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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

These Are a FEW of My Favorite Things ... Just Walk Away Renee

The Motown nights at Johnnie's on the Side inspired the creation of an entire block of music on my ITunes/IPod just for (hopeful) future use at JOTS.  One of my all-time favorite songs is the great ballad "Just Walk Away Renee," recorded in 1966 by The Left Banke but made famous in a 1968 rendition by The Four Tops.

I looked around online and found a few interesting clips on the song and its writer/lyricist and the inspiration behind the words and music.

As a side note: One of my life-long pet peeves is the fact that modern day DJs very rarely take the time on air to discuss the origins of the music they are about to play or have just played.  In the 70s, WLIR-Radio of New York,/Long Island had the strongest signal on the planet.  The sound from LIR was unreal.  The DJs took time and effort to play the best new, alternative music and they mixed it with just enough top 40 FM to keep the audience loyal and deep.

Rarely did the Motown sound make it to LIR but, if it did, you were sure to hear some background on the origin of the song and some intersting facts or - better yet - direct sound and insight from the recording artist.

Here is some info on "Walk Away Renee" that you would hear if I ever had the chance to be a DJ on an alternative FM dial station or on XM/Sirius Radio.
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.

And, if I were the DJ, you would also hear a little about Renee:

The song is one of a number Brown wrote about Renee Fladen-Kamm, then-girlfriend of The Left Banke's bassist Tom Finn and object of Brown's affection. She was associated with the band for a few weeks, and described as a free-spirited and quite tall blonde. The song was written one month after Brown met her. "Walk Away Renée" was one of series of love songs the infatuated Brown wrote after meeting his newfound muse.[8] Other songs written about her include the band's second hit "Pretty Ballerina" and "She May Call You Up Tonight". After decades of obscurity, she was identified in 2001 as a noted singer, vocal teacher and artist on the West Coast.

Brown says of his unrequited love for Renée:

        "I was just sort of mythologically in love, if you know what I mean, without having evidence in fact or in deed...But I was as close as anybody could be to the real thing"

Fladen-Kamm was looking on during the recording of the song, and her presence nearly prevented its completion. In an interview, Brown stated:

"My hands were shaking when I tried to play, because she was right there in the control room," he says. "There was no way I could do it with her around, so I came back and did it later.

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