25/11/15 – Janis Ian – At Seventeen – Live On Midnite Special – 1976 / Live On The Old Grey Whistle Test – 1976

Song Of The Day

At_seventeen_(Janis_ian_single_cover)A Grammy winning single in 1976 from Janis Ian’s seventh album, Between The Lines released in 1975. It captivated an American audience with a meaningful lyric and a poignant melody making it to No.1 on Cash Box and No.3 on the Billboard chart. At Seventeen toppled Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy and penetrated the heart of every teenage girl who wasn’t blonde and head cheerleader. At this point Ian was 24 and haunted by the memory of those early years when she didn’t fit in with the stereotypical image of American beauty. Revenge was critical acclaim, a Grammy and financial success as well as artistic integrity. As fate would have it, the song that knocked her off the top spot was David Bowie’s Fame.

Sadly this was the last of Janis Ian’s hits but not the first. In 1965 at the age of 14 she wrote Society’s Child, controversially dealing with interracial relationships, the song made it to No.14 on the US charts and even more controversially wasn’t supported by some stations that felt that the subject matter itself was – too controversial. Atlantic records had also controversially decided not to release her debut album that contained many more persceptive dissections of American society. In stepped George Shadow Morton and the album was finally released by Verve Forecast in 1967 – Ian was just 16 years old.

Ian is a fascinating character, not only a singer/songwriter but a science fiction writer and outspoken critic of the recording industry, she is a generous supporter of an adult education scholarship –  the Pearl Foundation, named after her mother. There’s s a treasure trove of Janis Ian releases from 1967 onwards into the eighties and although she still  commands a presence with an older listenership, she is rarely mentioned in the same legendary breath as Dylan or Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen or Neil Young and like Gordon Lightfoot her place in  music history probably needs to reassessed.



I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say, “Come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen

A brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, “Pity, please, the ones who serve
‘Cause they only get what they deserve”

And the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly

So remember those who win the game
They lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality and dubious integrity

Their small town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown

They call and say, “Come dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me at seventeen


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