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“Brand New Key,” by Melanie… Was it Really About Roller Skates?

Music | August 31, 2018

BROOKLYN - NOVEMBER 5: American singer-songwriter Melanie in concert at the Bottom Line Venue on November 5, 1976 in Brooklyn, New York City. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)

Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk, better known as simply, Melanie, was quiet a force to be reckoned with in her day. Melanie is a folk musician that surfaced in the groovy era and though she is best remembered for her musical contribution to the American counterculture music scene and for having a mind of her own, she has carried on her musical legacy, still, to this day.

Pop music singer, songwriter and guitarist, Melanie, was totally on-board with the anti-establishment movement and wrote songs about peace and unity during the Viet Nam War, which was a troubling time in the United States. 

One of Melanie’s best-known songs, still today, is “Brand New Key,” and is said to be her “greatest success.”

Melanie’s iconic song, “Brand New Key,” was a great pop song and was released on her album, entitled, “Gather Me.” It was a huge hit with the counterculture generation and was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart in December of 1971 and January of 1972. The song was also ranked as the No. 9 song of 1972.

Melanie was signed to notable record labels including Columbia Records and Buddah Records.

According to Melanie, “Brand New Key” was written on the heels of a “detox” period in her life. Not unlike many other young people of the era, she was looking for answers to the meaning of life; more specifically, her own life. Supposedly, the origin of the song’s lyrics suddenly came to Melanie following a month-long fasting period. During this time, she reportedly only drank water. At the end of her fasting period, she suddenly was inspired with the lyrics to the song. Melanie said that the entire song took her just 15 minutes to compose.

So, what was the real story behind Melanie’s, “Brand New Key?”

When the iconic song was first released, it was banned by many radio stations. It was thought to have had some sexual connotations that mainstream USA (at the time) was just not ready for. Many radio stations actually banned the song because it was said to have sexual connotations. Although Melanie says that it wasn’t her intention, she has acknowledged that it could have been taken that way.  

Remember those old roller skates that were nothing other than metal contraptions?  They clamped to the outside of your shoe, had a leather ankle strap and a metal key to tighten them to your shoe size.

The "brand new pair of roller skates" were to have been a vehicle for a young girl to get to the house of her current crush, because he…had something she needed. The lyrics, “I go pretty far” and “I have been around the world,” are case and point for this theory. The "brand new key" was thought to be… well… never mind. Anyway, when [she] finally realized that he wasn’t interested, she was left wondering why he was avoiding her.

Others have thought that is was about a girl and her drug dealer and that the "key" was a reference to a kilo of marijuana or … “something,” she needed. With the timing of the song’s release, this theory could also hold water.

Another school of thought is that the lyrics are a reflection of an innocent childhood memory. In any case, [she] wanted this boy’s attention for some reason or other, so people will think what they want.

While Melanie hasn’t specifically confirmed or denied any specific meaning or theory, she has claimed that there may be some “Freudian” symbols and expressions in the song’s lyrics. She claims that she wrote the song in haste and that, “…any deeper meaning was unintentional.”

Melanie’s song, “Lay Down" (Candles in the Rain) was a recounting of her performance at the epic Woodstock Music Festival. In addition to “Brand New Key," Melanie is also well known for her songs, “Ruby Tuesday” and “What Have They Done to My Song Ma.”

In addition to Melanie’s counterculture legacy, she is still recognized in pop culture today. Melanie’s epic, “Brand New Key,” has been performed, more recently, on Boogie Nights, The Voice, Jackass 3-D, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, American Idol and on the Hallmark Channel.

Good things die hard, my friends… enough said!

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.