The Untold Story Behind Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’

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The story behind Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’ recorded three days before a drug overdose.

the story behind janis joplin mercedes benz
Photo By: Yoram Kohana
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The story behind Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” is a bittersweet story of a wonderful song recorded three days before her death.  Joplin was truly one of the great rock icons of the sixties, leaving a crater sized impact with her music and personality.  A larger than life personality with a big appetite for pleasure.  Janis Joplin’s only number one single, “Me and Bobby McGee” was not released until after Joplin’s drug overdose.  The story behind Janis Joplins’ “Mercedes Benz” is a simple tale of fortune meeting fate.

Prior to 1970, Janis Joplin released one solo album, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969).  This first solo attempt was not largely considered a successful album.  Her fame began with an appearance at the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967 with Big Brother and the Holding Company.  After breaking through here, Joplin performed at Woodstock where she became a counterculture icon.

The Story Of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz Result of Poetry Jam

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Janis Joplin loved being involved with poetry and was often at poetry clubs.  According to The Wall Street Journal this is where the hit song began. “The song’s lyrics were written at a Port Chester, NY, bar in August 1970 during an impromptu poetry jam between Joplin and songwriter-friend Bob Neuwirth. The lyrics—a cynical prayer for a sports car, a color TV and a night on the town—were inspired by the first line of a song written by San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure.”  In other words, writing “Mercedes Benz” was an accident.

Following this quick jam between Joplin and her friend Neuwirth “Mercedes Benz” was performed only hours later. “About an hour after the song was completed in Port Chester, Joplin performed it A cappella on a whim when she took the stage at the town’s Capitol Theater.”

Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’ Is Recorded Three Days Before Drug Overdose

death of janis joplin

The story of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” is told because of the single from her hit album Pearl.  Janis was finishing the recording of her famous album in Los Angeles.  The record was complete, so much of the pressure was already relieved.  But Janis had other plans.

On Oct. 1, when she was in Los Angeles recording her album “Pearl,” she sang “Mercedes Benz” in the studio for fun. According to Performing Songwriter, “Joplin steps to the microphone and makes a declaration – ‘I’d like to do a song of great social and political import.  It goes like this.’ Then she begins to sing, exercising soulful control over her enormous, whiskey-soaked voice.”  Janis Joplin would be found dead from a drug overdose three days later.  “Mercedes Benz” and “Happy Birthday” to John Lennon were the last songs Joplin recorded.

The story of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” is one of the great rock song stories. 

the story behind janis joplin mercedes benz

The song was written much like Joplin lived her life – quickly and spontaneously.  She is a remarkable person in the history of rock music.  But the work she produced is so little.  She was a polarizing member of the 1960s counterculture.  Just as much for her personality as her music. 

The story of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” is the illusion of material goods and Joplin’s dislike of people looking down on her growing up.  A song written in just minutes has been covered by more than 30 bands, used in car commercials, and the subject of countless articles telling the story.

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