Melanie, “(Lay Down) Candles In The Rain”

Written by August 19th, 2013 at 8:58 am

22-year-old Melanie Safka was one of the more unlikely performers at Woodstock in 1969. By her own admission, she was a relative nobody without any big hits to her name and had never performed in front of more than 500 people, let alone the 100,000 who would gather in New York. Her escort to the festival was her mother and she had her first encounter with celebrity when Joan Baez sent her a pot of tea to combat a nervous cough she developed while waiting to perform.

Yet when she stepped out onto the stage on Friday night, August 15, 1969 just before 11 PM, she was greeted by the audience lighting candles (and lighters) in an effort to psychically beat back the rain that had been falling. Not only did Melanie perform a successful set (“I went on as an unknown and I came off that stage as a celebrity,” she recently told American Songwriter), but she also had the inspiration for her first Top 10 hit.

Speaking of how she wrote “(Lay Down) Candles In The Rain,” Melanie says, “I left that field with that song in my head, the anthemic part.” The lyrics speak to the sense of community that washed over Safka on that magical night. “It was this incredible flow of human power being directed toward me,” she says. “And I got to see the hillside light up like so many fireflies.”

Melanie got some assistance on the song from the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who had their own gospel hit with their arrangement of “Oh Happy Day” two years earlier. Melanie had to beg the group to join her on the song, since they were reluctant to perform any song that didn’t make sepcific mention of the Lord. “But he’s in there,” she told them in the studio, and she must have been convincing. “By the time I finished singing,” Safka says, “they were joining me in the chorus.”

It was an unlikely combination of folk introspection and gospel exultation, and it’s refreshing to think of an era in music when such a song could conquer the charts. Melanie attributes some of its success to the time period in which it was released. Not only was there the Woodstock connection, but the song also spoke to those fed up with the Vietnam War. “It gave it a lot of poignance that it might not have had if it happened at another time,” she says.

Timing aside, Melanie says that “(Lay Down) Candles In The Rain,” had a special feeling about it even as she was writing and recording it. “I sensed something important about it,” she says. Audiences have been sensing the same thing for 43 years now since Melanie Safka’s piercing voice first asked us to let our white birds smile and raise our candles high to hold back that ever-threatening rain.

Click here to read the lyrics.

  • Debi Kay Hopper Suing-Olenick

    I have a white birds picture of my own I took at the Texas Coast of Seagulls Flying over my head after we had finished feeding them. Just awe-inspiring; and The Sun was in the bottom right hand corner of my Frame. Then, They Spread their Wings and Flew Far Away. “I am the Lord’s Stylus.” Debi K. Hopper Suing Olenick. Namaste. 10-8.

  • 4waysunshine

    I discovered this song from the fantastic Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock Roll compilation.

  • Laurie A J

    Such timing……I was just talking about Melanie yesterday with a few songwriters (some which were too young to have heard of her). More’s the pity. She’s a great writer.

  • timsored

    I saw her at the Mosport Raceway festival in 1970. Remarkably unforgettable performance. I think she may have been the very first act.

  • Carlene Thissen

    I was at Woodstock in ’69 and spent this past weekend making Facebook entries about the experience. (feel free to view them – just look at Carlene Thissen.) Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) includes the words, “fed the world on oats and raisins.” My memories explained what that meant. The song captures the spirit of Woodstock perfectly. Twenty-five years later, about 20,000 people showed up at the original site (Yasgur’s Farm). It was almost like the original, including rain. Melanie showed up, unannounced, and performed on a rudimentary stage. :)

  • Doak Turner

    Ed Salamon interviewed Melanie a couple weeks ago at Two Old Hippies in Nashville. At the end of the interview, Melanie sang the song and we all joined in with the chorus – one of those Nashville moments that you treasure the rest of your life! Melanie then sang Brand New key and Look What they’ve Done To Our Song then signed her books!

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