Janis Ian – The Secret Life Of J. Eddy Fink (1968)

FrontCover1A singer/songwriter both celebrated and decried for her pointed handling of taboo topics, Janis Ian enjoyed one of the more remarkable second acts in music history. After first finding success as a teen, her career slumped, only to enter a commercial resurgence almost a decade later. Janis Eddy Fink was born on May 7, 1951, in New York City. The child of a music teacher, she studied piano as a child and, drawing influence from Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Odetta, wrote her first songs at the age of 12. She soon entered Manhattan’s High School of Music and Art, where she began performing at school functions. After adopting the surname Ian (her brother’s middle name), she quickly graduated to the New York folk circuit. When she was just 15, she recorded her self-titled debut; the LP contained “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” a meditation on interracial romance written by Ian while waiting to meet with her school guidance counselor. While banned by a few radio stations, the single failed to attract much notice until conductor Leonard Bernstein invited its writer to perform the song on his television special Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. The ensuing publicity and furor over its subject matter pushed “Society’s Child” into the upper rungs of the pop charts, and made Ian an overnight sensation. Success did not agree with her, however, and she soon dropped out of high school. In rapid succession, Ian recorded three more LPs — 1967’s For All the Seasons of Your Mind, 1968’s The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink, and 1969’s Who Really Cares — but gave away the money she earned to friends and charities.

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After meeting photojournalist Peter Cunningham at a peace rally, the couple married, and at age 20, she announced her retirement from the music business. The marriage failed, however, and she returned in 1971 with the poorly received Present Company. After moving to California to hone her writing skills in seclusion, Ian resurfaced three years later with Stars, which featured the song “Jesse,” later a Top 30 hit for Roberta Flack. With 1975’s Between the Lines, Ian eclipsed all of her previous success; not only did the LP achieve platinum status, but the delicate single “At Seventeen” reached the Top Three and won a Grammy. While subsequent releases like 1977’s Latin-influenced Miracle Row, 1979’s Night Rains, and 1981’s Restless Eyes earned acclaim, they sold poorly. Ian was dropped by her label and spent 12 years without a contract before emerging in 1993 with Breaking Silence (the title a reference to her recent admission of homosexuality), which pulled no punches in tackling material like domestic violence, frank eroticism, and the Holocaust. Similarly, 1995’s Revenge explored prostitution and homelessness. Two years later Ian returned with Hunger; God & the FBI followed in the spring of 2000. A live set, Working Without a Net, appeared from Rude Girl Records in 2003, and a DVD, Live at Club Cafe, saw release in 2005. Folk Is the New Black appeared as a joint release from Rude Girl and Cooking Vinyl in 2006. (by Jason Ankeny)

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Janis Fink is Ian’s real name, and her concerns moved more toward the personal on her third album. “42nd St. Psycho Blues” was her unhappy commentary on what having a pop music career had been like, while “When I Was a Child” found her reminiscing regretfully about what had happened to her. Other songs waxed poetic, and producer Shadow Morton kept recreating the folk-rock sound of “Society’s Child,” but nothing here caught fire, and this album failed to chart, seeming to confirm that Ian would be a one-hit wonder, over the hill at 17. With a few years to think about it, of course, she’d have some trenchant things to say about that age. (by William Ruhlmann)

JanisIan03“The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink” is an 11 track collection of “challenging” folk rock songs by the great Janis Ian. This album is now 44 years old. In 1968 Janis Ian was only 17, and this album was her third release. The album barely registered with the American record buying public. Some people called the album “pretentious”, a word that really doesn’t fit in with the character of Janis Ian. Her songs are intense, passionate, intelligent, and powerful, and often concentrate on serious social and personal themes. There are few songwriters who can write about these topics, while backing her often serious lyrics with beautiful, wistful melodies.

Janis’ songs were never overly commercial, and perhaps this aspect of her songwriting has halted the success she has always deserved, but never really achieved. Like so many great songwriters who have many great songs to their credit, Janis Ian is unfortunately best remembered for her two songs, “Society’s Child”, and “At Seventeen”.

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Yet, this great New York songstress, has released many great albums, some of them classics, but not recognized as such. She has never fully received the recognition she deserves for her utterly brilliant songs, and marvellous guitar technique. The late, great Chet Atkins once called Janis “a genius”, not just for her guitar talents, but also her songwriting ability. Janis Ian remains one of today’s great singer/songwriters. From her teenage days she has remained faithful to her uncompromising songs, and has never sold out to commerciality. (overdoseoffingalcocoa.blogspot.com)

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Personnel:
Vinent Bell (guitar)
Richie Havens (conga drums)
Carol Hunter (guitar, bass)
Janis Ian (guitar, keyboards, vocals)
Joe Price (bongo drums)
Buddy Saltzman (trap drums)

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Tracklist:
01. Everybody Knows 2.49
02. Mistaken Identity 7.11
03. Friends Again 1.45
04. 42nd Street Psycho Blues 3.53
05. She’s Made Of Porcelain 2.33
06. Sweet Misery 3.31
07. When I Was A Child 3.47
08. What Do You Think of the Dead? 3.21
09. Look To The Rain 5.11
10. Son Of Love 3.08
11. Baby’s Blue 5.12

All songs written by Janis Ian

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Still alive and well … her website in 2020:
Website

1 thought on “Janis Ian – The Secret Life Of J. Eddy Fink (1968)

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