Today, The Left Banke is probably best known for “Walk Away Renee.” A No. 5 pop hit in 1966, the song has been recorded by The Four Tops, Frankie Valli, Linda Ronstadt and Eric Carmen, to name a few, and remains a staple of oldies radio today. But was The Left Banke a mere flash in the pan, just a one-hit wonder? Far from it. Yet things have been stacked against the group for quite a while now: neither of their two original Smash LPs has ever seen CD release in America, and the definitive CD-era anthology There’s Gonna Be a Storm, produced by Bill Inglot and annotated by Andrew Sandoval, was released in 1992 (Mercury 848 095-2), only to disappear thereafter. It today commands high prices in the second-hand market. Luckily, Sundazed Music has come along to remind us that there was much more to The Left Banke than that one irresistible song. On June 28, the label will reissue Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina and The Left Banke Too in their original stereo mixes, on both 180-gram vinyl and CD, reminding listeners of the lush sound of this all-too-short-lived band.
The group behind “Walk Away Renee” consisted of Michael Brown, Steve Martin, George Cameron and Tom Finn. Inspired by Finn’s then-girlfriend Renee Fladen, “Walk Away Renee” was the recipient of heavy promotion from Mercury Records’ Smash division and led the vanguard of what would soon be classified as “baroque pop” – or “baroque rock” – by those who feel the need to place such labels on great music. (Certainly Mercury did, using the punning phrase “go for baroque” on record album copy!) “Renee” indeed blended a killer pop melody with complex string arrangements, as did its follow-up, “Pretty Ballerina.” This followed “Renee” into the upper reaches of the chart, going Top Fifteen in 1967. Don’t walk away; hit the jump for more!
The group’s first LP, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina (talk about cutting to the chase!) displayed The Left Banke’s many dimensions including a tougher “rock” side; however, the group itself was in a state of flux during its recording. Jeff Winfield, a guitarist present for many early live dates, was replaced by Rick Brand, but more problematic was the matter of the group’s chief songwriter and instrumentalist, Michael Brown. Brown, echoing Brian Wilson, disliked touring and desired to create music free of road commitments. His father was also The Left Banke’s manager, which caused no small amount of frustration within the band. The final straw may have been when Brown teamed with songwriter Bert Sommer for a pair of singles, leaving Finn, Cameron and Martin out of the sessions for “Ivy Ivy” and “And Suddenly.” Unsurprisingly, those three gentlemen didn’t take it well. There was a brief reconciliation, but the group soon parted ways with Brown after recording “Desiree” and “In the Morning Light.”
Subsequently, Brand also exited The Left Banke, leaving Finn, Cameron and Martin to soldier on as a trio. Sessions continued, resulting first in the single “Dark is the Bark” b/w “My Friend Today.” They then turned to Paul Leka, of “Green Tambourine” renown, for the commercial, pop-oriented “Goodbye Holly” b/w “Sing Little Bird Sing.” Tom Feher, the writer of that single, also contributed guitar, and wrote “Bryant Hotel,” issued as the band’s next single. None of these went anywhere, indicating that perhaps the group’s time had passed.
The Left Banke Too was released in November 1968 and included all three singles mentioned above, plus the Brown tracks “Desiree” and “In the Morning Light.” Like the singles, though, the album failed to become a hit, though Andrew Sandoval (in his excellent liner notes for There’s Gonna Be a Storm) revealed that a young backup singer who made his LP debut on three of Too‘s tracks went on to bigger (and better?) things: none other than Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and, yes, American Idol. The Left Banke disbanded shortly after Too‘s release, although band members have since reunited in various configurations over the years. The legacy of music left behind went on to inspire and influence many diverse artists spellbound by the group’s classical-meets-pop productions.
Sundazed’s reissues of Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina and The Left Banke Too will, alas, feature no bonus tracks, but one can count on the usual Sundazed high standards in both mastering and packaging. Both titles are remastered from the original stereo master tapes (with the exception of “Desiree” on The Left Banke Too, which will be heard in mono). Expanded booklets will feature previously-unseen photographs and new liner notes drawing on interviews with band members. If you’re looking for odds and ends, There’s Gonna Be a Storm will remain the last word on that front, unless another collection arises out of the new relationship with Sundazed. But it’s certainly reason to rejoice that the label is bringing these two long out-of-print LPs back at last. Both Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina and The Left Banke Too are due on June 28 and can be pre-ordered at Sundazed’s website. For a fun glimpse at the master tape box for Smash LP SRS-67088, a.k.a. The Left Banke’s debut, visit Sundazed’s Facebook page!
The Left Banke, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina (Smash SRS 67088, 1967 – reissued Sundazed SC 6276/LP 5375, 2011)
- Pretty Ballerina
- She May Call You Up Tonight
- Barterers and Their Wives
- I’ve Got Something on My Mind
- Let Go of You Girl
- Evening Gown
- Walk Away Renee
- What Do You Know
- Shadows Breaking Over My Head
- I Haven’t Got the Nerve
- Lazy Day
The Left Banke, The Left Banke Too (Smash SRS 67113, 1968 – reissued Sundazed SC 6277/LP 5376, 2011)
- Goodbye Holly
- There’s Gonna Be a Storm
- Sing Little Bird Sing
- Nice to See You
- Give the Man a Hand
- Bryant Hotel
- Dark is the Bark
- In the Morning Light
- My Friend Today