Country singer Janis Joplin landed her career hit with her cover version of Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” It was her first (and unfortunately, only) solo number-one single, as she died just days after recording the track due to an accidental drug overdose. It was also the second posthumously released number-one single in chart history, with the first being Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
Aside from being a chart-topper, the song also later made it into the prestigious Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Now, it’s considered a Joplin classic. Her album Pearl, wherein the track was included, also became a huge success, selling over four million copies.
Meaning Behind The Song
“Me and Bobby McGee” was posthumously released on January 11, 1971, four months after Joplin’s death. Brownsville-born Kris Kristofferson wrote it based on a suggestion from producer and Monument Records founder Fred Foster.
According to Kristofferson, Foster called him up one night and pitched him the title “Me and Bobby McKee” without a song. But he misheard it, and the new name stuck. The character was inspired by Barbara “Bobby” McKee, a cute secretary at an office in Nashville’s Music Row, whom Foster loved to visit.
As for the story, he thought of the 1954 drama film “La Strada” by Federico Fellini – particularly the scene wherein street performer Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) abandoned Gelsomina, the trumpet player he was with on the road, by the side of the road while she was asleep.
Then, later in the film, he heard a melody, a familiar one that Gelsomina used to play, and found out that she had wasted away and died. He ended up drunk, worn out from a local fight, wandering on the beach with tears streaming down his face.
He changed a few details, but the intimate notions persisted, like freedom. Kristofferson said, “He was free when he left the girl, but it destroyed him.” The name Bobby was intentionally made gender-neutral, allowing both male and female artists to cover the song without changing the lyrics.
Roger Miller originally recorded the song, and a few more did so after him before Joplin did. But Kristofferson didn’t know Joplin recorded it and only heard the finished cut after her passing. He couldn’t listen to the song without breaking up, so he listened to it until he was sick of it.
Until now, whenever he performs “Me and Bobby McGee,” he thinks of Janis Joplin. Listen to the track below.
Janis joplin, kris kristofferson