50 years ago,Melanie Safka — who rose to fame simply as "Melanie" — released the irresistibly catchy "Brand New Key," which topped the charts around the world. In a conversation with Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International, Melanie told the unlikely origin story of the song, how she felt about it defining her career, and the shot of confidence it gave to Elton John.

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Bart Herbison: “Brand New Key,” one of my favorite songs ever! Melanie, you are going to have to forgive me if I fanboy because I worship you! …People may not realize that when ‘Brand New Key’ came out, it was the subject of a lot of supposition and a lot of innuendo, but I hear you wrote it because you were hungry.

Melanie: It comes out in a lot of songs. I was on a fast and a vegetarian previously. I wasn’t doing well as a vegetarian. I kept getting ill and colds and so I went to a fasting guru, Bernard Jenson. He was in Escondido, California and I was in New Jersey. I flew out and I had a big concert at Carnegie Hall and I couldn’t be sick. I was getting a cold. He said, “Come out and we will put you on a fast.” So I did and was on a fast for 27 days on nothing but distilled water, and it had to be distilled water so you didn’t get any extra minerals or anything. I was seeing God, and I didn’t really want to stop the fast. There are so many different opinions of fasting and so many different weird diet things. Anyways, I was looking for my perfect diet and solution and again, I had been a vegetarian and wasn’t doing well. On the 27th day, he said, “Melanie, I think it’s time to stop the fast.” I said, “No! I am starting to get visions!”

BH: I bet you were! (Laughing) 

Melanie: I had an experience with a mountain lion because we were in Escondido in the hills and I had this actual moment when I was looking at a mountain lion and thinking, ‘Wow! Isn’t he beautiful?

BH: That’s probably why he didn’t attack you, because you didn’t act afraid.

Melanie: Probably. I was just so not afraid. I was cleansed. I went back after Dr. Jenson said that my perfect diet would occur to me. He suggested that I eat meat because my blood type was O. I was like, “What!? Meat? No!” (He said, “At least, maybe once a week, because it will help ground you.”

I stopped the fast gradually by eating partially cooked grated carrot and zucchini. I did this for a few days and then I was on my way to a flea market...I came back with a big bag full of crazy stuff and I was hungry! We were passing something and I smelled this aroma. Dr. Jenson said it would occur to me, that I would know. I looked over and it was a McDonalds. This was the truth!

BH: By the way, McDonalds was pretty new then.

Melanie: It was very new. Just that scent of rancid grease, I don’t know what it was, but we pulled in and I got one of those combos and no sooner than had I finished the last bite of burger, that I wrote “Brand New Key.” It just came into my head. I had one of those little practice guitars in the van with me and when my husband, who was a record producer, heard me singing, he said, “What’s that?” And I said, “Oh, some silly song. I’m just playing around.” He said, “No, no--do that part again!” And I did, and he said, “Melanie, that’s a hit!” And I said, “A hit? No! If that’s a hit, I am doomed to be cute for the rest of my life.” And that is exactly what happened!

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Melanie: Thank you so much. And it’s the 50th anniversary of that song. Wow!

About the series

In partnership with Nashville Songwriters Association International, the "Story Behind the Song" video interview series features Nashville-connected songwriters discussing one of their compositions. For full video interviews with all of our subjects, visit www.ubraintv-jp.com/music.