reinforcement and engineering it can ruin a good experience when the band is actually performing masterful. Two of the best live concerts I have ever seen on disc for sound engineering perfection are Steely Dan 2 Against Nature DVD and Eagles Hell Freezes over. Impeccable on so many levels

Dec 3, 2021 at 1:15 pm

Another great article Jeff. I am Welsh so I suppose a bit biased but it’s pretty remarkable the man had any sense of ‘soul’ at all after an upbringing in Glamorgan! I’ve always loved this video with him with CSN&Y – but mostly because his chops just do the talking and we’re spared much in the way of plastic cringey gyrating…. https://youtu.be/dIDzA0YDso8

Ellen G Levitt
Dec 3, 2021 at 8:16 pm

Interesting to look back on these times…what an experience!!

Dec 4, 2021 at 6:25 pm

Love it, tnx. I guess I’d put the Glamorgan in a category with Glen Campell–great chops but somewhat lacking in, uh, gravity, shall we say?



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