Janis Ian was born in New York, but grew up in New Jersey, first on a farm in Farmingdale and then in a far more urban setting. It was there that she wrote her heart-breaking song about an interracial romance, “Society’s Child,” which became a surprise Top 20 hit in 1967, when she was still just 16. (She had written the song a couple of years earlier.)
“I was living in East Orange at the time, I was 14, 13,” Ian has said. “It was an all-black neighborhood, I think there were five white kids in the school. So I was seeing it from both ends, I was seeing it from the end of a lot of the civil rights stuff going on on television and on the radio, of white parents being incensed when their daughters would date black men, and I was seeing it around me when black parents were worried about their daughters or sons dating white girls or boys.”
So does Ian’s other big pop hit, “At Seventeen,” reflect her own experiences at 17, when she was already famous? Not really. She has said that she drew on experiences from earlier in her life for that song, and that “at seventeen” just sounded good.
Below is a video of Ian performing “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)” on “The Smothers Brothers Show” in 1967.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday last year. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we are marking the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, for almost a year — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. We started in September 2014, and will keep going until late in the summer.
If you would like to suggest any songs to be included, please let me know in the comments section underneath the video. And if you want to see the entire list, either alphabetically or in the order the songs were selected, click here.