Observer (UK) 8th November 1970

Crackling up the charts

Tony Palmer on the secrets of Melanie's success

THE CURRENT rave is called Melanie. She believes in truth and beauty and all good things, and she sings about them as if she were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She recently gave birth to her third LP called Candles In The Rain (Buddah Super 2318 009) a single from which "Ruby Tuesday" is now high in the charts. Roobay Toos-Di is as Melanie as you can get: self pitying, out of tune and perversely phrased, but skilfully orchestrated.

If the message is to be believed, 23-year-old Melanie is 'world-weary' and gutsy. She says she is literally laying herself bare, which could be a thing to be admired, and many do. But in her curious way, she and her record demonstrate what's good and what's bad about contemporary vocal pop.

For the record itself is quite devastating. If you play it on a large enough hi-fi set, it will lift you out of your seat with its sheer excitement. Not that this kind of stimulus is a good thing in itself, but it does make a change from the effete music-making which normally pervades chart sounds. The Melanie disc positively crackles with lush orchestration and ferocious drumming. She screams and stabs away and does her best to hide the tang/pang of the arrangements and the bristle of the recorded sound.

It's worth buying as an example of the essential difference between sound on disc and sound in a concert hall; the former has a precision and attack always strangely muffled in the latter. Perhaps there are too many distractions in the concert hall - when Bernard Haitinck and the Concertgebouw Orchestra marched off the stage in Amsterdam the other night, refusing tp continue playing before a noisy, paper-rattling audience, they struck a blow for those who believe that the days of the concert hall are numbered and that before long, all music will be disseminated through gramophone records. Pop music went. through a phase, which reached its zenith with the Beatles'. Sergeant Pepper LP of paying lip-service to this belief, although it has since backed away from such an electronic commitment.

In recorded sound a great deal depends on the skill of the engineers, who have now elevated themselves from the role of button twiddlers to creative consultants. Many call themselves, record producers and profess to know nothing of the technical aspects of recording. But scratch a record producer and you find either a highly skilled Technician or a bad record producer. Peter Schekeryk who produced the Melanie LP clearly does understand his engineering. Every detail of the sound is clear and crisp and the ensemble is rich without being strained.

The trouble is that with such skill it is possible to obscure the essential vacuous nature of the product. I suppose Melanie is a product. although of what I am none too sure "If I had my dream" she says "I would fill a hall and tell all the people to tear down the walls but keep them from being a part of it all 'cause they gotta get close to it all and all accept and be part of it all." Born Melanie Safka in New York City, the daughter of a jazz singer, she sings about the need for simplicity in lyrics that are more or less unintelligible. But she does have an over-emotionalism which could he mistaken for Joplin or Piaf if it were not so throttled. Women singers. really good women singers, are rare now in pop music. Perhaps it's because show-biz no longer allows them to be hurt mauled.

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