I’m a child of the 80′s, and like many of my friends I’ve always been obsessed with 60′s culture. The decade seemed so different from everything I grew up with that as a child I was always amazed by the fact that Woodstock had only happened a decade before I was born. Thus, I thought I had seen and researched every artist involved, but it turns out I seemed to have let Melanie slip past. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the time of Tiffany, so I had a misconstrued image of what one-named female pop singers were all about. So sure, in hindsight I was obviously familiar with “Brand New Key“, but despite a lingering fascination with the raw peace in her voice I had never delved deeper into her catalog. But then a few days ago I watched the trailer for Low Down, the new awesome-looking biopic about jazz pianist, Joe Albany. There’s a killer gospel-esque track playing in the background, that upon further insight I discovered was Melanie’s “Lay Down”.
Melanie wrote “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” about what she had seen from the stage while playing at Woodstock. And while it may not have as iconic a line as Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and its reference to us being stardust, it does have this killer verse: “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.” So in terms of songs about Woodstock that were written by people who actually attended the fest, (sorry Joni), this has to be number one. And despite it reaching number six on the Billboard charts, it’s been lost to my generation.
The real power of the song comes from the backing vocals by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. I became familiar with that group after hearing Spirtitualized’s Royal Albert Hall October 10,1997 on which the closing track is “Oh Happy Day,” which is a cover of The Singers’ 1967 version, which itself if a gospel arrangement of a 18th century hymn. Long story short, there’s a whole lot of pipes pouring out from that crew and when you add them to Melanie’s pseudo-magical voice, you get some true power. Melanie, whose last name is Safka, still performs today so hopefully there’s some unwillingly ignorant folks like myself who are still getting blown away by this tune live. Maybe the use of it in Low Down will get her a little late-career recognition. Check out this blistering performance from 1970 in front of a Dutch audience who still haven’t learned to clap on the backbeat.