Friday, July 20, 2012

Story Songs: Society's Child

One of the most poignant story songs from the 1960s was "Society's Child," written by Janis Ian when she was at the tender age of 13. As the song reveals, she was certainly wise beyond her years.

She was part of that wave of singer-songwriters of that era who were socially conscious, such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Phil Ochs. 

This groundbreaking and powerful song is about a budding interracial relationship that is met with resistance from family, teachers, and classmates. 

The story begins with the young man being turned away at the front door by the girl's mother:

"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"

The young couple faces societal pressures at school where students say, 

"Why don't you stick to your own kind."

And teachers 

"...all laugh, their smirking stares,
  Cutting deep down in our affairs."

In the end, the girl decides there is too much to overcome to stay in the relationship:

"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."

"Society's Child" reached No. 14 on the Billboard chart in 1967 and some feel it may have soared to No. 1 if it hadn't encountered lack of radio airplay in some markets.

Janis Ian is still performing today and is also an author. She's active in The Pearl Foundation, named after her mother, which is dedicated to helping adults further their education. Read more about Janis here.


  1. This was very interesting. Funny how songs have such backgrounds that we don't understand until someone points them out. Thanks for the information. When I hear this song again I will understand it better.

  2. Thank you, Socorro. Janis Ian wrote many good songs, including "At Seventeen" in the mid '70s that earned her several awards.

  3. Well, I felt a connection with "At Seventeen." I could REALLY identify with that one!

  4. "Society's Child" remains a blessing...It simply made my life passage so much easier. It made a 13-year-old boy deal with his own homosexuaity on real terms. Being that "boy" 48 years later, I realize it was a song of empowerment for me. And not many of us came out before Stonewall!

  5. Andy, "Society's Child" still carries a strong message today for diversity, tolerance, and equality. Janis Ian remains a powerful songwriter.

    1. Michael, I agree completely with you. There were several cuts from "Society's Child" that were perhaps even more "in your face," a la "Pro Girl"... but "Society's Child" hit the charts at a perfect time in American history.