Me and Bobby McGee
In a Nutshell
In a Nutshell
“Me and Bobby McGee” does in four minutes and thirty-one seconds it takes movies up to two hours and books hundreds of pages to do. The song successfully condenses the typical American road story—a tale that has been told so many times in so many different ways that it constitutes its own genre—into a handful of verses and a chorus. It’s a bittersweet story of nostalgia and longing for the American landscape that also deals with the loss of friends, lovers, and youthful dreams and the feeling of having nothing to lose. Again: all this in four and a half minutes.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Janis Joplin (vocals/guitar), Richard Bell (piano), Ken Pearson (organ), John Till (electric guitar), Brad Campbell (bass guitar), Clark Pierson (drums)
|Writer(s)||Kris Kristofferson, Fred Foster|
|Producer(s)||Paul A. Rothchild|
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Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
“Me and Bobby McGee” was inspired by the “road” movie genre, specifically Frederico Fellini’s La Strada
(1954), which co-writer Kris Kristofferson cited as the inspiration for the song. But while La Strada (which translates to “The Road”) is about a traveling sideshow in Italy, “Me and Bobby McGee” is about two hippies riding across the great expanse of the U.S.A. So though inspired by Fellini, the song actually more closely resembles iconic 1960s road movies like Easy Rider
or Bonnie & Clyde
, which, like countless other road movies, were about outsiders (or outlaws), who travel the American landscape with no one but each other, unable to stay in one place for long.
You can find this story in more films, books, and historical events than you could count. America’s first great road story, , predates American roads. It also probably strikes a familiar chord if you’ve ever followed Huck and Jim in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
or Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
. Even Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse novel The Road
could be placed within this category, though with an apocalyptic twist.
When you think about it, the road adventure is the typical American story; it takes you across the varied landscapes of the massive country, introduces you to all different kinds of people and ways of life, and is always a search for the freedom that America has been promising since began in earnest back in the 19th century.
On the Charts
“Me and Bobby McGee” was Janis Joplin’s only number one hit single, and it was the second single in the history of rock & roll
to reach #1 on the charts posthumously
, meaning after the artist was no longer alive (the first was Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” in 1968 ).
Pearl, the album that featured the song “Me and Bobby McGee,” reached #1 on the Billboard
albums chart, holding the spot for nine straight weeks. The Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, has certified it quadruple platinum—meaning it has sold over four million copies.
Other performers such as Roger Miller, Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, and the Grateful Dead have also made successful recordings of the song, but none of these have been as influential as Janis’s version.