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I am taking a trip back in time, because in order for anyone to understand the kind of music that Melanie Safka produced and sang, you need to know more about the era in which her music was at the height of popularity. It was the mid sixties. Imagine if you can a world that is without the internet, a world without mobile phones, a time when teenagers were beginning to show unrest at following the familiar pattern of the lives of their parents. It was a time of rebellion, and also when people were beginning to question the rights and wrongs of life, and wanted to make the world a better place to be. Music was taking all kinds of new directions, bands competed with bands, and youngsters pitted Beatles against Rolling stones, mods against rockers, and somewhere in the midst of all this, there were those that were not particularly happy with either choice, but who were looking for something that resembled a new beginning.
Whilst multi-media was in its' infancy, and television seemed to cater on a serious front for grown ups, teenagers saught to find their place in a world that seemed to be changing very quickly. The pace stepped up, fashion went haywire, and somewhere amidst the cloudy passage from childhood to adulthood, there were those who, like me, reached out to find something that we really did feel comfortable with, idealistic views perhaps, people that cared enough to stand up on a podium and sing about things that mattered.
When I first heard Melanie, I was instantly attracted to the voice and style. It was new and different, and balanced against other great artists of the time like Joan Baez, (who becomes grating after a while of listening to her monotonous almost soprano drone), seemed more down to earth, more listenable, the voice of the girl next door perhaps, although more important than that, the message that she conveyed within her songs was what many of us lost souls in the sixties could relate to and I believe to be relevant even today.
This album has been in my vinyl collection for years, as have all her albums, though with technology allowing these past memories to be produced on CD, it gives people like me a second look at singers that were part and parcel of how we grew up, what we felt, the indecision of living through a period that claimed "free love", although not the kind of promiscuity that many associate with that period of time, more a naivety and search for "who we were".
The tracks on this album are representative of the best of the many albums by this artiste, and although there is a mixture of the more commercially well known songs like "Ruby Tuesday", also sung by the Stones in a later time, "Brand New Key", an upbeat song about discoveries as a child, the "Nickel Song", which is a bouncy song that tells the story of how commercial success makes an artist a bought and paid for commodity, and "What have they done to my song, ma ?", these are not the best representations of what Melanie meant to her many listeners, although the songs that follow are.
"Beautiful People" is one of her most loved songs, and her somewhat innocent and childlike quality of voice is ideal for a song like this. What amazes me about this song and others is her ability to go from high notes to low notes with seemingly little effort, and the effect that her voice, accompanied by accoustic guitar has, is that of sincerity. The song takes you through the questions you ask as a child about all the people that live in the world, although the lack of communication between them is almost unbelieveable.
"You live in the same world as I do, yet somehow, I never noticed you before today"
True sentiments that even go as far as saying about people that pass on the stairs every single day of their lives and yet know nothing about each other. It's a real Melanie classic at its best and every bit as relevant today in the speeded up world of technology as it was then. "Close to it all", "Any Guy", "Mr Tambourine Man" and "Baby day" are also a little commercial, but in saying that, they are still very listenable and haven't dated. This girl sang her heart out, put everything she was into the songs that she sang and made people believe that even the smallest individual could make a difference. The message doesn't change, only the time in which it is played does. The first time that I heard "I don't eat animals", I remember smiling because it's a fun song giving her reasons to chosing not to eat meat, and very valid ones, not cramming the idea down anyone's throat, but just saying it as she sees it. Comparing her with other artistes, I suppose that Eva Cassidy would be a good comparison, though Eva's songs never felt like they came from the "gut", which Melanie's do.
There are 21 tracks on this album and I would struggle to find a flawed song. "Lay Lady Lay" of course famous from being sung by Dylan is a haunting melody, though is probably one of the weakest spots in the album because her rendition of it is too intense. "Garden in the City" is one song that brings back wonderful memories.
"When I was young I lived in the Country
Clouds were my friends I cannot answer why.
Now that I'm grown, I live in the City
And Heaven is so far I cannot touch the sky.
The original title track of one of her earlier albums, this was a song that most could relate to, and the actual album cover had Melanie sitting in a garden in the middle of a city, and when you rubbed the cover, there was a perfume that made you think of flowers. Melanie's songs do that. They take you to times and places, situations and thoughts, and affirm their relevance, when perhaps life doesn't.
On a sadder note, "Somebody loves me" is the kind of teenage message, and when I first heard this very slow sad song, it was how I felt, not quite adult enough to have experienced love, not young enough to consider myself a child, though what it does is finish on an optimistic note by proposing that the person she is seeking could perhaps be you, the listener. Following on in the same sad tones, but tones that are not exploitation of a listening public, but songs sung in simple manner, voice and guitar, comes one of my personal favourites "Leftover Wine", about what happens when everyone goes home, and you are all on your own again, and here it pretty much hits the mark of something that all people experience at some stage in their lives.
The final two tracks on the album are ones that were part and parcel of that particular time in my life when youngsters were questioning war, condemning the "Bomb", wanting the world to be more than it was for their parents. "Lay Down" and "Peace will come", are her kind of protest, in her own special style, and again have never dated, have an eternal message that listeners can still associate with.
Selling flags for charity, her voice tells you:
"There's a chance peace will come, in your life, please buy one"
So why now ? Why, after all this time ?
For those that have never experienced Melanie, I would say that amongst her albums, this one gives a good overall picture of the types of songs that she sings. It is honest music, and not the commercially produced crap of today, not superficially sophisticated, nor bubblegum music. Her voice is unique, a one off that may take a little getting used to, not different in the way that artists like Kate Bush was, or fabricated and trained perhaps like the Celine Dions of the world. Her voice is beautiful, and matches the message that this lady gave me in my teenage years, and one that I feel is even more relevant in today's rushed society, where perhaps the message of sincerity is rare, or a thing of the past.
Try it. You may be amazed.
Audio CD (January 15, 2002)
Number of Discs: 1
Format: Original recording remastered, Import
Label: Bmg Int'l
For 3.50 GBP second hand, it's not a big gamble.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Ruby Tuesday
2 Brand New Key
3 Nickel Song
4 What Have They Done To My Song Ma
5 Beautiful People
6 Any Guy
7 Close To It All
8 Mr Tambourine Man
9 Baby Day
10 I Don't Eat Animals
11 Lay Lady Lay
12 In The Hour
13 Pebbles In The Sand
14 Save The Night
15 Garden In The City
16 Christopher Robin
17 Good Book
18 Carolina On My Mind
19 Somebody Loves Me
20 Leftover Wine
21 Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)
22 Peace Will Come