The music of the 1960s includes social movements songs. Janis Ian was only 14 years old when she finished writing “Society’s Child (Baby, I’ve Been Thinking)” in 1965. It covered controversial material, which was an interracial romance. The singer of the song is white and has an African-American boyfriend. The girl’s mother, friends, and teachers disapprove of the relationship. In the end, the girl feels that she cannot fight society’s rules and breaks off with her boyfriend. The Civil Rights movement, of course, was very prominent at the time. Also, Ian lived in East Orange, New Jersey, and went to school mostly with African-Americans. Record producer and songwriter Shadow Morton (“Leader of the Pack, “(Remember) Walking in the Sand”) signed her to a contract with Verve Records and released the song. Leonard Bernstein had Ian perform the song on a TV special about new pop music, which helped to promote her and the record.
In 1967, CBS aired a one-hour special “Inside Pop — The Rock Revolution” hosted by Leonard Bernstein. Hosting hip young musicians, Bernstein shared cigarettes with them while apologizing for being “the establishment.” The show highlighted “Society’s Child” for which Bernstein had high praise. Bernstein correctly pointed out that the song has an absolutely brilliant modulation in the final chorus. The song is in C-minor and the chorus (“I can’t see you anymore”) is in a jarring parallel A-minor. At the end of the song, the sentiment changes from “I can’t see you anymore” to “I don’t want to see you anymore.” That change is accentuated by a modulation from A-minor to G-minor, which perfectly communicates a feeling of despair and resignation.
The record, which had been banned on major radio stations, began playing across the country almost immediately following the broadcast. In 1967 “Society’s Child” went to #13 on the U.S. Cash Box Pop Singles Chart and #14 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Janis Ian was born Janis Eddy Fink in New York City. She also had success with the song “At Seventeen.” She continues to write, record, tour, and perform.