But a song popped into my head tonight, and since I found this incredible video, I decided to write about it. Janis Ian, "Society's Child":
I clearly remember this song as a hit when it finally made the charts in '67. A band I was in at the time even considered covering the song. It generated lots of controversy, and the social implications of it are still pretty edgy, sadly. But there's more about this record that makes it so important. The girl skillfully playing a Martin D-18 almost as big as she is in this video, wrote this song 2 years earlier when she was only 15. We were just barely into the era of pop artists recording their own music, largely due to The Beatles' success. And now we had an articulate young woman writing a strong lyric, not about a bubblegum issue, but about a topic few were willing to publicly discuss.
At age fifteen, Ian wrote and sang her first hit single, the song "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)", which tells the story of an interracial romance forbidden by the narrator's mother and frowned upon by her peers and teachers. Produced by melodrama specialist George "Shadow" Morton and released three times between 1965 and 1967, "Society's Child" finally became a national hit the third time it was released, after Leonard Bernstein featured it in a TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. The song's lyrical content was too taboo for some radio stations, and they withdrew or banned it from their playlists accordingly. In the summer of 1967, "Society's Child" reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also #1 or top 10 in several key cities across America.
Apparently "Society's Child" was too hot for Atlantic Records as well at the time. Ian relates on her website that although the song was originally intended for Atlantic and the label paid for her recording session, the label subsequently returned the master to her and quietly refused to release it. Years later, Ian says, Atlantic's president at the time, Jerry Wexler, publicly apologized to her for this. The single and Ian's 1967 self-titled debut album were finally released on Verve/Forecast; her album was also a hit, reaching #12. In 2001, "Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honors recordings considered timeless and important to music history.
Janis has much to say about the recording business today:
She is an outspoken critic of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a record industry organization which she sees as acting against the interests of musicians and consumers. As such, she has willingly released several of her songs for free download from her website. She was not only one of the first artists to do this but also was one of the first, along with author Eric Flint, to show conclusive evidence that free downloads dramatically increased hard-copy sales, contrary to the claims of RIAA and NARAS.
Read the complete Wikipedia entry, and visit her website: http://janisian.com/
By email from Janis:
Thanks, Steve. I was actually 14 when I wrote it and barely 15 when it was first recorded and released, for what that's worth.