April 02, 2013

Janis Ian - Society's Child (1965)

Born Janis Eddy Fink on April 7, 1951 in New York, New York, this singer, songwriter, musician, and author first found success as a teenager when she released her hit song heard below. Raised in New Jersey by left-wing parents during the Cold War era, Janis and her family were frequently watched by the government when she was growing up. In 1964, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, she legally had her named changed to Janis Ian, using her brother’s middle name as her new surname. After the popularity of her first hit song, heard below, in 1967, Ian waited another eight years before again finding success. Shattering her one-hit wonder label, she released in the 1975 song “At Seventeen,” which reached number one on the US A/C Chart, number one on the Cash Box charts, and number three on the Billboard Hot 100. Although numerous albums and songs have been released since, their popularity has not reached that of her two songs mentioned above. One of the many venerable traits exemplified by Ian is her criticism of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). She frequently makes mention of the RIAA destroying the music industry and places herself on the side of the musicians and consumers. She frequently releases her music free of charge on her website, which she claims has resulted in numerous hard sales, “contrary to the claims of the RIAA.” Her song “At Seventeen” is claimed to have sold over two million copies yet has never been certified by the RIAA. Ian continues to record and tour to this day, having an especially large cult following in Europe and Japan.

Growing up in a predominately African-American neighborhood, Ian began to write this song in 1964 when she was only thirteen years old. By the time it was finished in 1965, she was fourteen. It deals with a first-person account of the difficulties she had with an interracial relationship while living in East Orange, New Jersey in 1964. The song, dealing with an interracial relationship, was considered extremely taboo at the time and was turned down for release by Atlantic Records, who had returned the master copy to Ian after having already paid for her recording session. When it was finally released by Verve Records, many radio stations refused to play it. One radio station in Atlanta was burned to the ground after airing it. Ian herself received numerous death threats in the mail. Determined to bring the song to the public, it was released three times: 1965, 1966, and 1967. Its last release came after Ian had been featured performing the song on Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, a television special on pop music hosted by Leonard Bernstein in 1967. Although the song reached number one on many local markets, its boycotting in many other cities prevented it from getting any higher on the national charts than number thirteen.

album art

Janis Ian - Society's Child (1965)

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Come to my door, baby
Face is clean and shining black as night
My mother went to answer, you know
That you looked so fine
Now I could understand your tears and your shame
She called you “boy” instead of your name
When she wouldn't let you inside
When she turned and said
“But honey, he's not our kind”

She says, I can't see you anymore, baby
Can't see you anymore

Walk me down to school, baby
Everybody’s acting deaf and blind
Until they turn and say
“Why don't you stick to your own kind?”

My teachers all laugh, their smirking stares
Cutting deep down in our affairs
Preachers of equality think they believe it
Then why won't they just let us be?

They say I can't see you anymore, baby
Can't see you anymore

One of these days I'm gonna stop my listening
Gonna raise my head up high
One of these days I'm gonna raise my glistening
Wings and fly
But that day will have to wait for a while
Baby, I'm only society’s child
When we’re older things may change
But for now this is the way they must remain

I say, “I can't see you anymore, baby”
“Can't see you anymore”
“No, I don't wanna see you anymore, baby”

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