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fromheadtoheart flag US - New York - Full Moon 244 - 07/20/16

From head to heart
The Left Banke's Walk Away Renée

Following our retroscope series going on for several years, here we go again. Yes, for one more year! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart, or simply tapping our shoulder. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth whirlwind us backwards to the golden year of 1966 - onw of the glorious years of pop'n'rock music. One year before the real 'Summer of Love'. 1966 saw albums like The Beatles' Revolver, Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, The Byrds' Fifth Dimension, The Kinks' Face to Face, Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, The Who's A Quick One, The Yardbirds' Roger the Engineer, Donovan's Sunshine Superman, The Rolling Stones' Aftermath, Simon & Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme [the album was launched in October, but the duo had already put out Sounds of Silence in January... - this was the 60s, you know...], Them's Them Again, The Lovin' Spoonful's Daydream [later that year they put out Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful, as well as the soundtrack album What's Up, Tiger Lily?! Yes, it was the 60s...], and The Fugs' self-titled second album to name but a few. 1966 also saw a lot of impressive debut albums as well such as: Small Faces' self-titled debut, The Mamas & the Papas' If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears [later in '66 they put out a second album, entitled The Mamas & the Papas], The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out!, The Troggs' From Nowhere, as well as self-titled albums by Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, The Seeds, The Incredible String Band and Love [Love put out their second album Da Capo later in the year!], plus The Association's And Then... Along Comes the Association, Roy Harper's Sophisticated Beggar, The 13th Floor Elevators' The Psychedelic Sounds of..., The Monks' Black Monk Time plus several others. Anyway, this moonth's single's A-side was a super summer hit of 1966 and it works pretty good 50 years later under the 2016 sun, as well. Harmonic, baroque pop rules, okay! There's nothing like an oboe solo, right?.

coverpic The Left Banke
Walk Away Renée b/w I Haven't Got The Nerve
Smash Records

The Left Banke was a New York band and included members who had been involved in doo-wop and other assorted groups but got inspired by more modern music when The Beatles and other Brits invaded the USA from 1964 onwards. It seems they found inspiration from local guys like The Lovin' Spoonful, too, and others playing in New York's Greenwich Village at the time, though maybe not so much from Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix. At first they were a kind of ad-hoc recording unit without a band name that included Tom Finn (bass, vocals), Warren David-Schierhorst (drums), George Cameron (guitar and vocals) and Carmelo Esteban Martin aka. Steve Martin Caro (vocals). The two former had been involved in a band called The Magic Plants that recorded an unsuccessful single produced by jazz and classical violinist Harry Lookofsky. Harry had established his own recording studio called World United, no less. After The Plants withered, Tom and Warren continued to visit World United along with their new musical friends mentioned above and eventually started to record some demos.

Harry had a son, Michael Lookofsky, later to be renamed Michael Brown by the other guys, after his father who used the alias Hash Brown on some of his recordings. He was only 16 years old at the time (we're talking 1965) and, being the son of his father, a classically trained musician, on piano. He worked in the studio as an assistant, doing all the work that no one else wanted to do, sorting out wires, cleaning ashtrays etc. - and occasionally playing the odd bit on some recordings. Eventually he played along with our Left Banke boys, too, for fun. And he had the keys to the studio. So they made a deal, unknown to Michael's father, and met in the studio in evenings after closing hours. One late evening Harry caught the band members there along with several girls and boys, and the youngest of the lot, his son. At first, Harry was furious, but our boys persuaded him to listen to what they had been working on. So they performed their newly completed "Something On My Mind", a catchy pop song with lots of vocal harmonies thanks to the doo-wop-background, and augmented by Michael on piano. And Harry softened. The next time they met, Harry had a proposition. The boys could continue recording if Harry was to be their producer and Michael was allowed to join the band. Everyone was satisfied and later Harry became their manager and publisher, too.

The quick rocker "I Haven't Got The Nerve" on the B-side of the single was the second song they finished writing and recording. "Walk Away Renée" was the third. Renée Fladen was a young blonde beauty that visited the studio on some occasions. Michael immediately fell for her. There was only two problems. She was Tom Finn's girlfriend at the time and Mike still hadn't turned 17. But he started to write this sad love song about her. The finished recording was quite different from what Mike came up with at first. Arranger John Abbott was recruited and changed some of the chorus where Mike originally only had played one chord. And songwriter Tony Sansone finished the lyrics. According to Sansone, he was the one who came up with most of the words and the name Renée, inspired by The Beatles'/Paul McCartney's French "Michelle". I'd like to believe Mike Brown's story, who didn't manage to play properly when Renée visited the studio, because of her presence. Which also fits the melancholic-romantic song.

Steve Martin Caro sang the lead vocals and Mike played the harpsichord on the final recording. Apart from that, band members Tom Finn and George Cameron only contributed backing vocals. The rest was played by session musicians, including arranger Abbott on bass and father Harry and his colleagues taking care of the strings and flute. The end result? Achingly beautiful and haunting! This is where the expression baroque pop really starts. I had never heard of The Left Banke when I stumbled across a compilation by the band on the great Bam Caruso label in the late 1980s. At the time, Bam Caruso was the prime outlet of fantastic various artists compilations, both cover art and musical contents, of British psychedelic and pop-sike songs from the 1960. The label also released compilations by vintage bands and a few by artists of the contemporary neo-psychedelic scene, too. I bought the album on the strength of the label and wasn't disappointed. "Walk Away Renée" was the opening track and I guess I fell in love with it as instantly as Mike Brown fell for the beautiful Renée Fladen.

And when I see the sign that points one way The lot we used to pass by every day

Just walk away, Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

From deep inside the tears that I'm forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide

Just walk away, Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
Now, as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me, it cries

Just walk away, Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
Now, as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me, it cries

Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me though they're so small

Just walk away, Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

Harry eventually found a record label that was willing to release the single, Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records. And the single eventually was a smash, that went to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a hit in Canada and New Zealand, too. The band hadn't recorded anything else in the meantime. Before the recording of "Walk Away Renée" was finished, Mike had persuaded drummer Warren to go with him to find fame and fortune in California. Harry found out before the plane with the two landed in Los Angeles, and they were escorted by police to another plane to take them home again. So Warren was the one to blame, according to Harry, and had to walk away from the band. When Harry wanted the band to tour, George Cameron switched from guitar to drums and Jeff Winfield joined on guitar. Jeff can only be heard on one song recorded by the band before he too was fired by Harry. This was only the tumultuous start of The Left Banke. When the band needed a follow up to "Walk Away Renée", Mike came up with a second song inspired by the very same blonde, "Pretty Ballerina" (later he wrote "She May Call You Up Tonight", also with Renée in mind). "Pretty Ballerina" was also a hit, but not as big as Renée. The band managed to record two albums, the second mainly without Michael. In between Mike went on the road with hired musicians calling themselves The Left Banke, while the other boys did the same... The band came to a halt in 1969 when further success failed to appear. It can be mentioned that a very young Steve Tallarico, later to be known as Steven Tylor, the front man of Aerosmith and the father of Arwen in the film version of The Lord Of The Rings, contributed backing vocals to some tracks of the second album. The Left Banke reformed in 1978 and recorded songs for a third album that wasn't released until 1986, to little success. It only included Michael on a few of the tracks. Some of the guys started to tour again as The Left Banke in 2011. Michael Brown entered the stage to perform "Pretty Ballerina" at one gig in 2012. He died from heart disease in March 2015.

Meanwhile "Walk Away Renée" has lived on as a classic. It was covered by The Four Tops in 1967, given the Motown treatment with horns in addition to the strings, but it doesn't sound that different to the original. It was a hit, also in Europe where The Left Banke version was almost unknown at the time. Later it has been recorded numerous times, by Frankie Valli, The Arrows, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Bragg, Orpheus and T'Pau to name a few. Australian singer-songwriter Rick Price had a minor hit down under with his rendition in 1993. But none can quite match the haunting beauty of the original.

Most of the information above is taken from the long in-depth interview with members of The Left Banke in Shindig! Quarterly No. 3 from 2011. Thanks, a great magazine!

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