What Have They Done to My Song, Ma

Album: Candles in the Rain (1970)
Charted: 39

Songfacts®:

  • This folk-pop broadside against the music business was written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Melanie for her Candles in the Rain album. Released as a single in Europe, it was a Top 40 hit in the UK, France and Norway.
  • Melanie was low on the bill at Woodstock when she performed at the festival in 1969. She made quite an impression though, which was great for her career but also put her into the industry cement mixer that took away much of the control she had over her music. She had a problem with others profiting from her creative work, which she makes clear in this song. It's a position she held her whole life, as she remained at odds with the business side of music. Her label, Article 27 Records, is named for Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants the right to participate freely in cultural life without "harmful exploitation."
  • The New Seekers released a cover as "Look What They've Done to My Song Ma," which peaked at #14 in the US and #44 in the UK in 1970. Ray Charles, Nina Simone and Billie Jo Spears have also all recorded versions of the tune.
  • The song was rewritten for a 1980s commercial for General Mills Raisin Crisp Oatmeal with the tag line, "Look what they've done to my oatmeal."
  • In October 2012, Miley Cyrus released a video of her own acoustic version of the song. The Wrecking Ball songstress re-recorded the tune two years later for the movie satire Free the Nipple. Her rendition was produced by Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes of the Australian dance duo Pnau. According to Mayes, it only took two takes for Cyrus to nail the recording.

    Free the Nipple director Lina Esco described Cyrus' version to Variety as "more rock 'n' roll… It's very Johnny Cash. Her voice is so raw, and the song is so raw."

Comments: 4

  • Heather from Los AngelesI always thought this song was about how disappointing people and life can be. "The Song" being whatever one does best and finding that for whatever reason you can't do it in a world like this.
  • Theancient from Canada1971 German cover version by Dahlia Lavi "Wer Hat Mein Lied So Zerstört, Ma?"
    See https://www.discogs.com/de/Daliah-Lavi-Wer-Hat-Mein-Lied-So-Zerst%C3%B6rt-Ma/release/1710468
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 28th 1971, Melanie performed "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'*...
    Was track five from her third studio album, "Candles in the Rain", and the album peaked at #17 on Billboard’s Hot Top 100 chart...
    Seven months earlier on August 30th, 1970 the New Seekers entered the Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #70 with their version of the song; eight weeks later on October 25th, 1970 it would peak at #14 {for 1 week} and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    * This was the 1,068 original and last episode of 'The Ed Sullivan Show'; the first episode was on June 20th, 1948 and was known as 'The Toast of the Town' until September 25th, 1955, then changed to the 'Sullivan' name.
  • Bill from UsSo this song could be about what the music industry would do to an artist's song (and brain) just to change it to what they think should happen, the price an artists pays when they sign the contract. But I always thought about what some other artist did when they "covered" a song, and tore it apart, like when anyone tried to re-do a Beatles song, or when someone like Andy Williams or Pat Boone sang anything back then! And when one of them would sing this song I couldn't stand it! I had several Melanie albums (over 40 years ago!), and recently re listened to her music, some really beautiful stuff that may be lost to many, Go Melanie!
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