Cheap Thrills – Big Brother and the Holding Company

Finding the Company

by Iryna Byelyayeva

Searching for music may just be my favourite part of being a music fan. Going to a record store on an otherwise lethargic weekend and flipping through crates of vinyl looking for a gem is a past time that has been passed down to us from decades ago. Culture has changed, our love for discovering and sharing music has not.

A couple of years ago I was alone in wintery Europe trying to cull my loneliness by attempting to listen through all the albums on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list. I didn’t get through it. But some albums and bands which I first heard through this list have now become staples in my collection. Big Brother and the Holding Company’s 1968 album, Cheap Thrills, is now very much now part of my soul. I was already a fan of Janis Joplin, her raspy voice and rebellious femininity but Pearl (1971) just wasn’t enough to quench my thirst for her music. Perhaps a cold, rainy night in the small, French city, Toulous, is not the most rock n roll setting for your first listen of Big Brother’s epic album about heartache and love but damn is it romantic.

Two days later I was in a small second-hand record store. Toulouse, it turns out, has a maze of narrow streets speckled with vintage shops. I was young, bored and had gone to Europe by myself to ~find my identity~. At this moment the way to curate myself as a person was to buy the perfect record. You’re cool if you have cool records from Toulouse, right? There should be no other factors.

I walked around the stores three times, flipping, peering and brainstorming what would be a cool vinyl to bring home and proudly place on my shelf. Soon I was holding two: Cheap Thrills and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Pink Floyd, 1967). My heart was split in two:

  1. Cheap Thrills: an album I had fallen in love with but only recently met. Would this relationship last? Should I give myself a few more listens before I decide what I really think about it?
  2. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn: is there anything cooler than Pink Floyd? I already loved them. And though I had never listened to this album, I could surmise from their other ones that it would be really good.

I noticed the shopkeeper kept looking at me, probably wondering why I was taking so long. Many customers had been and gone in the time that I had been circling. I made a decision, put one record back and bought the other.

I don’t need one hand to count how many times I’ve spun my Piper. I don’t even need a peace sign. Years later, I had a burning need to own Cheap Thrills. I wanted to be able to play it any time. I wanted to be able to physically hold a symbol of Janis Joplin and let it spin me into a daze.

Cheap Thrills is so full of energy. It’s energetic and playful and sexy and will totally transport you to another time and culture. You put it on and suddenly everyone in the room starts nodding along slowly. Janis’ vocals on ‘I Need A Man To Love’ and ‘Ball And Chain’ are magnificent. Big Brother’s ‘Summertime’ is the best rendition of the song I’ve ever heard. It’s gentle and fraught. Janis puts on such a show, her vocals dancing with the guitar to create a sound that could tear your heart out.

Searching for this album in every record store I went to became a staple. My heart would break every time I saw an empty spot where their records should have been. Then it would stitch itself back together with the knowledge that this was all part of the reason why I love discovering music. You can find an album you adore on a random night and it would intoxicate you for years.

The more I searched the more my love grew. The turmoil in those greasy guitar solos suddenly became about us—me and the album, about how we just couldn’t seem to find each other. Until I walked into The Searchers Records in Fitzroy and it was … just there. Pristine, new, like it didn’t even matter if I bought it or not.

I bought it. Now another little piece of my heart sits ever so cool on my shelf.


Iryna is a creative lady living in Melbourne, Australia. She is the editor of The Wall Mag and gets published here and there. She can be followed on twitter @irynabyel

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