Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Society’s Child

Written and first recorded (as “Baby, I’ve Been Thinking (Society’s Child)”) by Janis Ian (1966).
Hit version by Janis Ian (US #14 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)’ was a song written in 1965 by Janis Ian centering around the then-taboo subject of interracial romance. Ian was 13 years old when she was motivated to write the song and she completed it when she was 14. Ian published it (credited to ‘Blind Girl Grunt’) in Broadside (Issue #67), the underground magazine that had brought attention to folk songs by artists like Bob Dylan (who had made some early recordings, in 1962 and 1963, as ‘Blind Boy Grunt’) and Pete Seeger before they hit the mainstream.

“The song was originally recorded for Atlantic, who declined to release it and returned the master to Ian. It was after meeting producer Shadow Morton that Ian re-entered the studio to record the retitled ‘Society’s Child’ with additional studio musicians. Still, there was resistance to it. Morton took the new recording to 22 record companies before Verve/Folkways, a spin-off of MGM Records, agreed to distribute the single.

“Leonard Bernstein’s producer saw Janis perform ‘Society’s Child’ at The Gaslight and scheduled Ian to perform the song on Bernstein’s television special about new pop music, Inside Pop: A Rock Revolution. Largely due to Bernstein’s efforts, Verve began to seriously promote the single in trade magazines and radio stations began adding it to their playlists. As a result, ‘Society’s Child’ became #1 or Top 10 in several key US cities but, by July 1967, stalled at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 owing to resistance in certain large markets, as was the fate of several other controversial Pop hits from that era.

“Ian recalls (via ‘I saw [discrimination and prejudice] from both ends. I was seeing it from the end of all the civil rights stuff on the television and radio, of white parents being incensed when their daughters would date black men, and I saw it around me when black parents were worried about their sons or daughters dating white girls or boys. I don’t think I knew where I was going when I started it, but when I hit the second line, ‘face is clean and shining black as night,’ it was obvious where the song was going. I don’t think I made a conscious decision to have the girl cop out in the end, it just seemed like that would be the logical thing at my age, because how can you buck school and society and your parents, and make yourself an outcast forever?'”

Janis Ian, “Society’s Child” (1967):

Leonard Bernstein, Inside Pop: A Rock Revolution TV broadcast (1967):

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