Jesse

Album: Stars (1973)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • After scoring a hit in 1966 with her first single, "Society's Child," and her self-titled debut album, Janis released three more albums on the Verve label that didn't catch on. Her fifth album, Present Company, was released on Capitol records in 1971, and also failed to find an audience. She took some time off from recording and returned on Columbia records in 1974 with Stars, which didn't contain any hits but set the stage for her comeback single, "At Seventeen," a year later. The title track to Stars was later covered by both Mel Tormé and Cher; "Jesse" was recorded by Roberta Flack, whose version went to #30 in the US 1973, giving Janis her first songwriting hit since "Society's Child." Thanks in part to Flack's cover, the song became a concert favorite for Ian, and one she plays at most of her shows.
  • "I was 14 or 15 when I started that song," Ian told Songfacts. "Originally Jesse was going to be about a Vietnam War vet coming home. But then that was limiting."

    While the song could apply to a Vietnam veteran, Ian wrote it to have a more universal meaning, as the song could relate to anyone wondering when - or if - a loved one will return home. This is typical of her songwriting, as she likes to tell stories that listeners can extrapolate with personal experience. "At Seventeen," for instance, was inspired by her adolescence, but written for anyone who has felt out of place.
  • Janis knows her way around the songwriting business, and will sometimes make the names in her songs gender-neutral so that either a man or woman could record them, giving the song twice the chance of getting cut. Janis had a clear gender in mind for this song, however, telling us: "Jesse was always male. Jesse with an 'e' has traditionally been male. It's the 'ie' Jessies that are female."

    Other Jesse's to chart in America were by Carly Simon (#11, 1980) and Julian Lennon (#54, 1985). "Jessie" was a hit for Joshua Kadison (#26, 1994), and Rick Springfield went to #1 with "Jessie's Girl" in 1981.

Comments: 1

  • John V V from Arkansas City, KsWas that whistling or a thermin in "Jesse"?
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Judas Priest

Judas PriestSongwriter Interviews

Rob Halford, Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton talk twin guitar harmonies and explain how they create songs in Judas Priest.

Butch Vig

Butch VigSongwriter Interviews

The Garbage drummer/songwriter produced the Nirvana album Nevermind, and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Siamese Dream.

Vince Clarke

Vince ClarkeSongwriter Interviews

An original member of Depeche Mode, Vince went on to form Erasure and Yaz.

Bill Withers

Bill WithersSongwriter Interviews

Soul music legend Bill Withers on how life experience and the company you keep leads to classic songs like "Lean On Me."

Kim Thayil of Soundgarden

Kim Thayil of SoundgardenSongwriter Interviews

Their frontman (Chris Cornell) started out as their drummer, so Soundgarden takes a linear approach when it comes to songwriting. Kim explains how they do it.

Mike Love of The Beach Boys

Mike Love of The Beach BoysSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist of The Beach Boys talks about coming up with the words for "Good Vibrations," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Kokomo" and other classic songs.