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'Brand New Key' by Melanie: 'Roller Skates' Were Never The Same Again...

Music | August 31, 2018

Mark Wahlberg and Heather Graham in 'Boogie Nights,' 1997; a roller-skate key. Source: pinterest; txantiquemall.com

Some songs from the '70s don't get a lot of radio love anymore -- that was the case in 1997 with Melanie's "Brand New Key." Then Boogie Nights came along, a movie about the adult film industry in the '70s that used "Brand New Key" in a very memorable scene between Mark Wahlberg and Heather Graham -- known as Dirk Diggler and Roller Girl in the film. The song was perfect for the scene because it's about roller skates, and Graham's character, Roller Girl, is famous for never taking her skates off.

But was that the only reason the song was so perfect for the scene? Not only did Boogie Nights revive interest in "Brand New Key," it also got people talking about the subtext of the lyrics. The song has always been seen as a metaphor for sex. Its seemingly innocent tale of a young girl who needs a key for her roller skates can easily be read as a girl making a bold sexual overture to a (perhaps shy) boy she likes.

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 quite 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. This pop music singer, songwriter and guitarist was totally on-board with the anti-establishment movement and wrote songs about peace and unity during the Vietnam War, which was a troubling time in the United States. 

Melanie’s song "Brand New Key," was a great pop single and was released on her album, entitled Gather Me. It was a huge hit 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.

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

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.

When the 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.  

Source: pinterest

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 reference is quite dated by now, as even in 1971 the skate-key technology was on the way out. But presuming one does understand how it worked, the inference that it's a sexual metaphor isn't a stretch given the teasing, romantic nature of the rest of the lyrics. But Melanie herself has always downplayed that interpretation.

"'Brand New Key' I wrote in about fifteen minutes one night," she told SuperSeventies.com. "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."

Ultimately, Melanie proposes that her intention in the lyrics is somewhat irrelevant, as the song already means what it means to so many people.

"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."

Melanie’s song, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" was a recounting of her performance at the 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. Since re-popularized by Boogie Nights, "Brand New Key," has been heard on The Voice, Jackass 3-D, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, American Idol.

Tags: 1970s Music | Melanie | Movie Soundtracks

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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.