Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: "Walk Away Renee" by the Lefte Banke

My schedule is making a liar of me; I'd promised myself to blog more often, especially since I have a five week Christmas break. I've been trying to get some big projects done that will make my day-to-day life a little more easy, a little more streamlined. I've plowed through a clean-up of my closet, a clean-up of my son's room (a lot of the stuff in there was mine) and a clean-up of the basement. I've also been working a lot-- trying to get ahead of finances, since it looks like my first clinical rotation will be Sundays, 7 am to 7 pm, which will mean I'll miss a day of work a week for about five weeks. There's been a big uptick in business at the restaurant I work at-- I think the economy is finally recovering. New Year's Eve was just insane-- I made as much money as I typically make in four shifts.

Somewhere in there, I've kept my promise to get some reading done. I've been plowing through Dan Epstein's "Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the '70's." I grew up watching baseball in the seventies, so the book is like a trip down memory lane, but with peeks behind the curtain to see the seamier side of the sport. I can't recommend the book enough.

Today is no exception schedule-wise. I'm trying to get a carload ready to run to the Salvation Army, but first I have to run my daughter to an audition at a performing arts high school she's applied to. And I can't tell you how much it means to me that she asked me, rather than her birth father (my wife's ex-husband) to bring her.

In any event, I decided I had time today to do a "One-Hit Wonder," The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee."

The Left Banke was formed in New York City in 1965. According to Wikipedia, consisted of keyboard player/songwriter Michael Brown, guitarist George Cameron, bass guitarist Tom Finn, drummer Warren David and singer Steve Martin, who also used the name Steve Martin Caro. Brown's dad, Harry Lookofsky, a prominent session violin player, became the band's producer, manager and publisher (and was undoubtedly responsible for the prominence of the violin in "Walk Away Renee" and their other songs).

In true rock and roll fashion, personnel changes and problems began even before "Renee" was a hit. Drummer Warren David was kicked out of the band and guitarist George Cameron took over the drum slot and Jeff Winfield was brought in to play guitar.

"Walk Away Renee" was sold to Smash Records, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Mercury Records, and was, appropriately, a smash hit in 1966. By then, though, there were problems. Despite the fact that The Left Banke had a subsequent, though much smaller hit, "Pretty Ballerina," Michael Brown bolted, using the name of the group for himself. The other members of the group ("Holy Pink Floyd, Batman!") hired lawyers to try to keep Brown from using the name for himself. In the meantime, Brown continued to record and release records as "The Left Banke," using session musicians, including, very appropriately, future Spinal Tappper Michael McKean. The other band members, who still controlled the band's fan club, urged fans to boycott the Brown version of the band.

In 1967, the band members settled their differences (no doubt the money coming in from their hit singles influenced this), but there was still confusion over their status, and they were never able to capitalize on their success much.

Eventually Brown left the and ended up in the group The Stories, who had a huge hit in the early seventies with a cover of Hot Chocolate's song of interracial love, "Brother Louie," (a future "One-Hit Wonder) But again showing his abysmal timing, Brown had left the group by the time of the hit single.

Apparently "Renee" was a real person, and seemed to be Brown's muse; not only was "Walk Away Renee" about her, but so was their follow-up hit "Pretty Ballerina," as well as the lovely, but not-so-big-selling "She May Call You Up Tonight." "Walk Away Renee" stands as one of the most lovely hit singles of an era rich in great music.


SkylersDad said...

I had no idea about that song until I clicked on it to play it. Then I remembered it, like many songs I never really payed attention to the words, but just loved the lyrics.

Churlita said...

My daughter loved that song a few years ago. I heard it enough to get tired of it for a while. But I can hear it again now. My daughter did that with The Zombies too.

Pat Tillett said...

you seem to be able to handle a schedule that would floor most folks. More power to you for that!

When "Walk Away Renee" was popular, my on and off girlfriend was named Renee. The song always brings back memories, as did your post!

Mnmom said...

Glad to hear you're making money at work! I grew up listening to, and watching, late 60's and 70's baseball too. My parents loved the game. Our frequent loooong car trips with only an AM radio always involved listening to baseball. Just say "Harmon Killebrew" and I'm 10 again, sitting on the vinyl kitchen chairs in an un-air-conditioned house in high summer. Eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream and nursing a sunburn.