When Melanie’s “Brand New Key” debuted in 1971, some people were confused. What did the singer, who died on Tuesday at 76, mean when she sang about having a brand-new pair of roller skates and someone else having a brand-new key?
Melanie told interviewers that she wrote the song in 15 minutes, after ending a 27-day fast, and that it was intended to be cute. The folk singer said that it did not have a deeper meaning, though many thought its playful lyrics about biking and roller skating were really about sex (“Don’t go too fast but I go pretty far”). It sounded strange, like a song out of time — Melanie said she intended it to hearken to the 1930s — sung with what could now be called a warbling “indie girl voice.” And it somehow hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song has lingered in pop culture, from a lip sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and Melissa McCarthy to a post-apocalyptic DJ playing it endlessly on “Kids in the Hall.”
“Brand New Key” wasn’t the first No. 1 song to perplex listeners, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Here are some of the strangest, and well, actually, let’s be honest, fun songs to top the U.S. Billboard chart over the years:
“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” by Bryan Hyland
A woman afraid and nervous to leave a locker room and be seen in a brand-new tiny bikini is the subject of this song that debuted in 1960 and was in the top spot for one week. The song might not have aged well, but it was resurrected in a Yoplait Light commercial in 2005 about a woman who, after eating the yogurt for months, was finally able to wear her own yellow polka dot bikini.
“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett
It wouldn’t be Halloween time without this song, which reached the top spot in 1962, sounding everywhere from grocery stores to home speakers. Elvis Presley reportedly told one friend that he hated the song and thought it was the stupidest he’d ever heard, Bobby Pickett said in an interview with Billboard. In the track, Pickett sang about a monster in his lab rising and dancing the “Monster Mash.”
“Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Connection
This European disco song only has six words and spent three weeks in the top spot after it debuted in 1975. Must we say more?
“Convoy” by C.W. McCall
A weird year, 1975. This song about a truck debuted then and spent one week at No. 1. It is about, well, a convoy crossing the country and became an anthem for truckers (and, later, Homer Simpson). “We got a great big convoy,” the song goes. “Ain’t she a beautiful sight?”
“Disco Duck” by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots
This song actually includes the sound of ducks quacking in the background. It was in the top spot for four weeks in 1976 and the video features a dancing duck. “I was on the dance floor acting strange,” the lyrics go, “flapping my arms I began to cluck, look at me, I’m the disco duck.”
“Mickey” by Toni Basil
The song debuted in 1982 and spent one week in the top spot. The cheer anthem, which was featured in the 2000 movie “Bring It On,” is repetitive: “Mickey” is said over 60 times.
“I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred
This earworm, which debuted in December 1991, held the top spot for three weeks. The brothers who made up the English pop band sang about what they were too sexy for: shirts, Milan, New York, Japan, other people’s bodies, cars, their hats, the list goes on. In the music video, the shirtless brothers dance on a catwalk while women in bikinis snap photos of them.
“Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” by Los del Rio
This song debuted on the chart in 1995 and spent 14 weeks at the top spot. The dance that accompanies this song is still performed at weddings.
“Harlem Shake” by Baauer
This song, made by a Brooklyn-based electronic producer, topped the chart in 2013, the same year Billboard added YouTube streaming data to its methodology. It unleashed a worldwide dance craze, with accompanying videos.
“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus
The unusual collaboration between the rapper Lil Nas X and country music star Billy Ray Cyrus debuted in 2019 and spent 19 weeks in the No. 1 spot. In July of that year, it became the longest-running No. 1 single in the 61-year history of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. The song sparked intense debate over what could be considered country music.