Society's Child

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"Society's Child"
Single by Janis Ian
from the album Society's Child
B-side "Letter to Jon"
Released 1967
Format Vinyl record (7" 45 RPM)
Genre Pop
Label Verve
5027
Writer(s) Janis Ian

"Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)" was a song written in 1965 by Janis Ian. It centered around the then-taboo subject of interracial romance. Ian was 13 years old when she was motivated to write the song and completed it when she was 14.

The lyrics of the song center around the feelings of a young girl who witnesses the humiliation that her African American boyfriend receives from the girl's mother and the taunts that she herself endures from classmates and teachers. It closes with her decision to end her relationship with the boyfriend because of her inability to deal with the social pressure.

In 1964, Ian lived in East Orange, New Jersey. Her neighborhood was predominantly populated by African-Americans and she was one of very few whites in her school.[1]

I saw it from both ends. I was seeing it from the end of all the civil rights stuff on the television and radio, of white parents being incensed when their daughters would date black men, and I saw it around me when black parents were worried about their sons or daughters dating white girls or boys. I don't think I knew where I was going when I started it, but when I hit the second line, 'face is clean and shining black as night,' it was obvious where the song was going. I don't think I made a conscious decision to have the girl cop out in the end, it just seemed like that would be the logical thing at my age, because how can you buck school and society and your parents, and make yourself an outcast forever?

Songwriter and producer Shadow Morton signed Janis to a record contract and made the decision to release "Society's Child" as her first release. Ian's original title for the song was "Baby, I've Been Thinking," but Morton changed it to "Society's Child". It was recorded using six studio musicians.

Leonard Bernstein's producer saw Janis perform "Society's Child" at The Gaslight and scheduled Ian to perform the song on a television special about new pop music.[2] Largely due to Bernstein's efforts, Verve Records started promoting it in trade magazines and many radio stations picked it up. Some radio stations, such as WLS, refused to play the song. Several radio stations were slow to add the song to their play list, but this behavior extended the record's airplay life. Recorded in 1965 and released in 1966, "Society's Child" did not enter Billboard's Top 40 until June 17, 1967. The single was no. 1 or top ten in several key cities across America, but in July stalled at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 owing to resistance in certain markets, as was the fate of several other controversial pop hits of the era. Skin colors reversed, Stories' "Brother Louie" had no trouble topping the Hot 100 more than six years later.

"Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.

Chart history[edit]

Chart (1967) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 14
U.S. Cash Box Pop Singles Chart 13

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wiser, Carl. "Janis Ian interview (March 14, 2003)". Songfacts. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  2. ^ Videoclip on Youtube, beginning at 5:30: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vlO1p94uR4