Musically, ‘Society’s Child’ has the hallmarks of both the girl group sound of bands like the Shirelles and Ronettes, and the politically conscious folk of artists such as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Influences aside, it was the quality of the storytelling within the song marked Janis out as someone special.
The song has retained its potency and shock value over the years, mainly I suspect because it’s describing racism at a micro level but also because it describes both open hostility and prejudice, and the more subtle variety. It breaks your heart, listening to it, and it should do.
For years afterwards, until ‘At Seventeen’, her biggest hit, was released, she was written off as something of a one hit wonder when really ‘Society’s Child’ was simply the overture for a long career of excellent songwriting. She should be better remembered and celebrated, as should ‘Society’s Child’, because it may be about an ugly subject but it’s far from being an ugly song.