The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #348: Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #348: Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin.

“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train……….”, so begins one of Rock n’ Roll’s most memorable journeys.

Originally written by Kris Kristofferson for veteran singer, Roger Miller, “Me and Bobby McGee” tells the story of two lost souls who found each other for a short while, as they drifted around America. The song may hold a romanticized view of finding yourself via a journey but, there is nothing romantic about this story. The two lovers have little beyond the clothes on their backs and each other as they bum rides from truckers and sleep on empty freight trains. But, sometimes, it is enough to just have a warm body beside you when you need it and all of the feelings of safety and belonging that emanate from that shared moment in time. That is the story that this song tells.

There is a lot of trivia associated with this song; the first being that “Bobby McGee” is based upon a real person. Her name was Bobbi McKee and she was a record producer’s secretary. Kris Kristofferson had, apparently, taken a shine to her at one point or another and was inspired to create this memorable character about her. However, over the years, many people have sung this song and, over that course of time, the character has become “genderless”; meaning that male singers sing about a girl named “Bobbi McGee” and female singers sing about a man named “Bobby McGee” and, regardless, the crux of the song remains the same.

“Me and Bobby McGee” is most associated with Janis Joplin. She recorded this song for her album, “Pearl”. It is said that Kris Kristofferson never heard her sing her version of “Me and Bobby McGee” until after she had passed away at age, 27 but, once he did hear it, he felt it was destined to be the definitive version of his song. The song was released after her death and became her biggest hit, surpassing, “Piece of My Heart”. “Me and Bobby McGee went to #1 on the charts, making it one of only two songs ever to do so posthumously. (The other being, “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding). There are several audio tracks of Joplin singing this song but, I cannot find any video of her actually singing “Me and Bobby McGee” live. Her most famous rendition occurred at Woodstock in 1969. At the time, she was a relatively unknown, bluesy, husky-voiced up-and-comer, leading a band called “Big Brother and the Holding Company”. But, by the time her Woodstock set was over, Joplin was a star.

Janis Joplin didn’t have too much time to revel in her stardom and fame. For much of her adult life, she had battled one form of drug addiction or another. Initially, just out of college, she experimented with harder drugs and her health became jeopardized. Friends and family intervened and brought her back home, where she recovered. She was about to follow a more traditional lifestyle, working in an office as a stenographer, when a former musician friend asked her to front his band in San Fransisco. Joplin’s family made everyone involved promise to keep her away from any and all drugs. While this promise was kept for a short while, soon enough, drug use surfaced among her bandmates and Janis gave in to temptation and began using again. Once her habit kicked back in, there was no turning back and, as a result, Joplin dealt with drug-related health and creative issues right up until the time of her death in 1970.

Janis Joplin was a unique personality in a sea of singers who often charted similar courses with their careers. She was pro-desegregation in the deep South. She was often the only female in bands filled with men and yet, she was often the face and driving force those same bands. And her voice! What a voice! That voice which rose up from the very depths of her soul, coupled with a dynamic stage presence, made her one of the most mesmerizing performers of her time. Janis Joplin didn’t have a long career but, the career she did have left an indelible mark in the History of Modern Music. Here is one of her biggest hits, “Me and Bobby McGee” from the album, “Pearl”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Janis Joplin, can be found here.

The link to the website for KEXP, can be found here. Thanks, as always, for supporting the very best songs and the people who sing them.