Melanie, the singer-songwriter who rose to fame on the New York folk scene, performed at Woodstock and scored a string of 1970s hits including the enduring cultural phenomenon “Brand New Key,” has died.
Melanie died Tuesday, her publicist Billy James told the Associated Press. She was 76 years old and lived in central Tennessee. The reason was not immediately revealed.
“Our world is so much dimmer, the colors of dreary, rainy Tennessee have faded from his absence,” his children Leilah, Jeordie and Beau Jarred said in a post on his Facebook page announcing his death.
Melanie wrote and sang hits such as “Look What They Done to My Song Ma” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” with a voice that could shift from a high-pitched, shy voice to a deep, soulful growl.
She was best known for the song “Brand New Key,” from her 1971 album “Gather Me,” about a girl who bikes and skates past the house of a boy she misses. It hit #1 in the US and many other countries.
With echoes of popular songs from the 20s and 30s, it combines the simplicity of youth with the sophistication of winking adults in its chorus:
“Well, I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates and you’ve got a brand new pair of keys, I guess we should get together and try them out and see.”
In later interviews, he would say that he did not necessarily intend sexual innuendos in the song, but those who heard it were not necessarily wrong.
“I probably have an interesting way of writing, and I think I’ve been misunderstood,” he told the Tennessean newspaper in 2014. “I had this smiling, angelic thing about me, and I think that worked against me. The girls with the appropriate guitars were anxious and angular.”
The song has been revived many times in the decades since. She had a prominent role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 film “Boogie Nights” and was lip-synced by Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” in 2016.
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Born in Queens, New York, the daughter of a jazz singer, Melanie Safka studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and performed in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village and other folk centers of New York.
He released his self-titled debut album in 1969 and had hit songs in Europe with “Bobo’s Party” and “Beautiful People”.
That summer, she was one of three female solo artists, along with Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, to perform at the generation-defining Woodstock Music and Art Fair in upstate New York.
The candles held by the crowd during his opening night set at the festival inspired his first US hit, 1970’s “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Look What They Did to My Song Ma” would be covered by artists from Ray Charles to Miley Cyrus and adapted into commercial jingles decades later.
“People in the Front Row,” a danceable song from 1971’s “Garden in the City,” earned a prominent placement in the final season of “Black Mirror.”
By the mid-1970s his popularity had waned, but he would maintain a following and continue recording and playing live into the 2010s.
Melanie was married to her manager and producer Peter Schekeryk from 1968 until his death in 2010. They had three children together.