As spring started to give way to summer in 1970, as basketball gave way to baseball, my Panasonic AM-FM radio stayed locked on the AM dial.
Mine was not a big world at the time. I didn’t travel far on that AM dial. Up to 620 for Brewers games, and back down to 920 for music.
(There might have been an occasional stop at 890 if I wanted to listen to the Top 40 from Chicago instead of Milwaukee, but never a stop at the local station, WHBL, 1330 on your dial out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I couldn’t begin to tell you its format.)
Nor did I listen to FM radio. The older kids and the hippies listened to FM radio. My time was still to come.
Had I done so, I might have heard WZMF, 98.3 out of Milwaukee. It aired “progressive rock” in “stereo 24 hours a day.” LPs topped its chart for this week in 1970, followed by “little ones with the big holes.”
That I never listened to FM radio in 1970 is clear. Of the 15 LPs on that chart, I’ve owned two: “Led Zeppelin II” and Melanie’s “Candles in the Rain.” Among the LPs never on my radar: “Traveler’s Tale” by SRC, a hard-rocking group out of Detroit; “Cricklewood Green” by Ten Years After; and “On the Boards” by Taste, a group fronted by Rory Gallagher.
Intimidated, chastened, what have you, we slink back to the more familiar confines of the AM Top 40 charts, where we find …
… Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” arriving on the scene.
Melanie, the pop-folk singer once known as Melanie Safka of Astoria, Queens, New York, came to prominence at Woodstock in 1969. That experience inspired this smash single, a folk-rock-blues-gospel mashup at home on both mainstream and progressive playlists of the day.
The Edwin Hawkins Singers did the backup vocals on “Lay Down.” Their gale-force delivery helped propel Melanie to stardom, and the 23-year-old thanked them in the liner notes:
“Dear Edwin Hawkins and Singers: I was so afraid I would always have to sing alone … thanks to all of you I got my chance to sing with the whole world. Love, Melanie.”
“Candles in the Rain/Lay Down” and “What Have They Done To My Song Ma,” Melanie, from “Candles in the Rain,” 1970. It’s out of print, but is available digitally.
The first two songs are the B side and the A side of the single, respectively, but were laid out in this order on the LP. The version of “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” we’ve come to know is an edit. When it was released in the UK, it ran almost 8 minutes.
The New Seekers covered the third tune, renamed it and released it a month after “Lay Down” hit the charts. Buddah released Melanie’s version in 1971, but the New Seekers had the bigger hit with it.
I came across “Candles in the Rain” in the dollar bins in my friend Jim’s back yard last year. It’s an interesting record, and it’s held up nicely. Also on it is a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” which was a Top 10 hit for Melanie in the UK later in 1970.
These days, Melanie is living in Nashville. On her website, she’s written about the recent flooding and has decided that less is more when it comes to folks who meddle when others are in need.