The story behind Janis Joplin's No. 1 song 'Me And Bobby McGee'

The song was written by singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson at the suggestion of songwriter Fred Foster.
Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin / Hulton Deutsch/GettyImages

On March 20, 1971, Janis Joplin posthumously earned her only No. 1 single with "Me And Bobby McGee." The song would remain at the top of the charts for two weeks, five months after her death in October 1970. The story behind the song is often mistaken as a love song from writer Kris Kristofferson to Joplin.

In 1969, now-retired country singer Kris Kristofferson was approached by producer and Monument Records founder Fred Foster with an idea for a song. Barbara "Bobbie" McKee worked as a secretary whom Foster often saw when visiting a colleague and teased that he would one day write a song about me and Bobbie McKee. He gave the idea to Kristofferson, noting that Bobby was a woman, but he misheard the surname and came up with what is known as "Me And Bobby McGee."

Janis Joplin, Kris Kristofferson
Janis Joplin & Kris Kristofferson At Landmark Hotel Los Angeles Summer 1970 / John Byrne Cooke Estate/GettyImages

The genders were swapped in Joplin's version in which she sings of two drifters, the narrator and Bobby. The pair travel to the southern United States and then head westward. They make it to California, then sadly part ways.

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin, don't mean nothin, honey, if it ain't free, no no
Yeah, feelin'; good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know feelin'; good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee"

Me And Bobby McGee lyrics

Who sang Me And Bobby McGee?

The song was first recorded by Roger Miller, a distant cousin of Kristofferson's, who was known for honky tonk-influenced songs. His version charted at No. 12 on Billboard Hot Country Singles in 1969.

In 1970, Gordon Lightfoot peak at No. 1 on Canada RPM County Tracks with his version.

Joplin topped the US and Austrilia charts with her version which is also the best known.

Other notable recordings include Jerry Lee Lewis, who topped Billboard Country in 1972. Charley Pride, Roy Clark, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson are some great recordings. More recently, the song was covered by Pink, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Dolly Parton.

Below is a Spotify playlist highlighting several of the above-mentioned versions of "Me And Bobby McGee," and more.

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