26 August 2014


"At Seventeen" by Janis Ian (1974)

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
'Cause 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

So 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


  1. I had forgotten this song. I don't know why as we used to play it a lot on Juke Boxes. Hey Jude and later Bat Out of Hell. On the face of it they have nothing in common but they all represent excellent value for your 10p.

    1. And I had forgotten it too but for some reason it came back to me as I was brushing my teeth last night and when I re-visited the lyrics, I thought they were quite special and human.

  2. Never heard this song before, but I can very well relate to the "ugly duckling" feeling. At the age of 17, I was still very much a complex-ridden bundle of insecurities, self-conscious of my teeth, my specs, my underdeveloped breasts, etc. etc. I did have good skin, though!
    It took me a long time - until I was nearly 32 - before I finally believed it when someone said to me that I was beautiful.
    But I still had lots of fun in the years before 32, just not in the "homecoming queen" way.

    1. I am pleased that introducing you to this song rang some bells in your head Meike - feelings from the past which helped you to identify with it. Oh and having seen some of your selfies I would agree with the verdict you received at 32.

  3. It is so sad that what is considered beautiful by the world and what is considered not beautiful by the world is still so important TO the world. Except, now I think the conception by young girls that they are "less" comes at a much younger age than when Janis and I were young.

    1. There's so much pressure on girls to look the part that has been outlined for them by magazines and pop idols. It cannot be easy coming to terms with the realisation that you will never be like them, that you are a different person. You are right Mama T, the pressure comes much earlier than it used to. You are not allowed to be a little girl for very long these days.

  4. I have always hated this song..it's more depressing than finding a moulds scotch egg in the back if the fridge

    1. Okay John message received I'll post Mr Blobby's Christmas song specially for you some time.

  5. Thank you Yorkshire, been a while since I have seen all the lyrics. It does remind one of a certain time...

    1. Hard t think that song is forty years old.

  6. Reading the words of this song ( yes I know it ,have just never really read the words all the way through ) made me very grateful that , in Australia, we didn't "do" Valentine's Day or have Cheer Leaders or Proms and we all wore school uniforms to school right up till we left high school. The fact that I attended a girls only school removed a lot of that angst and allowed us to concentrate on other things !

    1. Did you wear white knee socks Helen? I have always liked white knee socks! But you are right, it was nice when childhood could be enjoyed without having to feel like a mini-adult.I wonder what you concentrated on in your girls only school - trigonometry?

  7. Wow! Is it that long ago since that song was released. I wasn't 17 then, either! ;)

    1. I turned 30 in the November of '74, Yorky....on the 11th day of the 11th month!

      See...you thought I wouldn't admit to it, didn't you? :)

      A Scorpio tells it as it is! ;)

  8. Replies
    1. When a song can touch us in this way I think it makes us feel less alone - closer to the rest of humanity.

  9. Love this song, especially as it brings back great memories - of buying this album! I made the most of my "university open day visits" at 17 to check out each town's record shops - buying this album in London, soon after deciding a London university wouldn't be for me.


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