Monday, December 25, 2006
This Day in Music History: Melanie and Brand New Key
Typecasting is a bittersweet thing and it happens in all parts of show business. For Melanie Safka when her song Brand New Key became a source of her greatest pride and her biggest headache when on this date in music history on December 25th 1971 it was the #1 song on the Billboard charts and stayed there for 3 weeks. She began her musical career when she started performing at New Jersey nightclubs and Greenwich Village coffee shops. She also studied acting at the Academy of Fine Arts in New York. Rumor has it that it was while she was trying to find an audition that she was misdirected to the office of Buddah Records. Label President Neil Bogart took one look at the teenager carrying her guitar and decided to introducer her to Peter Schekeryk. He became her producer and later her husband.
Her folk singing career didn’t really take off till she preformed at Woodstock in 1969. One night she saw the crowd light hundreds of candles. As they glowed in the darkness she became inspired and later wrote the song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” It became a hit on the Billboard charts in 1970 when she recorded it with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. After two more records for Buddah Melanie and Peter decided to leave Buddah and start their own label. They named it Neighborhood Records.
When Melanie wrote “Brand New Key” it was not meant for release. She only meant it for an up-tempo interlude between her folk songs that told about the troubles in society.
Still she made it the first song she recorded and released for her new label. Most radio stations understood the song was a 30’s-sounding song of nostalgia of a girl with a brand new pair of roller skates. Some read sexual references into it and banned it from their airwaves.
This didn’t stop her image from being seen as a sweet innocent girl who loved her childhood. While that is not a bad image to have it can become a bit tiresome for a serious artist who wants to make mature songs. Because of this “Brand New Key” was her last hit song. She quit performing and decided to raise their children in their Jersey home. Still in 1975 she came out of retirement and recorded her more adult songs for Atlantic Records and later for Midsong International and Tomato Records. During her time off the times had changed and she had trouble getting back her fans who left their innocent age behind them.