The Real Songwriter Behind Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”

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Janis Joplin didn’t actually write “Mercedes Benz” all on her own.

Janis Joplin sitting on top of her uniquely designed Mercedes Benz (photo via Society Of Rock)

The song, which appeared on Janis Joplin’s “Pearl,” is the epitome of blues songs.

“It’s the want of something that gives you the blues,” she once said, according to Performing Songwriter. “It’s not what isn’t, it’s what you wish was that makes unhappiness.”

Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” actually came from a poem/song by Michael McClure called “O Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz.” Joplin took the first line and crafted her song from that.

She and her friend Bob Neuwirth took that line and fleshed out the idea until they had a song.

Joplin called McClure, hoping to get his approval.

Janis Joplin
Michael McClure, the originator of the lyrics “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” (photo via Michael McClure)

“Would you sing me your version?” McClure said.

So she sang him an A Capella version over the phone.

“Well, I prefer my version,” he said.

Then he sang her his version, accompanying himself on auto harp. Joplin wasn’t entirely impressed.

“I prefer my version!” she said with a laugh.

So the two versions would just have to co-exist in peace.

However, McClure got a songwriting credit on Joplin’s version along with Neuwirth.

“I never got any poetry to make a cent,” McClure said, that is until this songwriting credit.

He must’ve really felt those words that inspired Joplin’s version:

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Now, however, I’m sure he doesn’t worry about money too often.

If it weren’t for McClure, Joplin would’ve never written what became one of her most classic songs.

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Caleb Murphy is a musician who writes about music. His writing appears in Consequence Of Sound, Pittsburgh City Paper, and some other cool places. He blogs about music at calebjmurphy.com.
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