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Weekend Intermission – a tribute to Melanie Safka

Weekend Intermission is is our regular feature where we look at an artist or band not from the Nordic countries, just to mix things up a bit.

I only recently learned that 1960’s folk singer Melanie, who burst onto the public consciousness at Woodstock in 1969, left us on 23rd January. With every one of these losses it seems to me that an era is coming to an end, permanently, and one that will probably never be replicated.

While her passing was mentioned at the Grammy Awards it was barely mentioned if at all on news reports in the UK and other countries, which is very surprising,

Coincidentally I was also writing about Melanie only the other day, in respect of the Danish duo, Glas.

Melanie Anna Safka Schekeryk, to give her full name, was born in the Queens borough of New York, the daughter of a Ukrainian father and an Italian mother who was a jazz singer. Melanie made her first public singing appearance aged just four.

The family moved to New Jersey where Melanie was rejected by her schoolmates as a ‘beatnik’ (for our younger readers they were members of a social movement in the 1950s and early 1960s who subscribed to an anti-materialistic lifestyle, the beginnings of the counter-culture movement which had its nirvana at the Woodstock Festival, and a derogatory label for the followers of the Beat Generation, a group of influential writers and artists who emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s).

So she ran away to California, although she later returned to New Jersey and began singing in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village and signed her first recording contract with Columbia Records. Her debut album received positive reviews from Billboard, which described her voice as “wise beyond her years.”

She is just one of so many artists to come through the Greenwich Village mill over the years or who lived there, including Dylan, Lennon, Hendrix, Joplin, Streisand, Sid Vicious and many more. Latterly attention seems to have shifted over into Brooklyn, where so many cutting edge musicians are to be found today.

She was always something of a rebel, and in 1970 was the only artist to ignore a court injunction banning the Powder Ridge Rock Festival. She played for the crowd on a homemade stage powered by Mister Softee ice cream trucks.

She identified herself as a libertarian, the American interpretation of which is a political philosophy promoting individual liberty and described as conservative on economic issues and liberal on personal freedom.

She was one of only three solo female artists who performed at the Woodstock festival in 1969, and her first hit song, 1970’s‘Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)’, was inspired by the Woodstock audience lighting candles during her set.

She performed at 11 pm on Friday, 15th August with a seven-song set in lieu of The Incredible String Band who refused to play while it was raining (and who later signed to her label)! The Woodstock Festival maintained offices in the same building that she did and she had simply asked them if she could be part of the Festival.

She made regular appearances in the UK including two appearances at the Isle of Wight festival and in 1971 she was the artist who sang to herald in the summer solstice at Glastonbury Fayre (later the Glastonbury Festival). She performed again at Glastonbury in 2011, the 40th anniversary of the original festival.

In 2007, Melanie was invited by Jarvis Cocker to perform at the Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Her sold-out performance was critically acclaimed, with The Independent newspaper saying, “It was hard to disagree that Melanie has earned her place alongside Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and Marianne Faithfull in the pantheon of iconic female singers.”

Her last appearance in the UK was on the Jools Holland Hootenanny show on the BBC on New Year’s Eve, 2019.

Melanie left her label, Buddah Records, when they insisted that she produce albums on demand. In 1971, she formed her own label, Neighborhood Records, and had her biggest American hit on that label, the novelty-sounding 1972 #1 hit ‘Brand New Key’, and one which was banned by several radio stations because some people inferred sexual innuendo in the lyrics, which she claimed she never intended while admitting that such innuendo could be read in it.

At the time of her death on 23rd January 2024 at the age of 76 Melanie was living in Nashville, Tennessee, and was working on a covers album titled ‘Second Hand Smoke.’ She was also an author and there is new work yet to be released.

Melanie had many memorable hits apart from ‘Brand New Key’ including her 1970 version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘What Have They Done to My Song Ma’.

But for this tribute I felt obliged to pick one of her many recorded performances of ‘Peace will come (according to plan’). Written at the height of the Vietnam War it remains so pertinent 50 years later as the Ukraine and Gaza conflicts rage on.

Depending on how you decode the lyric (and she was all for individual interpretation) it might also be regarded as an early feminist statement.

Apart from the amazingly powerful pipes she had when she needed them and the emotion she pours into it, it is so representative of what she stood for as a person. And note how Ed Sullivan compares her impact on young people with that of Elvis Presley. She returned the compliment by appearing on Sullivan’s last ever show in 1971.

Melanie websites:



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