Brand New Key By Melanie (Neighborhood, 1971)

Songwriters: be careful what you songs you write, but more importantly, be careful about which of those songs you record. Case in point, folk singer Melanie Safka. In 1969 she became famous performing at Woodstock. In 1970 she sang about the event with the Edwin Hawkins singers and hit the Top 10 with Lay Down (Candles In The Rain). In 1971 she sang a childish ditty about a pair of roller skates and a brand new key. It was #1 for 3 weeks. After that, her career died. So let’s find out why.

Melanie was slowly establishing herself a serious voice with her late 70s records, Born To Be & Affectionately Melanie. Her work was played throughout Europe, particularly France and she began to regularly play on the US festival circuit in 1970. But according to Melanie, her record label, Buddah, was pushing her to record too fast. So she left the label and former Neighborhood Records with her husband. Business-wise it was a good move. But sometimes those shady, unethical record labels do have a few good people giving you helpful tips on what to or not to do. I don’t think Melanie had anyone like that in her corner when she recorded Brand New Key or they may have taken the song and gave it to Kermit or Grover to sing instead.

Actually anyone on Sesame Street would have done a better job singing it and it would have more sense. Melanie switches from serious warbly folk singer to 7-year-old girl throughout the song, but especially grating is the way she approaches the chorus. ‘We–lll, blah blah-blah blah blah pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key. blah blah-blah blah blah get together….‘ – at this point the crowd would be throwing rotten heads of lettuce and echoes of boos. The song is just dumb, which isn’t always a bad thing, but definitely is when you are trying to be taken seriously. It was a left turn up Mo’ Money mountain and then…vrrrroooom, right of the cliff.

The song still makes me laugh, because of how ridiculous it is, a point not lost on Paul Thomas Anderson either. Melanie plays the role of a 9-year-old, I guess. Even though the lyrics are fairly suggestive. I can’t imagine many 17-year olds riding their bike to someone’s house to get some. I’m confused already, so let’s break it down:

I rode my bicycle past your window last night
I roller skated to your door at daylight
It almost seems like you’re avoiding me
I’m okay alone, but you got something I need

Hey, stalkerazzi! He’s avoiding you because you won’t leave him alone. If you’re OK alone, then why the midnight treks on your Schwinn?

Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together and try them out you see
I been looking around awhile. You got something for me
Oh! I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key

Umm, what the hell are you talking about? The only kind of skates that need a key are quad skates and people had worn lace-ups for decades. So where exactly are you finding a brand new key? At Goodwill?

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don’t drive no car
Don’t go too fast, but I go pretty far

Ok I get it. She’s Green. And she has endurance. Might give that a spin.

For somebody who don’t drive I been all around the world
Some people say, I done all right for a girl

And she’s loose. The only people alright with that are the Johns and her pimp.

I asked your mother if you were at home
She said, yes .. but you weren’t alone
Oh, sometimes I think that you’re avoiding me
I’m okay alone, but you’ve got something I need

Wait a minute. This isn’t about sex at all. She’s a coke head. She knows he’s got a brand new key of fine Columbian and she’s jonesing for it, riding by his house at all hours, bugging the guy’s mom [cause of course, he lives with his mom…probably in the basement]. That’s the something she needs.

I’m thinking that Michael Cimino played this song over and over as he filmed Heaven’s Gate, high off his ass on blow watching dailies of Kris Kristofferson roller skating around Wyoming.

Did I lose my train of thought? Take a listen and tell me…

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1 Comment

  1. sammy bernstein

     /  November 14, 2012

    Melanie Safka didn’t exactly die. She has said that she never really wanted to record the song, but her producer/husband said “its a hit” – he was right.
    Her 1976 album “Photograph” was judged by the NY Times one of the best of that year. She’s still around and plays to packed houses all over the world. A couple of years back Jarvis Cocker – who was curating London’s MELTDOWN festival got her to London to open the event – to rave reviews.Macy Gray and Blondie have been known to do Brand New Key in concerts, and punk groovers the Dollyrots gave their take on it on an album a couple of years back. In the last 12 months the song has been used extensively by HP in advertising; quite obviously Melanie Safka has had the last laugh.
    While not at all representative of her work, the silly little rollerskate song has – in the end – worked quite well for her.

    Reply

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