Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Society's Child" - Janis Ian (1967)

When Janis Ian recorded this astonishingly mature song in 1967 she was barely 17 years old. This performance is from the Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour, which was always pushing the envelope in relation to political and social issues. It’s the main reason they were taken off the air in the politically charged late 1960’s.

I have been searching forever to find a copy of the first recording of this record, which was done without the electric organ, or any other instrument for that matter. I haven’t seen it since I took the accompanying book out of the library several years ago, which contained a disc featuring Ms. Ian singing the song with only her acoustic guitar. If you think she looks and sounds young here, you should here the other version. It’s even more plaintive and powerful when you consider that she had to be about 16 when she wrote it.

Sunday nights in America underwent a radical change during the second half of the 1960’s. The slick variety shows were making way for more edgy forms of entertainment. It seemed, suddenly, that America was not satisfied with Ed Sullivan’s talking mouse or a troupe of acrobats any longer. The audience wanted entertainment which reflected the changes that were taking place in their own cities, towns, and even in their homes.

In this semi-live performance you will notice a few vocal differences from the recorded version. Although portions of the music were pre-recorded, Ms. Ian is singing live, with the help of some unnecessary reverb at certain points. These were the days when the cameramen focused on the faces of the musicians, rather than their hands, which is what I was always looking to see. I didn’t care how the performer looked, just as long as I could see their hands and try to make the same chords.

As for the recording itself; it was banned in some cities, mainly by Chicago’s WLS, a 50,000 watt station, making it one of the larger stations on the air at the time. In spite of, or maybe because of, this ban, the record went on to reach #14 on the Billboard charts and hung there for several weeks during the “Summer of Love”. And of course, it has become a classic in its own right for the brave stand Ms. Ian took by writing and performing it. She actually received death threats and hate mail for this recording.

Ironically, as Sunday night’s evolved from the benign shows of the 50’s and 60’s, many bemoaned the fact that America was losing her spirituality by veering away from traditional entertainment. I have to disagree on that point. Songs like “Society’s Child” were actually a step toward a higher consciousness, addressing the important social inequities of the time. In this respect, I submit that performances like this were much more spiritually oriented than a talking mouse.
Eydie  Gorme - 1966

The fabulous Eydie Gormet has passed away, taking part of an era with her. Whether performing solo, or with her husband Steve Lawrence, she lit up the stage during the 1960's, She broke into the big time while with Kay Kyser's Musical College, and the rest is history.  This performance, from You Tube, was filmed in 1966.  Ms. Gorme was 84. RIP Eydie.

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