Melanie, the husky-voiced singer and songwriter who was one of the surprise stars of the Woodstock music festival in 1969 and two years later had a No. 1 single with the disarmingly childlike “Brand New Key,” died on Tuesday. She was 76.
Her death was announced on social media by her children, Leilah, Jeordie and Beau Jarred. Neither the cause nor the location were cited.
Melanie, born Melanie Safka in 1947, was only 22 but already a presence on the New York folk scene when she appeared at Woodstock. She was one of only three women who performed unaccompanied at the festival — and, as she later recalled, she was petrified at the thought of performing in front of a crowd vastly bigger than the coffeehouse audiences she was used to.
It started to rain before she took the stage, and she would later say that the sight of people in the crowd lighting candles inspired her to write “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” which she recorded with gospel-style backing from the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Released in 1970, it became her first hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Her biggest hit, “Brand New Key,” charmed listeners with its simplicity but generated controversy — and was said to have been banned by some radio stations — because some people heard sexual innuendo in lyrics like “I’ve got a brand-new pair of roller skates/You’ve got a brand-new key.” She acknowledged that the words could be interpreted that way, but insisted that this was not her intention.
“‘Brand New Key’ I wrote in about 15 minutes one night,” she told one interviewer. “I thought it was cute; a kind of old ’30s tune.
“I guess a key and a lock have always been Freudian symbols,” she continued, “and pretty obvious ones at that. There was no deep serious expression behind the song, but people read things into it.”