Sunday, July 08, 2018

Hear the Classic “Baroque Rock” Torch Song, “Walk Away Renee,” and Read and See the Story of The Left Banke, the Group that Created and Performed It, and the Very Real Renee that Inspired It! (Photoessay, Text, Music!)


Renee: Her name then was Renee Fladen, and she was only 17 (16 in this picture), a year older than band member Michael Brown, whose heart she broke. She is supposed to have inspired Brown to write no fewer than three musical paens to her. This photo was authenticated by Phil Garrou, and is to my knowledge, the only legitimate photograph of her available online. She turns 70 next month.

The Left Banke, clockwise from left, circa 1965: the late Michael Brown, the late George Cameron, Steve Martin Caro, Jeff Winfield and Tom Finn.

By Nicholas Stix

I’ve heard this song hundreds, if not thousands of times on radios since my childhood, and never tired of it. When it came out I was barely eight years old. I must have heard the group’s name over the years—that’s what we called them, then, groups—but it never stuck. That’s surely because the group had very modest success after this hit, which made it to #5 on the Billboard charts, and broke up early over non-sexual, internecine conflict. (Michael Brown’s father was the group’s manager, and some of the members reportedly didn’t take to that arrangement.)

I never could understand the lyrics, beyond “Just walk away Renee,” but they turn out to be remarkably good.

There’s something of an inversion between the typical rock body and chorus.

The three stanzas of body each abruptly end, after two lines. The chorus, however, instead of being the same each time, has two sets of two, each of which starts the same for two lines, while the last two lines have two different versions.

The group’s music was called “baroque rock” or “baroque pop,” due to its classical-style arrangements.

Recent years have seen the deaths of harpsichord and clavinet player/composer Mike Brown (2015) and guitarist George Cameron (June, 2018).

Facebook page.

Tom Finn 2 years ago
Okay guys, Tom Finn of The Left Banke here. Back in the early weeks of 1966, we created "Walk Away Renée". The 4 Tops weren't even aware of it until it became a big hit later that year.... Let's say November 1966. Anyway, glad you like it, some of you anyway😏 It was written by our piano player Michael Brown, and the entire band was working on the vocals and arrangement. When it became a big hit, we were all surprised.

Walk Away Renee - The Left Banke - YouTube


Music by Mike Brown
Lyrics by Bob Calilli / Mike Brown / Tony Sansone

And when I see the sign that
Points one way,
The lot we used to pass by
Every day.

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


[Postscript, July 8, 9:34 p.m.: I removed a photograph of a young blonde playing guitar with a rock group I'd posted here, one of the many fake "Renee" pictures on the Web.]

In 1967, Renee Fladen married a fellow named Howard Kamm, who was only two years older than her. Although they divorced in 1974, and apparently had no children, she has remained Renee Fladen-Kamm ever since, which I find pretty classy.

Fladen-Kamm has remained a vocal coach for many years, working largely in medieval music, with the San Francisco-based Sherwood Consort. Thus, there was a spiritual connection to Michael Brown that was more than skin deep.

Speaking of Brown, he fell in love with and married his Yvonne, with whom he fathered twin sons Skylar and Adrian.

In case the reader wonders why there are so few pictures of such poor quality of Renee Fladen-Kamm on this blog item, it is because these are the only ones I could find and authenticate. There are numerous other photographs online cited as being her, but they all turned out to have been wrongly attributed, or could not be authenticated.

The way this develops is the Internet’s version of “telephone.” One looks up someone on Google Image, and all sorts of images pop up of different people, because the same Web page may have many stories on different people, each with an appropriate photograph. However, the slobs who dominate the Web make no effort to determine whether a given picture at Google Images is of the person they sought, and thus there are now Web pages devoted to Renee Fladen-Kamm that may have one or two legitimate pics of her, and several false hits. The slobs then “infect” Google Images.

Perhaps it's just as well that the real Renee's face remains shrouded in mystery. She's the stuff dreams are made of.

Michael Brown dies at 65; co-wrote pop classic “Walk Away Renee”
By Randy Lewis
Mar 20, 2015 | 6:30 P.M.
Los Angeles Times

Michael Brown was a 16-year-old classically trained music prodigy in New York in 1965 when he became smitten with the girlfriend of bassist Tom Finn, his band mate in the nascent rock group the Left Banke.

Knowing there was nothing he could do about his infatuation with Renee Fladen without torpedoing a friendship and possibly their band, Brown took the only path left to an anguished musician: He wrote a song about her.

"Walk Away Renee," which Brown wrote with Bob Calilli and Tony Sansone, became the Left Banke's first and biggest hit, topping out at No. 5 on the Billboard charts, and was an important early example of what came to be known as "baroque pop" for its ornate orchestrations, melancholy emotion and classical instrumentation.

Brown, who played harpsichord and Clavinet for the Left Banke, died of heart failure Thursday in Englewood, N.J. He was 65.
His death was confirmed by family friend Marge Finn to the Associated Press.

"That's a real special song for me in the whole pop music canon," Linda Ronstadt told The Times last year when she released a compilation of her duets with various singers, including her version of "Walk Away Renee" with Cajun musician Ann Savoy.

"When it first came on the radio, I didn't have any idea what the words were," Ronstadt said. "It just sounded like 'La la la.' I didn't know any of the words, I couldn't understand them, and yet, in a second, it became just one of those haunting songs you can't forget. I don't know what it is. There's the feeling when you give up on somebody, and you just let it go. That song nailed that arc of emotion and the arc of how it works. I love that song."

Brown followed "Walk Away Renee" with "Pretty Ballerina," another sweeping, emotionally wrenching ode to unrequited love that the Left Banke took to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. But almost as quickly as the group's star began to ascend, the band splintered and fell apart.

"Even with just those two hits to his name," UK writer Bob Stanley said in the Guardian, "Michael Brown was a songwriter of the very highest order."

Brown, born Michael David Lookofsky on April 25, 1949, in New York, was interested in doing what Beach Boys creative leader Brian Wilson had done: giving up live performance to concentrate on exploiting the new musical and sonic possibilities that technology was bringing to recording studios.

The Left Banke had been managed by Brown's father, jazz musician and session violinist Harry Lookofsky. That led to dissension within the group — which also featured singer Steve Martin [Caro], guitarist Rick Brand and drummer George Cameron — over Lookofsky's stewardship.

Brown left and became involved with other bands including Montage and the Beckies, neither of which had much commercial success, and Stories, another New York ensemble with singer-bassist Ian Lloyd that scored a No. 1 hit, "Brother Louie, " in 1973 — right after Brown had left.

He subsequently spent time in the music business doing talent scouting and development, but largely remained on the fringes of the music scene. A latter version of the Left Banke has performed periodically, and Brown joined them occasionally.

The Left Banke's sound influenced new generations of musicians and has been felt in the styles of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, Scottish indie pop band Belle & Sebastian and Swedish pop musician Jens Lekman, among others.

"I've been touched by a lot of music in my life, but only a handful of artists did I ever want to collaborate or perform with," songwriter and producer Andrew Sandoval, who contributed liner notes to a reissue of the Left Banke's debut album, wrote on his Facebook page shortly after news of Brown's death surfaced.

"Michael Brown was one of those rare people who I could imagine producing an amazing album. It is with regret that I mourn his passing and his brilliance not just as one of the finest writers of my favorite era, but as someone I wished I could have shared a song with."

Brown is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and twin sons Skylar and Adrian, according to the Associated Press.

Randy Lewis

Twitter: @RandyLewis2

Randy Lewis has covered pop music for the Los Angeles Times since 1981, working in that time as a reporter, music critic and editor for the Calendar section. He has interviewed most of the members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's also written first-person accounts of performing the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev on clarinet and singing Mozart’s Requiem with world-class professionals. In addition, he enjoys belting out "Wooly Bully" in dive bars with his band, the Rounders.


Anonymous said...

This is an example of one of those songs where for decades,I never knew all the lyrics--I thought I did on some of it,but actually,it turns out I was singing a completely different song.Or I'd hum where the words were unknown (plenty).I was way off on this one.Something like:
"And when I see the sun that,points my way
The years that used to pass by,everyday
Just walk away Renee,
you wont see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks are all (da da da da da da)
You're not to blame."
The next part I never caught.Never looked it up though--just sang what I thought up at the time--in my car almost always.
There are a lot of songs like that,where you invent your own version of a song."Windy","A Little Bit of Soul",Mercy Mercy Mercy"--I reinvented, in certain parts of the songs,that I couldn't clearly hear what they were singing.Sometimes I liked my version better,even after I found out what the correct lyrics were supposed to be.

--GR Anonymous

Anonymous said...

For a dude who's been forced into the underground 'hinterlands' of internet journalism by the full-blown Gestapo-level oppression of 'legit media', you have your finger on a shitload of fascinating 'pop-culture' information.
Much of this is utterly unknown - and considered insignificant - by these so-called 'gatekeepers' of what is supposed to count as 'culture' these days (99% of which is obscene trash).
BUT there are still legion of fans of a 'certain age' who instantly recognized the song, and yet have the same attachment to it.
It is because real, heartfelt emotion and talent create timeless art - otherwise no one would yet remember this anymore.
Thanks once again for another ass-kickingly great post EXPLICATING one more milestone of the soundtrack of our youth - great story.
[As a sophmore in Bronx Science in the '70's, I was fortunate beyond belief to be taught by the greatest English teacher I've ever known - Ted Rifkin - who introduced us to the importance of the term EXPLICATION, in the context of 'digging deep' when reading Shakespeare:
'too explicate': •analyze (a literary work) in order to reveal its meaning. synonyms: clarify · elucidate · explain · reveal' - something you've committed to do every day.]

Glaivester said...

I have my own story of this song: