It has taken six years for Melanie to finish her most recent album, Precious Cargo. Her kids blossomed between the start and finish of the album - and so did her own record label, also called Precious Cargo.
She wanted to do things her way, she said about the new label. She had grown tired of dealing with major labels that often postponed album releases because the timing wasn't right or because they already had enough releases scheduled.
"You have a luxury when you're on your own label to put out a song or a record, or record it when you want to.... And I just decided I wasn't going to hang around a record label waiting to put out a product when it wasn't timely. So with this one, I said we could just wait and do each record the way I wanted it to be done," Melanie said during a phone interview from her Clearwater home.
"Actually my kids grew up on this album. They're singing background vocals. They have those little munchkin voices. (Now) they're almost grown-ups. They think they are," said the singer, who will give a free concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Church Street Market in Orlando.
Her children - Beau Jarred, 10, Leilah, 17, and Jeordie, 16 - can be heard as little kids on the folksy "Lovin' the Boy Next Door" and on the upbeat "Rock and Roll Heart," which was recorded a few years later.
Some of the material Melanie wrote for the album is based loosely on her own experiences. "Window Pain," for example, was inspired by a couple who had forgotten to close the shades in their New York apartment.
"I didn't mean to be watching; it just happened that way," she explained. And I bad this vision of this old woman in the window next to me. I was picturing her looking at these two people thinking, 'Well, have fun, kids, because maybe next year it won't happen like that.' And the line was 'Did they ever see us when/ we were together/ laughing much harder/ loving forever/ happily ever after?' "
Melanie, whose last name is Safka, began her recording career in 1967. Only after the album was out did she realize that her last name had been dropped.
"But on the writer's credit, they called me Melanie Safka. So as a writer, I could have a last name. But as a performer, I just had 'Melanie,' " she said. "And then, especially there were no Melanies. There was one in Gone With The Wind and that was it and my grandmother.
"I mean, I suffered with this growing up. I wanted to be Jane, Carol, Ann, anything. Why Melanie? All through my growing-up years, I just wanted to be like all the other girls with names like everybody else," she said.
A performer at the Woodstock festival in 1969, the wispy-voiced singer-songwriter hit it big during summer 1970 with her No. 6 hit, "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)." By late 1971, she had her first No, 1, "Brand New Key," which held the top spot for three weeks.
"I wrote it, we liked it, it was cute and funny, and we all laughed and there we had it. It was a hit record."
After producing that bubble-gum tune, Melanie had a tough time being taken seriously. It was an image that she would have trouble overcoming.
"It was always like the aura was created that I was just this innocent, precious peace child, flower child.... It was a funny image thing that I didn't realize I was going to have to live down."
At the height of her popularity, she made a move she now calls commercially stupid. She left the country to be a spokeswoman for UNICEF.
"You don't go to Yugoslavia when you should've been doing TV specials and press in New York and dates at Madison Square Garden. You don't get a whole lot of press coverage. But I wanted to feel like I was giving and being of some kind of service in this world.
"When I was in high school, I wanted to be in the Peace Corps. And I didn't know what to do about that because, who wants a folk singer in the Peace Corps?"
Still today, she doesn't regret the move. "Because if I had done anything else, it would've felt wrong. And I still feel that way. It took me six years to put this album out. I really think you have to be true to yourself. It shows if you're not."
The New York native has made nearly 30 LPs during her on-again, off-again career, many of which - along with their singles - were hits in England but were never released in the United States. (Her cover of the Rolling S tones' "Ruby Tuesday" was a bit in England and will make its American debut on the new LP.)
With that new album out, the 44 year-old isn't at all afraid of the image her music may conjure up: I won't mind this time because it's a trick to be in your 40's and be cute."