I learned today that Michael Brown, the initial creative force behind The Left Banke, has passed away at the young age of 65. The post below was originally published by me on April 24, 2010.
IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED
Women have been the inspiration of love songs for as long as there’s been music. In rock music, Pattie Boyd must hold the record as the most important subject of love songs. As the wife to both George Harrison and later Eric Clapton, she is credited as the inspiration for Harrison’s “Something”, “For You Blue” and “Isn’t It a Pity”, as well as Clapton’s “Layla”, “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Wonderful Tonight”. Not a bad collection of songs.
Some would argue the next most important woman in pop songs is Renee Fladen. Renee Fladen? Who the hell is Renee Fladen? She happens to be the inspiration of today’s songs of the week, the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”. Both were top 40 hits in the mid 60s in the genre that became known as Baroque pop or “Baroque and Roll”. (A third song, “She May Call You Up Tonight” was also written about Renee.) But back to Renee.
In an article I found on the internet, writer Tom Simon tells the story like this:
Violinist Harry Lookofsky owned a small storefront recording studio in New York City that he called World United Studios. In 1965, he gave a set of keys to his 16-year-old son, Mike Brown [real name: Mike Lookofsky], who helped out by cleaning up and occasionally sitting in as a session pianist. Mike began bringing in his teenage friends who tinkered with drums, guitars, amplifiers, the Steinway piano, and anything else they might find. Except for Mike, who had a background in classical piano, none of them were top musicians. But they could sing, especially one guy named Steve Martin.
By 1966 they started to call themselves the Left Banke. In addition to Mike and Steve, they included Rick Brand on lead guitar, Tom Finn on bass, and drummer George Cameron. Finn brought his girlfriend to the studio one day when the group had assembled for a practice session. She was a 5′ 6″ teenager with platinum blond hair. Mike Brown was infatuated with her the instant he saw her. Her name was Renee Fladen.
The group had begun recording songs, and Harry was particularly impressed with Steve Martin’s voice. Mike wrote a song about Renee. Although there was never anything between the two, Mike was fascinated by her and pictured himself standing at the corner of Hampton and Falmouth Avenues in Brooklyn with Renee, beneath the “One Way” sign. In his fantasy, he was telling her to walk away.
Harry played all the string parts on the Left Banke record Walk Away Renee. With Mike on the harpsichord and Steve Martin’s strong vocal performance, the song was a good one with a different type of sound to it. It came to be known as baroque rock, a style of music that included songs such as the Yardbirds’ For Your Love.
Harry took the song to ten different record companies before Smash Records picked it up. It entered the pop charts in the Fall of 1966 and remained there for ten weeks, peaking at number five. Early the next year the Left Banke followed up with another song written by Mike Brown called Pretty Ballerina, and it reached number fifteen…
As for Renee, she moved to Boston with her family shortly after the Left Banke recorded Walk Away Renee, and no one in the group ever saw her again.
Well, the last sentence may not be entirely true. In 2003, rock journalist Dawn Eden claimed to identify a San Francisco Bay Area classical singer and vocal teacher, Renee Fladen-Kamm as the long lost “Walk Away Renee.” Fladen-Kamm was also in a medieval English music ensemble called The Sherwood Consort. But she isn’t talking, so no one can confirm that she is in fact the Left Banke’s Renee.
In the 70s, Brown went on to form the Stories of “Brother Louie” fame, though Brown didn’t write the then controversial song about a white guy dating a black woman. A different Brown (Errol) wrote it.
Enjoy… until next week.