Classic Album covers : Cheap Thrills - Big Brother

Cheap Thrills is the second album from Big Brother and the Holding Company and their last album with Janis Joplin as primary lead vocalist. It was released on August 12, 1968

Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb’s most famous cover was completed in one all-night drawing session for $600. The album was originally titled Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but the record company, Columbia records, didn’t like it. No one was thrilled with the original cover image, either – a photo of the band lying naked in bed together – so they contacted the artist. “I just did it as a work for hire,” says Crumb, who was making a name for himself at the time as one of the original underground cartoonists of Zap Comix. Crumb drew this montage as the back cover , with a portrait of Joplin meant for the front. But Joplin—an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb—so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia make it the front cover

Crumb’s seemingly simple style belies his absolute mastery of layout, lettering, and caricature. His ‘ideal’ image of Janis Joplin as the ultimate hippy (hipsome as well) chick with a big round bra-less bod is classic Crumb. He has a well deserved reputation as being somewhat sex obsessed, especially with the curvy ladies. With it’s bright colours, clean lines, and one panel mini-stories, Crumb deftly incorporates all the album information into one mega pop sleeve. He fluently combines out of luck turtles, stoner freaks, and the merriment of the movement into the mix

Some facts about the cover:

- All the text came from the band except for the first panel where Janis is saying ‘Playin’ and singin’ for yew’

- The lettering at the top was originally done to go all the way across the top. CBS reduced it and also moved it over to fit their corporate logo in the top left

- Barney’s Beanery is a real bar and restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard where Janis liked to hang out and drink

- Janis called Crumb during the night and told him to put the Hell’s Angel logo somewhere. Janis thought they were ‘cool’ and used to hang out with them

- The figure in the bottom left corner is a representation of the musician James Gurley as an ‘angelic hipster dopehead with the cyclops ‘all seeing eye’ of the LSD visionary’

- The panel that says ‘Art : R. Crumb’ was originally intended to illustrate one of the tunes - a raucous put down of the Hare Krishnas, but this track was left off the album. The lettering ‘Art : R. Crumb’ was later added by someone in the CBS art department

Keep on Truckin’

Crumb’s design graced every self respecting hippie’s shirt in the late 60s and early 70s. He lost a copyright lawsuit for this image in a lengthy courtroom battle

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February 09, 2012

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