June 05, 2014

Melanie Safka: Look What They Did To Her Songs


Copyright issues seem to be coming up quite a bit lately. You don't need to be a writer or a musician. Anyone who has uploaded a music or movie video to You Tube will encouter the complex world of royalties and copyright.

I have always liked Melanie Safka and have wanted to do a post about her. 

It seems awfully sad that her own husband was the cause of her missing out on what was rightfully her's. 

She is not the only celebrity who has been cheated. There is quite a list of them. 

For example Doris Day's husband took control of her wealth, and many other performers were cheated by their managers: Billy Joel is but one of them. 

Youth and inexperience surely have played a part in this and if you are young,creative and talented all you want to do is 'your thing' and not have to worry about legalities.

Thankfully many of these situations have been remedied, and in Melanie's case it has taken a long time. The author of this article is spot on.

Sadly I am too late to see her show but it's great to have her back performing.


THERE are tales aplenty of songwriters and performers losing out on royalties for one reason or another, but they don’t come much more tragic than in the case of Melanie Safka. 
Known to most people as Melanie, the American folk singer shot to fame in the early 1970s with a string of hits that included Lay Down (Candles in the Rain), Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma and Brand New Key. These are songs that have withstood the passage of time and are still central to the singer’s shows. She’ll be performing them when she begins an Australian tour at Adelaide Cabaret Festival this weekend.

Sadly for her, Safka says she doesn’t receive royalties for the songs she wrote before 2004 because her husband, producer and business manager Peter Scheke­ryk sold her publishing and performance rights without telling her. Safka discovered the truth only when her husband of 40 years died in 2010.

“It’s a horrible music business story, I’m afraid,” says Safka, now 67. “I didn’t take care of my own business. My husband was the producer of my first album and after that he handled all the business. He allowed me the luxury of being able to create without worrying. Of course now I wish he had involved me in some of the worrying because now I’m alone.

“He, without my knowing, sold my writer’s share. In some countries that’s not even legal. 

I didn’t even know it had happened. That was in 2004. I found out about it right after he passed and I was sure it was a mistake. I couldn’t have signed away my writer’s share, but I did. Not just that, but my performances are owned by another company. My publishing is owned by two other companies.”

One might think the New York-reared, Nashville-based singer would be bitter, but she’s philosophical about it, especially given her husband was responsible: “There are days when I curse him, and other days when I just think, ‘Well. it’s happened.’ ’’

Dubbed the female Bob Dylan when she emerged on to the music scene in the late 60s, Safka is identified as a poster woman for the Woodstock generation. Like Dylan, she began her career playing the folk clubs of Greenwich Village and was quickly signed to Dylan’s record label, Columbia, and released her first album, Born To Be, in 1968. A string of labels and successful albums followed throughout the 70s, alongside those hits. She performed at Woodstock, the landmark 1969 festival, which inspired Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).

Her distinctive, fragile voice and her folk songs put her in the league of female singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. It’s a reputation she had to fight for, however.

As her early fame grew, record companies wanted to mould her into something she wasn’t. With Schekeryk’s help, she resisted.

“I had offers from just about every major-label president to superimpose whatever they wanted on to my next hit record,” she says. “Peter would show me what they wanted. It was frustrating for him because he knew I would have success anyway.

“I was able to just continue and develop as a writer. I think I’m still developing as a writer.
“Every album I ever made was full of songs,” she adds. “I was never one of those people who put out an album that had one hit and the rest was filler.

“I’m still writing now and my new songs are by the same person who wrote the old ones. I am fortunate that my husband gave me that space to be creative. I am the oldest little girl in the world — a free spirit. I continue to create, that’s the important thing.”


Her songs have been covered by an eclectic range of performers, from Mott the Hoople and Ray Charles to Nana Mouskouri and Miley Cyrus. Aussie hip-hop band Hilltop Hoods used her track People in the Front Row for their song The Nosebleed Section.

“Boys will be boys,” she says of the Adelaide band using her work. “I was a little put out that there was no mention of me, but they changed it to include Melanie Safka.”

Brand New Key, sometimes called the roller-skate song because of its chorus (“I got a brand new pair of roller skates/ You got a brand new key”), confirmed Safka as a pop star as well as a folkie in 1971-72, not least in Australia, where the song went to No 1. The quirkiness of the song and what many considered to be a sexual theme in the lyrics sparked different reactions among the public.


“Particularly in the States I got saddled with ‘cute’ and ‘vacant’ and ‘empty-headed’,” she says. “However, in England I was more the thinking man’s crumpet. I never felt the least bit pretty. I always felt awkward, uncomfortable in my skin. I’m always amazed at how many men fell in love with me.’’

Despite the adoration, or perhaps because of it, Safka has always been nervous about performing.

“I don’t know how I do it,” she says. “It is so against everything in my being. I’m one of those people who walk into a room trying to be unnoticed … invisible. I’m not a natural-born celebrity. I don’t like people looking at me. Never will.”

Those attending her Australian concerts should have no fear about her abilities to turn that around on stage.

“Once I’m up there I’m totally at home,” she says, “but to get to that point I do nothing for most of the day but prepare: focus on what I’m doing. I’ve played to the biggest crowds on the planet and I’ve played to really small ones. There’s a common denominator there. That’s my home. That’s where I’m supposed to be.”

Melanie’s People in the Front Row Australian tour begins at Adelaide Cabaret Festival on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, followed by Brisbane, June 12; Lismore, NSW, June 14; Katoomba, NSW, June 18; Sydney, June 20; Newcastle, NSW, June 22; Kincumber, NSW, June 23; and Melbourne, June 26. 

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