Down on Me (traditional song)

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"Down on Me"
Down on Me (Janis Joplin song).jpg
Single by Janis Joplin with
Big Brother and the Holding Company
Format7" single
GenrePsychedelic rock
Songwriter(s)traditional, arr Joplin

"Down on Me" is a traditional freedom song from the 1920s or earlier that became popular following its remake by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company.[1][2][3]

Original version[edit]

Several early recordings and field recordings exist:[4]

  • Eddie Head and His Family, (1930) on American Primitive Vol 1: Raw Pre-war Gospel (Revenant 206)
  • Mary Pickney and Janie Hunter, on Been in the Storm So Long: A Collection of Spirituals, Folk Tales and Children's Games from Johns Island, SC (Smithsonian Folkways 40031)
  • Dock Reed, Livingston, Alabama in 1940. on Negro Religious Songs and Services (Rounder CD 1514).
  • The Golden Harps, on compilation Soul of Chicago
  • Edna G. Cooke

The lyrics of the freedom song are darker than the later Joplin lyrics. For example, the second stanza of jazz versions[5] and Dock Reed's version run:[6]

2. Mary and Martha, Luke and John, All God's prophets dead and gone. Looks like everybody in this world round down on me.

Janis Joplin version[edit]

Janis Joplin rearranged the song and created new lyrics. The song was originally released in the summer of 1967 and was featured on the band's debut album Big Brother & the Holding Company. The song would reach #42 on the charts, barely missing the Top 40 mark.[7] A live, more aggressive version is featured on the posthumously released live album In Concert and the 1973 collection Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits. This version was also released as a single, reaching #91 on the charts in 1972.

The third and final stanza of Joplin's version ends with a positive message:[8]

3. Believe in your brother, have faith in man, / Help each other, honey, if you can / Because it looks like everybody in this whole round world / Is down on me.

Joplin's version was covered by Jeany Reynolds in 1970.


  1. ^ Work, American Negro Songs p.115
  2. ^ Solomon, Honey in the Rock Mercer University Press, p.112
  3. ^ Peters, Lyrics of the Afro-American Spiritual p.10
  4. ^ "Down On Me- Dock Reed; 1940". Bluegrass Messengers. Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  5. ^ Hendrik Roelof Rookmaaker, Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker New Orleans jazz, Mahalia Jackson and the philosophy of art 2002 "Mary and Martha, Luke and John, All God's prophets dead and gone, Looks like everybody in this whole round world down on me. Ain't been to heaven, but I've been told, Gates is pearl and the streets is gold, Looks like everybody in this ..."
  6. ^ transcription in Sing for Freedom (p. 235)
  7. ^ Edward Willett Janis Joplin: Take Another Little Piece of My Heart p.83
  8. ^ The Alcalde Jul 2008 - Page 56