Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Melanie -- "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)" (1970)

The biggest hit song about leprosy to ever hit the Top 10. Or is the song about the Woodstock Festival?

At least I always thought it was leprosy. I mean, let's just get right to the lyrics for this one...

We were so close there was no room
We bled inside each other's wounds
We all had caught the same disease
And we all sang the songs of peace

Lay down lay down lay it all down
Let your white birds smile
At the ones who stand and frown
Lay down lay down lay it all down
Let your white birds smile
At the ones who stand and frown

So raise candles high
'cause if you don't

We could stay black against the night
Oh raise them higher again
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain

Quite a shift in subject from the songwriter whose other biggest hits were "Brand New Key" ("I've got a brand new pair of roller skates, you've got a brand new key") and "Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma?"

Now if you find photos of Melanie (last name: Safka) online, you'll see she was definitely a kind of a hippie babe in those days. She made the rounds in Greenwich Village coffee houses in the late 60's, and even performed at the famous Woodstock Festival of Peace, Love, etc.

She recorded on the Buddah label, probably better known for its bubblegum acts. But there was nothing bubblegum about "Lay Down," which had the sparse instrumentation of Melanie's acoustic guitar, a drummer, a bassist, a pianist and a conga player, and the overwhelming backup of the gospel group The Edwin Hawkins Singers (who had their own Top 40 hit "Oh Happy Day").

The instruments are practically an afterthought, as Melanie's smoky, chilly voice and the multitude of gospel singers generate the song's eerie yet rousing verses and choruses. It's a downright spooky song, yet with that folk background, Melanie wants everybody to sing along, and with a large number of gospel powerhouses belting out the chorus (with some hand claps as the song progresses), it's hard not to be totally captivated by it all. Melanie herself steps right up to match her background singers, and it's tremendously moving.

You'll see what I mean in the powerful live black and white video below. Towards the end, the camera makes a shocking cut to the audience, which is definitely not what I expected it to be .


Anonymous said...

Nice read. Thank you.
Please help get Melanie into the Rock and rol hall of fame.

Anonymous said...

I loved Melanie years ago as I do now...she still stirs up my spirit with truth,love,and understanding.
Thank you Melanie.You are a bright and shining star!God bless!