April 17, 2018

I don't know if any of you are watching "American Idol" these days, but...

... I bet a lot of you will, like me, enjoy Maddie Poppe singing the old Melanie song, "Brand New Key":



That song was very popular in 1971. What was it about? Was it sexual innuendo or just simple girlish enthusiasm about roller skating? Roller skates used to be metal contraptions that you tightened onto your shoes with a metal key. You don't have to read Wikipedia to see the potential for sexual metaphor — the woman is excited about her "brand new pair of roller skates" and some guy's "brand new key" and thinks they should get together and "try them on" — even though she's "okay alone," he's "got something [she] needs." Melanie denies any sexual depths:
"I was fasting with a 27-day fast on water. I broke the fast and went back to my life living in New Jersey and we were going to a flea market around six in the morning. On the way back… and I had just broken the fast, from the flea market, we passed a McDonald's and the aroma hit me, and I had been a vegetarian before the fast. So we pulled into the McDonald's and I got the whole works... the burger, the shake, and the fries… and no sooner after I finished that last bite of my burger… that song was in my head. The aroma brought back memories of roller skating and learning to ride a bike and the vision of my dad holding the back fender of the tire. And me saying to my dad... 'You’re holding, you’re holding, you’re holding, right?' Then I’d look back and he wasn’t holding and I’d fall. So that whole thing came back to me and came out in this song."
Her explanation makes it even more childlike (and therefore not sexual). Melanie says:
I thought it was cute; a kind of old thirties tune. I guess a key and a lock have always been Freudian symbols, and pretty obvious ones at that. There was no deep serious expression behind the song, but people read things into it. They made up incredible stories as to what the lyrics said and what the song meant. In some places, it was even banned from the radio. My idea about songs is that once you write them, you have very little say in their life afterward. It's a lot like having a baby. You conceive a song, deliver it, and then give it as good a start as you can. After that, it's on its own. People will take it any way they want to take it.
Some people mainly know this song from the movie "Boogie Nights" (which had a character, Rollergirl), and it was sung on "The Voice" in 2016 (but I never watch that show, so it was new to me as a present-day singing competition song).

37 comments:

rehajm said...

I remember this from the radio as a kid. It was G rated in my kid head back then...

rehajm said...

You conceive a song, deliver it, and then give it as good a start as you can. After that, it's on its own

Thats how it should work but artists can be dicks. White people are prohibited from mucking with Jazz or Rap. Trump can only play Kid Rock or Toby Keith.

Dickin'Bimbos@Home said...

Is that Katy Perry sitting there? She cannot sing very well. Needs a lot of technological assistance.

PatHMV said...

My grandmother and I loved this song. It was "our song." I had a 45 of it that I would play on an old portable Mickey Mouse record player. When I was older and listened to it with a more jaded ear, I heard the sexual overtones and, while not entirely creeped out, I was saddened by this new twist to my innocent childhood song.

I'm quite happy to hear and accept this explanation from the artist!

Curious George said...

I remember it playing on the radio. Impossible not to like this song. Or to sing along.

LarsPorsena said...

It' the kind of tune that just keeps rattling around in your skull whether you want it to or not.

EDH said...

I had to be nine or ten when I bought the 45' after hearing it repeatedly on AM radio. ("68-RKO, Bos-tonnn.")

A pre-teen boy, I said it was because the song was silly and wanted to make fun of it. But it's catchy and deep-down, I liked it.

tcrosse said...

The little-girl voice reminds me of the great Blossom Dearie, who could sing the most outrageous lyrics and make them sound innocent. Here's one I send out to our Hostess:
I'm Hip

alan markus said...

47 years later, the song is still kind of annoying to listen to.

rhhardin said...

I like Melanie's Lay Lady Lay better than Dylan's

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcorTXUK4yc

alan markus said...

I guess it has been annoying for only 46 years - just seem like 47.

rhhardin said...

Brand New Key kid's project

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p02DgHeGdyI

The Cracker Emcee Classic said...

Ugh. 70’s AM radio was an absolute wasteland, though I did have a transcendent moment with ELP’s C’est La Vie one night in Eastern Oregon. But that song sucks, too.

rhhardin said...

Little girl voice, Tiffany Eckhardt (Australian folk singer)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVS-EC5muAI&list=PLJjDMmmcylHXHwnXc6t5zMWB2p2QeAvzz

Caroline Walker said...

Thank you, Melanie, for confirming that there was a time when not everything had a sexual connotation.

Robert Cook said...

I always liked this song, but I think my favorite song by Melanie is "Lay Down."

Robert Cook said...

I guess it's actually called "Candles in the Rain."

chickelit said...

Practically anything with a lock and key metaphor has sexual connotation. For example, the mechanism of enzyme action. Not to mention HOMO and LUMO theory with its juicy electron lobes and matching vacancies.

Hunter said...

"Are you the Keymaster?"

Colonel Mustard said...

Melanie. Definition of 'One Hit Wonder'.

Cover of 'Lay Lady Lay'? I've speculated, in spite of occasionally brilliant comments, if rhhardin might be a strange individual. Confirmed.

Ralph L said...

I was 10 when it came out, but remember it as sexual, so I must have heard it later as I was an innocent angel in 1971.

"Some people say I done alright for a grrl."

Xmas said...

I like the Rasputina version (which is the first version of this song I heard).

Snark said...

That was nice.

Roy Jacobsen said...

Sometimes, a skate key is just a skate key.

(Surprised nobody else said it yet.)

The thing I always liked about Melanie (and one of the appealing things about Maddie Poppe) is that she didn't sound like so many other singers; it's a distinct, and still appealing, timbre. (Far too many pop singers sound virtually identical; can't tell one from another.)

Ralph L said...

I was thinking she was the same singer that did Midnight at the Oasis, but that was Maria Muldaur.

William said...

I like the song and her rendition of it. The melody is so upbeat and such good clean fun that the other meaning of the lyrics can pass unnoticed. Lionel Hampton always claimed that the melody for Flying Home came to him while he was waiting at an airport to fly home. That melody, however, doesn't make you think of going home..

JAORE said...

27 day water fast....

Oddly enough I'm coming off a 27 minute coffee fast.

Unless a water fast includes quite a bit more than water, the song was recorded by the ghost of Melanie.

Bricap said...

The first time I heard the song was watching a
segment showing an elephant on roller skates.

Mike Sylwester said...

Yeah, just like the composers of the songs Ten Miles High, Puff the Magic Dragon and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds claim that those songs are not about drugs.

brylun said...

I am watching American Idol again, and I enjoyed the Maddie Poppe cover of "Brand New Key." Last night she was paired with Colbie Cailatt singing "Bubbly" and she made it through to the Top 14.

My granddaughter, age 6, is taking singing lessons and is singing "The Fight Song" at the Hard Rock Cafe next week. So I especially liked the Mara Justine/Rachel Platten duet last night. Mara made it through as well.

Sid said...

I prefer The Wurzles version; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb63PdPweDc

Yancey Ward said...

While I knew song long before I saw the movie, I can't hear it today without thinking of Heather Graham on roller skates. It distracts me.

Yancey Ward said...

A similar thing happens whenever I hear "Moving in Stereo" by The Cars.

FullMoon said...

I like the Vanilla Fudge version. Whimsical.

Dave in Tucson said...

Don't go so fast, but I go pretty far
For somebody who don't drive, I've been all around the world
Some people say I've done all right for a girl


Not about sex? Uh-huh, sure, whatever you say.

who-knew said...

Melanie put out an album called "Phonogenic, Not Just Another Pretty Face" that I always enjoyed.

gadfly said...

Maddie is certainly no Melanie when she sings in a brand new key that the music doesn't support. She gets a bit breathless with the falsetto and looses timing on her lyrics.

Does the song have sexual connotations? "Don't go too fast, but I go pretty far.
For somebody who don't drive, I been all round the world."

And who is the expert who never before heard the song.