The first question Melanie Safka asks when she performs overseas is if she has hits where she is playing. “Then I ask what the hit songs are,” Safka said. “It might sound strange but it’s true.”
Three years ago Safka made her Korean debut and was surprised when told that ‘The Saddest Thing,’ a 30 year old deep album cut, has been a huge South Korean smash for more than a generation.
“I was taken aback but so pleased that the song is embraced by Koreans,” Safka said. “I had no idea it was a hit there since Koreans didn’t pay royalties until a few years ago. It’s a very sad song with a very Eastern scale. Maybe that’s why the Koreans were so taken by it. I had to re-learn it since I hadn’t done it in ages.”
During a tour of Europe, Safka, 63, found that her version of ‘La Bamba’ is beloved by Italians. “It was a nice surprise,” Safka said. “For some reason, they love my ‘La Bamba.’
When Safka, who will perform Thursday and Friday at the Record Collector in Bordentown, returns to New Jersey, she doesn’t have to ask which songs are hits. “I know New Jersey,” Safka said. “I’ve spent a lot of time there.”
Expect such staples as the catchy smash ‘Brand New Key’ and the melodic ‘Lay Down (Candles in the Rain’) when Safka performs. Any Jersey show is significant for Safka, who grew up in Long Branch and also lived in Lincroft, just over an hour from Bordentown.
“It’s always nice coming home,” Safka said. “You remember the good and the bad growing up and I have plenty of good and bad memories from Jersey.”
Safka was a bit of a rebel while coming of age in the Garden State. She ran away to Los Angeles when she was 17. “When I ran, I ran far,” Safka said. “It wasn’t the norm to run away to LA back then. People talked so much about what I did back then (1964). It was a different time and I was not your average teenager. A lot happened in New Jersey but that was so long ago.”
These days the veteran singer-songwriter, who cut her teeth in Greenwich Village clubs 40 years ago, lives in Nashville, is enjoying playing out as much as she did when she was starting out.
“I’ve gotten in touch once more with my life force, which is music, “Safka said. “I can’t tell how thrilled I am to still be out there doing what I love.”
Safka, who recently released her latest album ‘Ever Since You Never Heard of Me,’ admits that it isn’t easy coming up with a set list since her canon is so deep. “There’s a lot to choose from, “Safka said. “A lot of people show up to hear songs like ‘Brand New Key.’ Somebody asked me to do ‘Leftover Wine,’ a song, which never became a hit but it was somebody’s favorite. Sometimes I ask the audience what they want to hear. I never have a problem finding songs for the show.”