This song was the last song Janis Joplin recorded before her untimely death aged 27, October the 4th 1970.
It was done in one take after the session musicians left for the night!
It wasn’t a song that had a lot of time behind it by all accounts. In fact, it was allegedly strung together by Joplin and Bob Neuwirth in a bar on August the 8th, and performed an hour later.
The lyrics were based on a poem by Martin McClure, who said it was the only poem he ever wrote that ended up making him any money.
Funny, considering the subject of the song. “Mercedes Benz” is hippy anti-consumerism writ large. There’s more than a hint of irony; Joplin owned a now very famous Porsche herself, so the song is self aware.
The thrust of the song is that money won’t buy happiness and that wanting a load of new things all the time will make you unhappy. It’s a biting attack on the rampant consumerism of the 60s, making it easy to understand how the song became a counterculture anthem.
There’s a host of covers, and an remixed version with instruments released in 2003, but to be honest I can’t imagine the song being better than it is with any sort of backing track, be it country, blues, rock or soul.
The unadorned voice of Janis Joplin with its rustic, scraping Southern drawl is perfect to deliver such simple, homely wisdom. It crackles and pops like a dusty old 45, but the warmth and feeling is astounding.
The song was released posthumously in 1971 on the album Pearl.
That album was number one in the U.S.A and is 4 x platinum, making a load of money for somebody. C’est la vie…