Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Melanie (1960's/1970's)

Good morning!

Midway through this hot, humid July, I've finally settled down to making a mix cd for the summer. Through time immemorial, or more precisely, since around 7th grade, I've always made a summer-specific mix...there are R.E.M. songs or Bowie tracks that take me time-warping back to a very specific year, riding around in someone's car, windows down because the air conditioner's always broken, and wouldn't it be a shame if pure laziness kept me from having a musical association like that with 2012? It's been weird for the past three years, working a job that doesn't include the strange, blessed perk of having a three month summer vacation, but that doesn't mean I can't make my mix!

Spotlight for this-year's-model? Ladies and gentlemen, have you heard the good word about Melanie?

You bettah WORK...!
In high school, my friend Ashley made me a cassette tape copy one of the kind of gothic, kind of cello-y (if that even makes sense) band Rasputina. And did I love it!  I spent one whole Christmas break reading All the President's Men, writing a twelve page paper on Nixon on a typewriter at my grandma's house, and listening to that tape until the metallic thread of it was probably worn thin. Songs about the Donner Party and reinterpreted 1920's hits in a chilly, cello-based sound? SIGN ME UP! That album included a cover of the song "Brand New Key". Being fifteen at the time, I don't think I'd ever heard the original, but some library sleuthing brought me "The Best of Melanie" on cd, which had to be duly converted to cassette tape, and which I then proceeded to wear out as well. How had I not heard of Melanie!

The Canadian songwriter and guitar woman released her first album in 1969 and played Woodstock the same year. You can tell by the photos that she was very, very much a product of the hippie-bohemian vibe going around at the dawn of the seventies', but what I like about her music is her crackly, gorgeous voice and "going-for-it" sense of pathos in some of her recordings. Some of the edge to her songs reminds me of what  I like about Stevie Nicks (which is, offhand, A LOT). My two very favorite Melanie songs aren't the novelty hits "Brand New Key" or "Look What They Done to My Song, Ma", but the soaring, wild singing on "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" and "Mama, Mama". When she gets to the high parts of some of those songs, I'm telling you, I could just sit on a cloud. It lifts you up! How does that big voice come out of this tiny lady?

It certainly doesn't hurt that she's adorable, either. I love her simple hair and her Edwardians-on-Haight-Street clothes. There was a fashion spread in Life magazine sometime in the late sixties', reproduced in Life: in Photos, that I loved as a child, where the woman was wearing a long, gauzy, empire-waist dress with lots of ash blonde ringlet curls pulled up in a blue ribbon, and the man was wearing a long, dark blue velvet frock coat and pants... it really did look like costuming from one of those BBC classics programs from the time, but they were wearing it out in the wild! Going to dinner in San Francisco! Color me excited. The first photo at the top reminds me that I need to learn how to macrame or do batik, because that outfit is FIERCE. Also, the photo below makes me want to go embellish some blouse with spangles stat. Melanie, you are a sound AND fashion inspiration.

I'm still working on the rest of the mix, but when I put a few Melanie songs on it, I suddenly had the right sound and feel I was looking for this summer. So if you haven't listened to anything but the bubblegum hits, check out the rest of her catalog! Profitez toute suite:



Any sixties' folk singers or Woodstock era artists you particularly like? What's your favorite "look" from the era? I'll tell you guys who else makes the mix cd cut when I finish it sometime this week. Is the anticipation killing you yet?

See you tomorrow!

Pssst: You can read Melanie's tour journal (which she actually updates pretty regularly!) on her website. Also, did you know she lives in Nashville, TN? DO YOU KNOW WHO ELSE LIVES IN NASHVILLE, TN? Meeeee....! I'll have to keep an eye out for her next time I'm buying highwayman-style leather boots and beautiful hand-dyed maxi dresses. She could be the next rack over! :)


  1. How had I never heard of Melanie? Sounds like I've got some listening to do. I am totally feeling the whole hippie/folkloric look right now. I think it's because I'm seeing all these teenagers dressing like it's 1990 and I need to do something totally different. Plus, almost my entire vintage collection is 1970s. I was in high school in the early part of the last decade and the aesthetic was nouveau-70s, so I figure I can just go back to that, right? Does that mean I'm getting old?

    I really love Carole King and Linda Ronstadt. I just bought Tapestry and Heart Like a Wheel at the record store. Paul really hates singer/songwriter-y stuff, so I usually listen to it when he's at work!

    1. Haha, I love "covert" record operations. I listen to Judy at Carnegie at full volume when Bab's not at home, and then surreptitiously replace it was Stan Getz or the Rolling Stones or something less showtunes-y when he returns. My pride! (haha) I used to have a tape in high school of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks on one side, and Joni Mitchell's Blue on the other, and I think it perfectly describes my musical mindset at the moment(and Melanie fits right in!).

      Seeing kids dressed like cast members of 90's tv shows (Full House, In Living Color, etc) just weeeeeeeeirds me ooooouuuut. It's too soon! We're not old enough to see things we wore become vintage!

    2. Paul and I have been bowling on a league Monday nights and so many high-school age boys show up dressed like Axl Rose c. 1990. I always think, "That's not vintage! I remember that!"

      I have a copy of Bette Midler's first album. That most definitely is played while the other half is at work. (Where he assures me he listens to things I don't really enjoy like Rage Against the Machine.) If it's 5:30, it's time to switch over to Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones. I'll have to keep an eye out for some Stan Getz. I think the hubs might like that, as well.

  2. Love Melanie, too; really loved "Brand New Key" when it came out - I was around 6 or 7. Love your blog, too; don't remember exactly how I got here, but glad I did! We have such a lot of the same tastes, it's a little scary.

  3. oh my gosh i forgot about rasputina! i need to go dig out MY tape! ah! i was obsessed!

  4. Melanie Canadian?

  5. Wow what a fantastic performance by Melanie and the rest of the performers of Lay Down (Candles in the Rain). It gave me chills. I had never seen it before.

  6. Your comparison to Stevie Nicks surprised me... I thought I was the only one who noticed that. Get out your copy of Freedom Knows My Name and listen to "Arrow". Now the only thing more perfect would be the two of them singing a duet.

    Sting has the same slightly husky vocal quality and especially on his softer songs gives the impression of a male Melanie. I'd like to hear that duet, too, say on "Fragile".

    A lot of people seem to think Melanie is Canadian, and I went around for years thinking she was from Joisy, but she was actually born and raised in Queens.

    The romantic-hippie look you admire was partly inspired by Thea Porter. She designed beautiful clothes for people like Syd Barrett. I agree that Donovan is a good artist to go with next.


    1. I am DYING over some of these Thea Porter robes/caftans/maxi dresses, and you are exactly right about "Arrow" and Stevie. If wishes were fishes! I had never thought about the husky and pining quality of Sting's voice being similar to Stevie and Melanie, well said! And I have no idea why I thought she was Canadian...I'm thinking I read something about her LIVING in Canada at one point, maybe way later, in some nineties' liner notes? But I might just be confusing her with someone else. Thank you for reading and I so enjoyed your comments!



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