Janis Ian, a singer-songwriter whose most well known song was 1975’s hit “At Seventeen,” recorded a much lesser known hit when she was just 16 years old, called “Society’s Child.” Sadly, this song has mostly been forgotten. The last time I heard it played on any radio station was probably in the late 1970s. Classic rock stations don’t play it because it doesn’t really qualify as rock. But the song is a masterpiece, both musically and lyrically. Fortunately, someone was able to get this technologically impressive (for its time) video of Janis singing the song live in 1967 on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
“Society’s Child” has an interesting background. Janis actually wrote the song at the age of 15, imagining a white high school girl dating a black boy and having to deal with her parents’ and teachers’ disapproval of anyone “not of our own kind.” In the song, the girl is forced to end her relationship with her boyfriend because of the prejudice so common at the time (and that unfortunately never really went away).
Janis Ian said she received death threats due to the controversial lyrics, and many radio stations refused to play the song. But she continued to perform it live throughout the years and still does to this day, at the age of 64.
I think Janis looks absolutely stunning in this video, and she really gets lost in the emotion of the song. Maybe it’s only because of the superior quality of the video but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact this was taped almost 50 years ago. But there’s a definite innocence there you just don’t see in modern singers.