At Seventeen

by Emma Langford

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about

At Seventeen was released in 1975 by American singer-songwriter Janis Ian. The song featured on her seventh studio album, Between the Lines. Ian wrote the song about feelings of alienation when growing up - it centred on her experiences of adolescence between the ages of 12-14.

The song emerged from reading a New York Times article about a debutante; the opening line was 'I learned the truth at 18.', but "seventeen" scanned better lyrically.

I was invited to record two tracks for Sunday With Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1, and At Seventeen was one of those two. The initial radio mix was created by Ben Wanders and captured the atmosphere of a live in-studio performance; this single mix was produced by my long-term collaborators Chris O'Brien and Graham Murphy.

I would like to thank Janis Ian for her permission and blessing in releasing this cover of her beautiful song.

lyrics

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

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

credits

released February 5, 2021
Lyrics & Melody: Janis Ian

Vocal & Rhythm Guitar: Emma Langford

Additional Guitar & Vibes: Graham Murphy
Bass: Ann Blake
Drums: Ben Wanders
Violin: Lucia MacPartlin

Mixed by Chris O'Brien and Graham Murphy
Programmed by Chris O'Brien

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Emma Langford Limerick, Ireland

Emma Langford is a singer-songwriter from Limerick, Ireland, known for wry and reflective lyrics and performances.

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