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Janis Ian

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Janis Ian (born Janis Eddy Fink, April 7, 1951) is a Jewish American songwriter, singer, multi-instrumental musician, columnist, and science fiction fan-turned-author.[1] She had a highly successful singing career in the 1960s and 1970s, and has continued recording into the 21st century. In 1975, Ian won a Grammy Award for her song, "At Seventeen".



Born to a Jewish family in New York City,[2] she was primarily raised in New Jersey, initially on a farm, and attended East Orange High School[3] and the New York City High School of Music & Art. Her parents, Victor (a music teacher) and Pearl, ran a summer camp in upstate New York, and, in that Cold War era, were frequently under government surveillance because of their left-wing politics. (Ian would allude to these years later in her song "God and the FBI"). Young Janis admired the work of folk pioneers such as Joan Baez and Odetta. At the age of twelve, Ian wrote her first song, "Hair of Spun Gold," which was subsequently published in the folk publication Broadside and was later recorded for her debut album. At age thirteen, she legally changed her name to Janis Ian, her new last name being her brother Eric's middle name.[2]

Music career

At the age of thirteen, Ian wrote and sang her first hit single, "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)," about an interracial romance forbidden by a girl's mother and frowned upon by her peers and teachers: the girl ultimately decides to end the relationship, claiming the societal norms of the day have left her no other choice. Produced by George "Shadow" Morton and released three times between 1965 and 1967, "Society's Child" finally became a national hit on its third release, after Leonard Bernstein featured it in a TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution.[2] The song's lyrical content was taboo for some radio stations, and they withdrew or banned it from their playlists accordingly; in her 2008 autobiography Society's Child, Ian recalls receiving hate mail and death threats as a response to the song, and mentions that a radio station in Atlanta that played it was burned down. In the summer of 1967, "Society's Child" reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Apparently "Society's Child" was too hot for Atlantic Records as well at the time. Ian relates on her website that, although the song was originally intended for Atlantic and the label paid for her recording session, the label subsequently returned the master to her and quietly refused to release it. Years later, Ian says, Atlantic's president at the time, Jerry Wexler, publicly apologized to her for this. The single and Ian's 1967 eponymous debut album were finally released on Verve Forecast, her album was also a hit, reaching #12. In 2001, "Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honors recordings considered timeless and important to music history.

Her early music was compiled on a double CD entitled Society's Child: The Verve Recordings in 1995. Many of these songs are extremely sad; a common theme is feeling badly treated by one's parents.

Her most successful single in the United States was "At Seventeen," released in 1975, a bittersweet commentary on adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity, and teenage angst, as reflected upon from the maturity of adulthood. "At Seventeen" was a smash, receiving tremendous acclaim from critics and record buyers alike — it charted at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It won the 1975 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance - Female beating out Linda Ronstadt, who was nominated for her Heart Like a Wheel album; Olivia Newton-John; and Helen Reddy. Ian performed "At Seventeen" as a musical guest on the debut of Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975. The song's album, Between the Lines, was also a smash and hit #1 on Billboard's Album chart. It was quickly certified Gold and later earned a 'Platinum' certification for sales of over one million copies sold in the US. Another measure of her success is anecdotal: on Valentine's Day 1977, Ian received 461 Valentine cards, having indicated in the lyrics to "At Seventeen" that she never received any as a teenager.[4]

"Fly Too High" (1979), produced by disco producer Giorgio Moroder, was her contribution to the soundtrack of the Jodie Foster film Foxes, also featured on Ian's 1979 album Night Rains. It earned her a Grammy nomination and became a hit single in many countries, including South Africa, Belgium. Australia, Israel, and the Netherlands.

Another country where Ian has achieved a high level of popularity is Japan. She had two top 10 singles on the Japanese Oricon charts, "Love Is Blind" in 1976, and "You Are Love" in 1980; and her album Aftertones topped Oricon's album chart in October 1976. "You Are Love (Toujours Gai Mon Cher)" is the theme song of Kinji Fukasaku's 1980 movie Virus, which was the most expensive Japanese film ever made at the time. Ian has cut several other singles specifically for the Japanese market, including 1998's "The Last Great Place." Even now, she's still regarded as the Godmother of Japanese singer-songwriters, and has a thriving career there and in Europe.

By contrast, in the U.S., Ian made the pop charts only once more after "At Seventeen" ("Under the Covers," #71 in 1981), though she had several more songs reach the Adult Contemporary singles chart through 1980 (all failing to make the Top 20, however). She walked away from her CBS contract in 1982, while it still had three albums to go. Ian deliberately spent much of the 1980s and early 1990s without a record deal. During the 1982–1992 period she continued to write songs, which were covered by the likes of Amy Grant and Bette Midler. She also studied under acting coach Stella Adler and struck up a close friendship with her, which continued until the latter's death in 1992.

Ian finally became one of the first "indie artists," resurfacing in 1993, with the worldwide release of Breaking Silence and its title song about incest.[5] She also came out as a lesbian with that release. She also, in 1993, made her' Howard Stern Show appearance, where she performed a "new" version of "At Seventeen" about Jerry Seinfeld. Ian has released five albums since (including one live album, 2003's Working Without A Net).

Ian's most recent album, Folk Is The New Black, was released jointly by the Rude Girl and Cooking Vinyl labels in 2006. It is the first in over twenty years where she did all the songwriting herself.[6]

She still tours and has a devoted fan base. Her autobiography, "Society's Child," was released by Penguin in mid-2008 to critical acclaim.

Other artists have recorded Ian's compositions, most notably Roberta Flack , who had a hit in 1973 with Ian's song "Jesse"[5], also recorded by Joan Baez and Dottie West. Ian's own version is featured on her 1974 album Stars (the title song of which has also been oft-covered, including versions by Cher, Nina Simone and Barbara Cook). Other artists who have recorded or performed songs written or co-written by Janis Ian include Amy Grant,Sheena Easton, Mel Torme, Michelle Wright, Bette Midler ("Some People's Lives," a song written by Ian and her then-partner Kye Fleming, became the title song of her 1990 album), Jann Arden, and Japanese singer Shiina Ringo (covered Ian's breakthrough Japanese hit, "Love Is Blind").

Criticism of the RIAA

Ian is an outspoken critic of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)[7], a record industry organization which she sees as acting against the interests of musicians and consumers. As such, she has willingly released several of her songs for free download from her website.[8] She was not only one of the first artists to do this but also was one of the first, along with author Eric Flint, to show conclusive evidence that free downloads dramatically increased hard-copy sales, contrary to the claims of RIAA and NARAS.[9]. Ian's signature tune "At Seventeen" sold over two million singles in the United States alone yet was never certified.

"I've been surprised at how few people are willing to get annoyed with me over it," she laughs. "There was a little backlash here and there. I was scheduled to appear on a panel somewhere and somebody from a record company said if I was there they would boycott it. But that's been pretty much it. In general the entire reaction has been favorable. I hear from a lot of people in my industry who don't want to be quoted, but say 'yeah, we're aware of this and we'd like to see a change too.'"[10]

Writing and editing

In addition to being an award-winning singer-songwriter, Ian writes science fiction. A long-time reader of the genre, she got into science fiction fandom in 2001, attending the Millennium Philcon. [11] Her works have been published in an assortment of anthologies, and she co-edited, with Mike Resnick, the anthology Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian, published in 2003 (ISBN 978-0756401771). When her schedule permits, she occasionally attends science fiction conventions.[12]

Ian has been a regular columnist for, and still contributes to the LGBT news magazine, The Advocate.[13] She has a selection of her columns available on her website.[14] She also contributed a column to Performing Songwriter magazine from 1995 through 2003.[15]

On July 24, 2008, Janis Ian released her Autobiography: Society's Child (published by Penguin Tarcher) to much critical acclaim. An accompanying double CD The Autobiography Collection has also been released with all Ian's best loved songs.

Personal life

Ian married Portuguese filmmaker Tino Sargo in 1978; they divorced in 1983. Details of Sargo's alleged physical and emotional abuse were discussed in Ian's autobiography, Society's Child.



  • Janis Ian (1966) #29 US (Verve)
  • For All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967) #179 US (Verve)
  • The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink (1968) (Verve)
  • Who Really Cares (1969) (Verve)
  • Present Company (1971) (Capitol)
  • Stars (1974) #83 US, #63 (Columbia)
  • Between the Lines (Columbia)|Between the Lines (1975) #1 US, #22 Japan (Festival)
  • Aftertones (1976) #12 US, #1 Japan (Columbia)
  • Miracle Row (1977) #45 US, #26 Japan (Columbia)
  • Janis Ian (1978) (1978) (Columbia)
  • Night Rains (1979) (Columbia)
  • Restless Eyes (1981) #156 US (Columbia)
  • Uncle Wonderful (1983) (Festival) (Australia only)
  • Breaking Silence (1993) (Morgan Creek)
  • Simon Renshaw Presents: Janis Ian Shares Your Pain (1995)( not released )
  • Revenge (1995) (Beacon)
  • Hunger (1997) (Windham Hill)
  • god & the fbi (2000) (Windham Hill)
  • god & the fbi (3 Bonus Tracks) (2000) (JVC Japan)
  • Lost Cuts 1 (2001) (Rude Girl)
  • Billie's Bones (2004) (Oh Boy, Rude Girl Cooking Vinyl US)
  • Breaking Silence (Bonus Track) (2003) (Rude Girl, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Hunger (Bonus Track) (2003) (Festival, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Stars (Bonus Track) (2004) (Festival, Cooking Vinyl)
  • Between the Lines (Bonus Track) (2004) (Festiva, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Aftertones (Bonus Track) (2004) (Festival, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Miracle Row (Bonus Track) (2004) (Festival, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Janis Ian (1978) (Bonus Track) (2004) (Festival, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Night Rains (Bonus Track) (2004) (Festival, Cooking Vinyl UK)
  • Billie's Bones (Bonus Track) (2004) (JVC Japan)
  • Folk is the New Black (2006) (Rude Girl)
  • Folk is the New Black (With DVD) (2006) (Evasound)
  • Revenge (Bonus Track) (2006)(Cooking Vinyl UK 2003) (WEA)

Compilation albums

  • Remember (1978) (JVC Japan)
  • The Best of Janis Ian (1980) (CBS)
  • My Favourites (1980) (CBS)
  • Stars/Night Rains (Double Album) (1987) (CBS)
  • At Seventeen (1990) (CBS)
  • Up 'Til Now (1992) (Sony)
  • Society's Child: The Verve Recordings (1995) (Polydor)
  • Live on the Test 1976 (1995) (BBC World Wide)
  • Unreleased 1: Mary's Eyes (1998) (Rude Girl)
  • The Bottom Line Encore Collection (1999) (Velvet)
  • The Best of Janis Ian (2002) (Festival)
  • Live: Working Without a Net (2003) (Rude Girl)
  • Souvenirs: Best of 1972-1981 (US CD) (2004) (Rude Girl)
  • Souvenirs: Best of 1972-1981 (Japan CD) (2004) (JVC Japan)
  • Souvenirs: Best of 1972-1981 (CD/DVD) (2006) (Evasound)
  • Unreleased 2: Take No Prisoners (2006) (Rude Girl)
  • Unreleased 3: Society's Child (2006) (Rude Girl)
  • Ultimate Best (2007) (JVC Victory)
  • Best of Janis Ian: Autobiography Collection (2008) (Rude Girl)
  • The Essential Janis Ian (2009)

Various artists


Year Title U.S. U.S. U.S. A/C UK JAP
1967 "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)" 14 13
"Insanity Comes Quietly to the Structured Mind" 109
1974 "The Man You Are in Me" 104 33
1975 "When the Party's Over" 20
"At Seventeen" 3 1 1
"In the Winter" 97 21
1976 "Boy I Really Tied One On" 43
"I Would Like to Dance" 28
"Roses" 37
"Love Is Blind" 3
"Between the Lines" 90
1977 "Will You Dance?" 40
1978 "That Grand Illusion" 43
1979 "Fly Too High" 44
1980 "You Are Love" 10
"The Other Side of the Sun" 47 44
1981 "Under the Covers" 71


  • Live at Club Cafe (2005) (Rude Girl)
  • Janismania (2005) (Rude Girl)
  • Through the Years: A Retrospective (2007) (Rude Girl)
  • Janis Ian '79: Live in Japan & Australia (2008) (Rude Girl)



  1. "Janis Ian: A Life in Song" (PDF). Janis Ian Website. 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Ankeny, Jason (2003). Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; and Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. ed. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0879307366. 
  3. Nash, Margo. "JERSEY FOOTLIGHTS", The New York Times, March 16, 2003. Accessed December 19, 2007. "Yet when Janis Ian went to East Orange High School, she was kicked out of the chorus."
  4. Rees, Dafydd; Luke Crampton (1996). Encyclopedia of Rock Stars. Dk Pub. ISBN 0789412632. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "At 42: Lesbian Legend Janis Ian Comes Out", interview with Owen Keehnen March 24, 2005
  6. "Trying The Patience Of: Janis Ian", interview with David Bertrand Wilson
  7. Ian, Janis (May 2002). "The Internet Debacle — An Alternative View". Performing Songwriter Magazine. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  8. Free Music Downloads on Janis Ian's official website
  9. Prime Palaver #11 — letter by Janis Ian to Baen librarian, Eric Flint, September 16, 2002
  10. Vanderhorst, Jan (October 2002). "Janis Ian: Doing It From The Heart". Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  11. Prose and Stories by Janis Ian
  12. Janis at Worldcon 2001
  13. "Revenge is sweet for Janis Ian" by Jeff Walsh, March 1, 1996
  14. Articles from The Advocate
  15. Articles from Performing Songwriter

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Janis Ian. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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