But as we all know, things never turn out the way you'd expect. It’s unlikely that Joplin, the blues rock legend, could ever have dreamed that one day her song would serve as the musical backdrop of diverse commercials — mainly, but not exclusively, for the car with the star. For example, there’s a commercial for our competitor in Munich, in which a driver flings a Janis Joplin cassette out of his convertible in a high arc. One thing is clear: When Joplin wrote the song, her intention was not to boost the sales figures for any brand of luxury sedan. On the contrary. Joplin, the woman with one of the most unusual voices of her generation, was criticizing consumerism through irony.
So her introduction of the song in the recording made on October 1, 1970, should be taken with a grain of salt: “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import.” She was making fun of a society that seeks happiness through the acquisition of possessions and luxury goods. The examples she names besides a Mercedes-Benz include another brand made in Stuttgart — “My friends all drive Porsches” — and a color TV, which was still a status symbol at the start of the 1970s. “Mercedes Benz” was released in 1971 on the album “Pearl,” which “Rolling Stone” has called one of the 500 best albums of all time. The irony of this story is that by writing “Mercedes Benz” Joplin created a musical tribute to the brand that she actually wanted to shake off its pedestal. What’s more, Joplin herself was not a radical denier of consumerism. In 1968 she had invested in a Porsche 356 convertible with a gaudy “flower power” paint job.
The fact that today many people regard “Mercedes Benz” as a hymn rather than a sneer may be due to the dozens of cover versions sung by musicians ranging from the pop legend Elton John to the German singer Klaus Lage. A major reason for the iconic afterlife of “Mercedes Benz” is the fact that it was the last song Janis Joplin created in her all too short life. She died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose in a Hollywood hotel room on October 4, 1970.