Saturday, May 25, 2024






At Seventeen is a 1975 song about teenage angst written and sung by Janis Ian.

Video link:


Some Youtube comments:

I first heard this at 17. Now I'm 70 yrs. old and this still moves me

I grew up and felt like this when I grew up . Hard to be not wanted on teams or bullied growing up. Hated School for that reason. Janis has a beautiful voice.

What a beautiful song that really encourages empathy for those who didn't have the looks and the life they wanted as a teenager.

What an amazing songstress

Janis's voice is so beautiful; this song is in the Hall of Fame and she won a grammy for it - rightfully so.

I think Janis Ian is beautiful. This song is so very sad, it hurts to think that there are some who feel this way.

The irony of course, is that she is incredibly beautiful in a non-conventional way. Inside and out. xo


I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say, "Come dance with me"
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems
At seventeen

A brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, "Pity, please, the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve"
And the rich-relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
See upcoming pop shows
Get tickets for your favorite artists

Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality
And dubious integrity
Their small town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
They call and say, "Come dance with me"
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen


- Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance 1976

- Grammy nominations for Record and Song of the Year.

- The single reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart,

- Sold over a million copies as at August 2004.

- Internationally, "At Seventeen" charted in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

About Janis Ian:

Janis grew up in an all-black neighborhood in East Orange, New Jersey.

With the exception of a weekly Folk music program, all she listened to for years was an R&B station out of Newark. It wasn't until she was 13 or 14 that she started listening to The Beach Boys and The Beatles.

Her birth name was Janis Eddy Fink. She changed it when she was 13 and started performing. "Ian" is her brother's middle name.

She was a big part of the New York City folk scene at a very young age.

Her first single, "Society's Child," was a hit when she was 15.

She took piano lessons when she was 2, but gave it up. By the time she was 10, she was teaching herself how to play guitar.

In 1971, she became the first musical guest on Saturday Night Live. She had strep throat and a fever that night.

She turned down a slot at the original Woodstock.

A prolific songwriter, Roberta Flack had a hit with her song "Jesse" in 1973. Janis has also written commercial jingles, including songs for McDonalds, AT&T, Budweiser, and Coke.

Janis has written many magazine articles, including a regular column for Performing Songwriter magazine. She got a lot of attention for taking the stand that Internet file sharing is good for most musicians. She has sold a lot more records and merchandise since Napster and other services have made her songs available for download.

She started the Pearl Foundation (named after her mother) to offer scholarships for college.

In 2003, she married her girlfriend: Nashville defense lawyer Patricia Snyder. The ceremony took place in Toronto, where gay marriages are legal.

About the song:

From Songfacts at:

The interview referred to is at:

In our interview with Janis Ian, she explained that this song is about feeling alienated while growing up. It was more about Janis' life between the ages of 12-14, but "17" fit better into the lyrics.

Janis was 15 when she had her first hit song, "Society's Child," and had been on the road for two years by the time she was 17. Although her childhood was not typical, she knew what it felt like to feel out of place at a young age.

Speaking about crafting this story, Janis explained in our interview: "I never went to a prom, but I did go to my 6th grade dance. That's the trick, it's just like acting. How many people are playing Hamlet whose father is a king? You take your own experience, find something similar in it and draw on that. Even though I didn't go to the prom, I knew what it was like not to get asked to the dance."

This song came at an opportune time for Ian. She told us: "I had to move back into my mom's house because I was broke and I couldn't make any money on the road. I was sitting at the kitchen table with a guitar one day, and I was reading a New York Times article about a debutante, and the opening line was 'I learned the truth at 18.' I was playing that little samba figure, and that line struck me for some reason. The whole article was about how she learned being a debutante didn't mean that much. I changed it to 17 because 18 didn't scan."

Janis wrote the first verse quickly, finding it flowed in a logical pattern: "I leaned the truth at 17," what did you learn... "that love what meant for beauty queens," and who else... "and high school girls with clear skinned smiles," what do we not like about that... "who married young and then retired." The chorus was a lot harder to write. Janis explains that at some point you don't have a lot of control over a song. You can control the craft, but not the inspiration.

Janis told us: "I wrote the first verse and chorus and it was so brutally honest. It's hard to imagine now but people weren't writing that type of song then. I was coming out of listening to people like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, who did write those kind of songs, but pop music and folk music really didn't. I remember thinking I couldn't blow this because it really was going to be a good song. I put it away for three weeks and it took about three months to write the whole thing. I couldn't figure out the ending, I couldn't figure out what to do with her, then I thought I would recap it, bring myself into it and bring it into the past."

When she went to record this, Janis knew it was going to be a hit and wanted to make sure it came out right. She kicked the lead guitarist out of the session because he wasn't trying very hard to capture the feel of the song, replacing him with a young kid who was "so scared you could smell his sweat across the room." This made the other musicians in the room pay attention, and helped capture the feeling of confusion and adolescence Janis was going for.

Janis Ian: "To me it's never been a depressing song. It says 'ugly duckling girls like me,' and to me the ugly duckling always turns into a swan. It offers hope that there is a world out there of people who understand."

Getting this on the radio was no easy task. Not only was it packed with lyrics, but at 3:56, it was about a minute longer than most songs radio stations were playing. Janis and her management decided to market it to women, and because radio stations were dominated by men, they had to get creative. They sent copies of the song to the program director's wives, then put Janis on every daytime TV show they could. It was six months of exhausting, grassroots promotion, which paid off when they got a spot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. This pushed the song over the top and it became a hit.

This was nominated for five Grammy Awards, the most any female artist had ever been nominated for at the time. It won for Best Female Pop Vocal.

Ian performed this song on the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975.

For the first six months that Janis Ian performed the song she closed her eyes as she sang it. She feared the audience would laugh at her because of the personal nature of the lyrics.


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