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Melanie, Singer Who Made a Solo Splash at Woodstock, Dies at 76

Melanie Anne Safka was born on Feb. 3, 1947, in Astoria, Queens, to Frederick and Pauline (Altomare) Safka. Her mother was a jazz singer, and Melanie turned to music at an early age, making her public singing appearance on the talent show “Live Like a Millionaire” at 4.

By the time she was in high school in Long Branch, N.J., she was already singing in local coffee houses, and eventually moved her act to the folk dens of New York while studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

She earned a contract with Columbia Records and released two singles on the label before moving to Buddah. She initially found particular success in Europe, where she appeared frequently on television; her 1969 single “Bobo’s Party” reached No. 1 in France.

Regardless of her intentions, “Brand New Key” would live on in popular culture as a musical time capsule of the 1970s, capturing the decade’s colorful kitschiness as well as its love-the-one-you’re-with carnality.

Little wonder the song popped up in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 film, “Boogie Nights,” a survey of the cocaine-fueled pornography industry in Los Angeles in its more smog-choked days. In a key scene, Rollergirl (played by Heather Graham), a featured performer who wears roller skates seemingly everywhere, including bed, slaps the record on the turntable before giving an X-rated audition to a new prospect, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg).

While she never again scaled the heights of “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” Melanie was not a two-hit wonder. “Ring the Living Bell,” the follow-up single to “Brand New Key,” made it to No. 31 on the Hot 100 in March 1972, sharing the chart with another of her songs, “The Nickel Song,” at No. 54.

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