Song Lyric Sunday – Society’s Child

The prompt from Jim:

This week the theme is songs that are about School, College, Education, Class, Degree also suggested by Paula of Light Motifs II.

Janis Ian started writing “Society’s Child” when she was 13. She was living in a predominately black neighborhood in New Jersey. Growing up during the mid-60’s, she watched the civil rights movement play out on television. As she recalls, she was only one of three white girls in her school. She saw the fears of families of both races whose children dated children from a different race. Janis’ parents were very active in the civil rights movement, but because people assumed the song was autobiographical, some people thought her father was a racist which could not have been further from the truth.

The following comes from an interview Janis Ian did with Tony Cox of NPR in 2009.

The song is about an interracial relationship. The song begins with the lyrics “Come to my door, baby Face is clean and shining black as night”.  Her producer at the time, Shadow Morton, told Janis if she would change the word black to any other word, she would have a number one song. She was young and of course wanted to record a hit song, but a friend was there and was quoted as saying “you whore now, you’ll whore forever”, which were strong words for a fifteen year old to digest and understand.

When she was 15, she was performing at a concert in Encino, CA. When she began singing “Society’s Child” a group of attendees started a chant “(****) your love or go home” and shaking their fists at her. She was terrified and ended up putting her guitar down and retreating to the bathroom sobbing. She eventually went back on stage. When the chanting started again, the other members of the audience shut them down, revealing them for the cowards and bullies they were.

The song would eventually make the top 40 charts in 1967, stalling at #14. It did reach #1 in some markets, but because of the controversial subject matter and the radio stations’ resistance to play it, the song would never reach #1 nationally.

Society’s Child
Lyrics from Genius Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Come to my door, baby
Face is clean and shining black as night
My mother went to answer you know
That you looked so fine
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.”

[Chorus 1]
She says I can’t see you any more, baby
Can’t see you anymore

[Verse 2]
Walk me down to school, baby
Everybody’s acting deaf and blind
Until they turn and say, “Why don’t you stick to your own kind.”
My teachers all laugh, their smirking stares
Cutting deep down in our affairs
Preachers of equality
Think they believe it, then why won’t they just let us be?

[Chorus 2]
They say I can’t see you anymore baby
Can’t see you anymore

[Verse 3]
One of these days I’m gonna stop my listening
Gonna raise my head up high
One of these days I’m gonna raise my glistening wings and fly
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

[Chorus 3]
I say I can’t see you anymore baby
Can’t see you anymore
No, I won’t see you anymore, baby

Song Lyric Sunday is hosted every Sunday by Jim Adams. If you would like to join in the fun, check out his blog for the rules and to take in all the other music posted by other bloggers.