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


Lyrics submitted by starla33

"At Seventeen" as written by Janis Ian

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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At Seventeen song meanings
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32 Comments

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  • +7
    General CommentI could seriously relate to this song....when I was 17 I felt the same way, being surrounded with all my gorgeous friends who all went on dates and were the type of beautiful all guys went for now. I was super awkward.

    But it's true...just remaining true to yourself does pay off. I'm now 21 years old, and these are things you don't longer care about...So for those girls that feel like ugly ducklings now, don't worry--it will all pass once you move on to college. When you're older and more accepting of all types of beauty.

    I love this song....Janis is amazing.
    spunkychickon October 22, 2010   Link
  • +4
    General CommentHah, yeah, I first heard it on the Simpsons long ago. But as someone above said it, a lot of girls can relate to it. Especially ones who aren't part of the "in-crowd" (like myself, though I wouldn't want to be a part of it anyway).

    I definitely relate to this song..
    TheSOADGirlon October 05, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis is a great song with so much truth to it. I disagree, however, that everything gets better after high school. We live in a superficial society that extends well beyond it.
    nonnenjaon September 02, 2014   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIm 42 and a fan of music, and in particular -great lyrics. I just heard this song again and totally forgot the shear genius of the poetic words of an outcast...absolutely timeless...

    damn......
    discmannnnnon August 25, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis is a song guys and girls can relate.of course just pretend the beauty queens are those jocks and such.
    edwardthomas34on December 09, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentJanis truly touches the heart with many of her songs. I saw her in concert in Ottawa roughly around 1973 while she was promoting her Between The Lines album. And, yeah, guys can relate to this song - At Seventeen - as well. If you weren't a jock, you weren't getting invited to the parties, or meeting the girls.

    I would be interested in others' opinions of some of her other melodic songs from that album, like Watercolors, Tea & Sympathy, Light A Light and In The Winter.

    Also, for those who are unfamiliar with Janis' song Society's Child; she was only about 14 or 15 years old when she recorded it. The song was banned from many American radio stations due to perceived racial complications and inappropriateness of the time.
    LondonMusicLoveron March 28, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis is not a difficult song to interpret. I was this girl. 'A brown eyed girl in hand me downs whose name I never could prounce'. I was poor, not very popular, extremely shy. But unlike Janis who says she was short with curly brown hair, while other girls were tall with long blonde hair, I was way too tall for my age and towered over boys. I had an Eastern European maiden name that no one could say correctly. This was well written. I love her voice and the lyrics. The first time I heard it, I cried, because it was too close to home.
    lacie543on December 04, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think this verse is the hardest to interpret...

    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

    In my opinion, this doesn't refer to the beauty queen later in life regretting the choices she made during high school. It's more of an instant karma. She flirts and gets the handsome football star, intending to ride off into the sunset with him and live happily every after. But Prince charming doesn't want to love her, he wants to have sex with her. The relationship is shallow, lacking quality and of dubious integrity. She's taken aback when she realizes that she's putting out (payments due) but not receiving the love she sought (accounts received). This realization occurs not in the far off future - but at seventeen. Hence the last two words.
    palgupon January 26, 2018   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI love this song and wish this topic would come up in society - it rarely if ever does. As a late-blooming glasses-wearing guy faced with abuse at home and bullying at school I didn't get around to asking a girl out until the spring of my senior year...and she politely declined. The lost lessons of high school turned into fumbles and fear of rejection in college and I didn't have a girlfriend until 23.

    Then, for 20 years, I considered myself "over" this earlier pain. But in midlife, it came back. With everything settled - and settling down - in life, you cast your gaze fondly to the past. I found myself bankrupt...my peers, the "jocks" and early bloomers who aged quickly and not nearly as well as me, could still draw on all the good and bad capers of their past. I have nothing.

    I'll sit up late at night after the family is at bed, listen to this song, and ponder if that girl in high school had said "yes" 3 decades ago.
    talkaboutsongson April 29, 2018   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwhat girl doesn't relate?
    catherinekson June 18, 2002   Link

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