At Seventeen

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"At Seventeen"
Single by Janis Ian
from the album Between the Lines
A-sideAt Seventeen
B-side"Stars"
ReleasedAugust 1975[1]
FormatVinyl
Recorded1974
GenreSoft rock, acoustic, adult contemporary
Length4:41 (album) / 3:59 (single)
LabelColumbia Records
Writer(s)Janis Ian
 
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"At Seventeen"
Single by Janis Ian
from the album Between the Lines
A-sideAt Seventeen
B-side"Stars"
ReleasedAugust 1975[1]
FormatVinyl
Recorded1974
GenreSoft rock, acoustic, adult contemporary
Length4:41 (album) / 3:59 (single)
LabelColumbia Records
Writer(s)Janis Ian

"At Seventeen" is a song by Janis Ian, released in 1975 on Between the Lines (her seventh studio album) and as a single. Ian's most successful recording, the song is a commentary on adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity, and teenage angst, as reflected upon from the maturity of adulthood. It is told from the point of view of a woman who was an "ugly duckling" as a girl and ignored in high school while the popular girls got all of the attention.

Background[edit]

Janis Ian, then 22, wrote "At Seventeen" in 1973 at her mother's house over the course of three months.[2] In her autobiography Society's Child, Ian says that the song was inspired by a newspaper article about a former teenage debutante who learned the hard way that being popular did not solve all her problems. The article included the quote, "I learned the truth at eighteen"; Ian found that the word "seventeen" worked better than "eighteen" when she tried to put this lyric with the Bossa Nova-style melody she had been composing on guitar. She also says she initially did not want to record or perform the song because she felt it was far too personal to share, but eventually changed her mind after adding the song's final verse ("To those of us who knew the pain/Of Valentines that never came...").

Promoting the song was challenging, as it was longer than most radio hits and packed with lyrics. Along with the promotions team at her record company, Ian decided that their best chance to market the song was to promote it to women, which was no easy task when so many radio stations were controlled by men. Ian did a grueling series of daytime talk shows for six months before she was granted an appearance on The Tonight Show where she performed the song and it took off.

"At Seventeen," released as the second single from Between the Lines, became Ian's first national hit single since her first hit Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking) in 1967. The single version omitted the longer instrumental verse and chorus because it was considered too long and it was feared that the radio stations would refuse to play it. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and at #3 on the Pop Singles chart in September 1975.[3][4] It also won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1976, beating out the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, and Helen Reddy[5] and was nominated for "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year".

Ian performed "At Seventeen" as a musical guest on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live in October 1975.[6][7]

The song's parent album, Between the Lines, also hit #1 and earned a platinum certification for sales of one million copies. 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.[8]

In films and television programs[edit]

"At Seventeen" is featured in the movie Scotland, Pa. (2001) and can also be heard playing in the background in one scene in the 2004 movie Mean Girls. The movie, which features a character named "Janis Ian", addresses the topic of teenage cruelty and alienation. "At Seventeen" is also mentioned in Jeffrey Eugenides's 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides, where the song is used by four girls imprisoned in their own home and essentially cut off from normal adolescent experiences to communicate with the narrator and his friends. The song is featured in The Simpsons episodes "A Streetcar Named Marge", "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)", and "Chief of Hearts". In the 30 Rock episode "The Break-Up," Tina Fey's character sings "At Seventeen" at a karaoke club.

Covers[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Live performances[edit]

Parody[edit]

Ian appeared on The Howard Stern Radio Show in 1993 and performed the song albeit with different lyrics to poke fun at the May–December romance of Jerry Seinfeld and Shoshanna Lonstein.

Influences[edit]

At17, a Hong Kong music group, is named after the song. The girl-duo also covered the song in Cantonese in their 1st album "Meow Meow Meow" in 2002.

Chart history[edit]

Chart (1975)Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 1003
U.S. Cash Box Pop Singles Chart1
U.S. A/C chart1

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2004). The Great Rock Discography. Canongate Books. p. 722. ISBN 1-84195-615-5. 
  2. ^ Pat, Browne (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 424. ISBN 0-87972-821-3. 
  3. ^ "Between the Lines > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  4. ^ "At Seventeen". Super Seventies RockSite!. 
  5. ^ Eskow, Gary (June 1, 2005). "Janis Ian's "At Seventeen"". Mix. Archived from the original on 5 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  6. ^ "Saturday Night Live Episode Guide". TV.com. 
  7. ^ Benarde, Scott R. (2003). Stars of David: Rock'n'roll's Jewish Stories. University Press of New England. p. 138. ISBN 1-58465-303-5. 
  8. ^ Rees, Dafydd; Luke Crampton (1996). Encyclopedia of Rock Stars. DK Publishing. ISBN 0-7894-1263-2. 
  9. ^ "Aoife website". 
  10. ^ http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2013/11/04/album-review-celine-dion-loved-back-life/87LH106Iii2PKV2Jf4bs4K/story.html
  11. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/loved-me-back-to-life-mw0002580809
  12. ^ http://www.slantmagazine.com/music/review/celine-dion-loved-me-back-to-life
  13. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/nov/14/celine-dion-loved-back-life-review

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell
Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single by Janis Ian
August 9, 1975 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" by James Taylor
Preceded by
"I Honestly Love You" (Olivia Newton-John, 1975)
Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
1976
Succeeded by
"Hasten Down the Wind" (Linda Rondstadt, 1977)