Skip

She's still walking away...
July 24, 2007 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Anybody out there remember The Left Banke? They were a kinda Beatle-y 60's pop/rock outfit out of New York City. Critics labeled them "baroque-pop", apparently due to the "classical" influences in their music. They're surely best known for their catchy little harmony vocals hit from 1966, Walk Away Renée. And in a reversal of the more common trend of white artists covering Motown hits, a rather unexpected version by The Four Tops turned up. Arguably, the song wasn't exactly a perfect fit for the soul vocal quartet at the time they first recorded it, but more recent performances show that they've grown comfortable with it over the years: maybe it's the slower tempo. Here's the lyrics. And the story behind the song. And what the hell, the Wikipedia page. And Songfacts. They all have something of interest to offer concerning this durable little number, originally written by a 16-year-old!
posted by flapjax at midnite (51 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I actually first heard the quite different version by Billy Bragg, but can't find that on Youtube. Nice post flapjax!
posted by Abiezer at 12:18 AM on July 25, 2007


The whole of the Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina LP is a beautifully constructed work, well worth seeking out. Beware of later incarnations of the band - they lost their main songwriter after the first album.
posted by item at 12:22 AM on July 25, 2007


This page intentionally Left Banke.
posted by flashboy at 12:24 AM on July 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


Amazing things one learns here...I loved that song as a kid. Cool post flapjax.

It had that California Dreamin' Mamas and Papas flute thing going on. Some Summer in the City Lovin' Spoonful electric keyboard. Some Eleanor Rigby violins. Has that high male voice, haunting waif seeker feel to it that the mid-60's band, Love.

Now that I look at the lyrics, they're pretty stalkery. Maybe that's just part of the teen yearning thing.

A little more history about the song, the Renee in question.
posted by nickyskye at 12:29 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love the Left Banke's version of "Walk Away Renee" a lot. I think I love Ida's version just a little bit more.
posted by Guy Smiley at 12:33 AM on July 25, 2007


Hey, Guy Smiley, that Ida version is quite nice: some creative and unexpected harmonies in there. Thanks for that. And for your more history link also, nickyskye.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:41 AM on July 25, 2007


ooh Guy Smiley, that Ida version is so dreamy. The original has a kind of rawly piquant feel to it, a different kind of endearing. But I really do like the Ida version too.
posted by nickyskye at 12:44 AM on July 25, 2007


Songfacts is great fun. Thanks for that pointer.
posted by MinPin at 12:53 AM on July 25, 2007


Founding memeber of the Left Banke, Tom Finn, provides another reason to hate rich people.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:58 AM on July 25, 2007


My favorite Left Banke song is "She May Call You Up Tonight". Great lead vocal, great harmonies and why that record never became a sixties classic is beyond me.
posted by gfrobe at 1:08 AM on July 25, 2007


...why that record never became a sixties classic is beyond me.

These things are mysterious and unpredictable, for sure. Purely for purposes of discussion, I'll throw this out: New York bands that have gone on to massive and sustained nationwide (and worldwide) popularity are surprisingly few, especially considering that New York is America's premier city, and it's been chock fulla bands for decades now. So you've got, what, The Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, and a few others? (MeFiers please fill in the blanks). The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls (who found relative mass appeal years after the fact) don't really count.

Anyway, obviously I'm not saying that's why the Left Banke didn't go on to become a household word. Like I said, the NewYork bands thing is just for the sake of potential discussion.

Heck, maybe it was that silly extra "E" tacked on to their name. People just couldn't get with that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:21 AM on July 25, 2007


"I was just sort of mythologically in love, if you know what I mean," he says, "without having evidence in fact or in deed."

This is exactly how listening to the song again made me feel. There is something about hopeless infatuation as a teenager that is...I dunno. It's poignant and beautiful and painful and so incredibly real. Part of it is the knowledge in the back of your head that things mostly don't turn out like Hollywood movies and the dorky good guy doesn't get the goddess--and later, you realize that's OK; there are only so many goddesses and plenty of heroes.
posted by maxwelton at 1:29 AM on July 25, 2007


Arguably, the song wasn't exactly a perfect fit for the soul vocal quartet at the time they first recorded it

I think the original version actually was -- but the original Four Tops version wasn't what you posted, but some later crap version. Was that even the great Levi Stubbs singing? If so, he must have been having a bad voice day that day. It also loses the fantastic drums -- a high point of the song.

Try this one instead
.

Of course, here in the UK, the Tops version was a huge hit, whereas the Left Banke never did anything at all, so it may be familiarity
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:31 AM on July 25, 2007


Also, she looked like this.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:41 AM on July 25, 2007


Good point about the drums, Peter McDermott: the drumming on the version you've posted seizes the day! And indeed the vocal performance from your link is much better. Still, both versions in these Four Tops links, for me personally, suffer from just a bit of... how to put it... the material just isn't a good match for the vocalist's style of delivery, his sound, his personality. Obviously, though, that's just my opinion.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:44 AM on July 25, 2007


Great post! Thanks for reminding me of that classic song from my youth. Lots of stuff I didn't know in the links, too. I'll have to check out some of their other songs. My attention was directed more to the Buffalo Springfield (and the Beatles) at the time.
posted by kram175 at 1:48 AM on July 25, 2007


Thanks, Peter McDermott - I see what you mean about the drums. Also, though it's hard to hear through YouTube, it seems to me the bass was really happening on that track too.
posted by kram175 at 1:57 AM on July 25, 2007


it seems to me the bass was really happening on that track too.

Hell, it's darn near impossible to find a classic Motown track where the bass isn't really happening. Generally thanks to James Jamerson.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:02 AM on July 25, 2007


Interesting story. What's the deal with that Carol Kaye thing??
posted by kram175 at 2:25 AM on July 25, 2007


What's the deal with that Carol Kaye thing??

Actually, I don't know: seems to be a whole bucket of worms, all that. Tell the truth, that's a bit of a whacky Jamerson site I linked to...and I've successfully derailed my own thread, so lemme get outta here...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:38 AM on July 25, 2007


Really great post flapjax, thanks.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:35 AM on July 25, 2007


Thanks for the reminder flapjax at midnite. I ended up singing (sort of under my breath) this as I was preparing dinner tonight. The rest of the family was all… what the hell is that you're singing? I just gave the whippersnappers my 'before your time and you'll never appreciate it anyway' look.
posted by tellurian at 5:36 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Somehow, hearing that song makes me feel really sad. Me thinks because when I first saw it, I had just seen the movie
'Bonnie and Clyde', and the lovers were blown away in a hail of gunfire. That's what you get when you sneak into an R rated movie and you're only 9 years old.
posted by doctorschlock at 5:40 AM on July 25, 2007


kinda Beatle-y

It it the Beatles haircuts, the Hofner bass, or the singer that looks like Paul McCartney?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:07 AM on July 25, 2007


If you listen to "Something on My Mind" by the Left Banke and then "Black Cab" by Jens Lekman - they seamlessly blend into one another. Clearly Jens heard that song before I did.
posted by pinky at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2007


Great post, FAM.

Anyone know what's the connection to Larry Hovis?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:17 AM on July 25, 2007




It it the Beatles haircuts, the Hofner bass, or the singer that looks like Paul McCartney?

All of the above, actually, plus their sound. Kinda... Beatle-y.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:30 AM on July 25, 2007


GREAT post, as ever. Now, to respond to StickyCarpet:

That has to be the worst set I've ever read about. JESUS. That is why I hate the British affinity for 'having a disco'.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:37 AM on July 25, 2007


Curse you stupidsexyFlanders, Anyone know what's the connection to Larry Hovis?
I was wondering about that myself and your comment led me to google up this monstrous, proto-myspace, no content, zero aesthetic, self promotion horror.
posted by tellurian at 7:00 AM on July 25, 2007


Great post!! The Left banke made fantastic music, and it is a big influence on contemporary bands like the Essex Green or The Ladybug Transistor.The Billy Bragg version is fantastic and it is Johnny marr who plays the guitar. You can find it in Billy's "Reaching out to the Converted" Cd.
posted by elmono at 7:06 AM on July 25, 2007


Wow, I *LOVE* the Left Banke. Certainly my favorite Baroque and Roll band. I never expected anyone else to be into them. I even like Michael Brown's other project, Montage.

It's a shame that the only way to get their material is on an out-of-print reissue. I had to drop some serious change to get my copy.

Anyway, great post. I had no idea about the story behind the song. Also, I'd love to get a higher-quality version of the Four Tops' recent cover - it sounds like they've really mastered it.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:09 AM on July 25, 2007


Sometimes I download huge batches of random mp3s, and then click through making instantaneous delete decisions. I use Pretty Ballerina as a kind of gold standard in my mind for what to keep. Singer slide up into a note instead of effortlessly nailing it? Unneeded vibrato, tremolo or other vocal flourishes? Power of voice, weak or strong, doesn't match the meaning? Instant deletion.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


It it the Beatles haircuts, the Hofner bass, or the singer that looks like Paul McCartney?

All of the above, actually, plus their sound. Kinda... Beatle-y.


Do you have an example of a Beatles song that has a similar sound?
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:44 AM on July 25, 2007


...why that record never became a sixties classic is beyond me.

These things are mysterious and unpredictable, for sure.


No they are not--not for people who had to endure them when they were first released. Blame heavy rotation on Top 40 radio. One gets sick of hearing the same song over and over and the more towards novelty song territory the song in question tends, the worse it gets. Some songs do not bear up under endless repeats on the hour and half hour for weeks on end. This was one of those.
posted by y2karl at 7:56 AM on July 25, 2007


there's an excellent Ida version of this song out there. And Jazz and RnB musicians appropriate "white" music all the time and always have. They've just been more likely to do so legally.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:39 AM on July 25, 2007


Do you have an example of a Beatles song that has a similar sound?

Maybe something "In My Life" or "The Fool on the Hill"?

I actually first heard the quite different version by Billy Bragg, but can't find that on Youtube

There's a 30-second sample on the Amazon page for Must I Paint You a Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2007


Hm, I've never been quite sold on the Beatles comparison myself, likening them more to the Zombies, though maybe that isn't so useful a reference. When i listen to them I always wonder why they have never featured on the soundtrack to a Wes Anderson movie.

And Pretty Ballerina beats Walk Away Renee every time for my money.
posted by palimpsest at 9:16 AM on July 25, 2007


Enjoyed your comment StickyCarpet. huh. Curiosity piqued. Had to go listen to Pretty Ballerina on YouTube to hear what you were talking about. Hadn't heard that song in decades. ahhh. Very nice. Yes, a very likable clarity and zen simplicity. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 9:36 AM on July 25, 2007


"The whole of the Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina LP is a beautifully constructed work, well worth seeking out. Beware of later incarnations of the band - they lost their main songwriter after the first album."

Man, while I dig Renee, the rest of the LP just left me kinda bored. The Zombies comparison is apt, but I much prefer The Zombies (or even United States of America).
posted by klangklangston at 9:43 AM on July 25, 2007


... that Ida version is quite nice: some creative and unexpected harmonies in there....

... which is kinda Ida all over, anyway. They have some of the nicest, most unusual harmonies of any band I've ever heard. Though I'd never heard their cover before. Billy Bragg's version is a great track to play when you want to convince people that, yes, they guy actually does know a thing or two about how to deliver on a song.

"Walk Away Renee" is such a pretty song, it's a shame it's so creepy when you think about what it's saying.
posted by lodurr at 9:47 AM on July 25, 2007


gfrobe writes: ...why that record never became a sixties classic is beyond me.

flapjax writes: These things are mysterious and unpredictable, for sure.

y2karl writes: No they are not.

I see. And here I've been, all these years, thinking there was some element of chance and luck, mystery and unpredictability surrounding the music business. But thanks for showing me the error of my ways. One might wonder, however: with such a cast-iron understanding of what makes a hit or not, shouldn't you have gone into the record business? You certainly could've been a very rich man by now, with such a cast-iron grip on how this exact science works.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:18 PM on July 25, 2007


Stalking? Wha...?

Question:

Is On the Street Where You Live about a stalker?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:18 PM on July 25, 2007


Well, yah, it kinda is. But he's a nit-witty upper class twit of a stalker, so it's OK. I guess.

It can be "stalkery", and still pretty. It can be creepy, and still sweet. I mean, love is a pretty dangerous and transgressive thing (not to mention being wildly impractical by comparison with, say, family-arranged mating). It would be kind of an amazing surprise if humans engaged in affairs of the heart didn't get themselves pretty messed up about it, all things considered.

must...resist...urge...to quote...Nietzsche...
posted by lodurr at 6:00 PM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Just walk away Renee,
You won't see me follow you back home"

As far as I understand, the relationship has ended and she's walked away. But he's following her home without her knowing it. Yeah, that's stalker behavior.

On The Street Where You Live is pre-relationship obsessing. And Eliza tells him to scram, that she doesn't want to be fenced in.

But both songs beautifully describe aspects of love-yearning, the highs and lows.
posted by nickyskye at 6:30 PM on July 25, 2007


Two other bits of trivia: The Folk Implosion sampled bits of the Left Banke's "I Haven't Got the Nerve" for their song "Natural One." In addition, "Pretty Ballerina" was an inspiration for Prince when he wrote the song "Manic Monday" for the Bangles. There's a baroque keyboard part in Manic Monday that sounds a lot like Pretty Ballerina speeded up.
posted by jonp72 at 6:58 PM on July 25, 2007


flapjax at midnite, thanks for posting this. I really do love this song, although I'm surprised that there was discussion on it not being a hit. I know that it may not have garnered a lot of monetary or critical success at the time, but "Renee" shows up all the time on oldies radio (or at least did when I listened to the radio).

And pinky, that's because Jens Lekman is great at sampling.
posted by sleepy pete at 11:28 PM on July 25, 2007


This is supposed to be the actual Renee. And this is what she does now, when she's not painting.

it's a shame it's so creepy when you think about what it's saying.

Do you mean this part?
Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
He could just be saying (maybe to himself, maybe directly to her) that it's right for her to walk away (forget about them being together) and that he isn't going to try to get her back. (If someone said "You won't see me doing that shit," it would mean "There's no way I would do it," not "I will do it but I'll hide in the bushes so you don't catch me doing it.")

Or he could indeed be saying that he is going to literally retrace the steps they used to walk together, reminisce about her, maybe hope to catch sight of her, maybe even actually walk behind her now (once) without wanting to confront her, and not mean he's the kind of guy who lives to follow her or who climbs the fire escape and peeks in at his former girlfriend when she's on the toilet.

It doesn't have to be all that creepy.
posted by pracowity at 5:49 AM on July 26, 2007


One might wonder, however: with such a cast-iron understanding of what makes a hit or not, shouldn't you have gone into the record business?

Well, I can see that I'm not the only moody one here...

It was a hit. The comment in question was why that record never became a sixties classic is beyond me. My response was that it was likely that because a lot of people heard it a million times on the radio for weeks when it first came out, that they never wanted to hear it again. Not every huge hit is recalled as a classic--some wear out their welcome in their time. It was, at least, no My Green Tambourine. Oh, man, that was the worst.
posted by y2karl at 7:55 AM on July 26, 2007


"Stalker" versus "romantic" is one of those eye-of-the-beholder kind of things. Not even a thin line -- just whether the stalk-ee wants it or not.*

I've been "stalked", and I've been stalked, and the only real difference between the behaviors was that the identity of the "stalkers" was a pleasant surprise, while the identity of the stalkers was unwelcome prior knowledge.

Renee might be into it, in other words. Mary might think he's a creep.
--
*For purposes of this comment, stalk-ee is assumed not to be at risk for life or limb. Use of your Metafilter in this manner might constitute abuse. Your mileage may vary. Not a real doctor.
posted by lodurr at 2:24 PM on July 26, 2007


...My Green Tambourine.

I just heard that on the radio the other day. For the first several bars of the intro, I thought it was some song from Tommy.

It is kind of a dumb song, now that you mention it.

What's saddest, to me, is when a pretty good song gets massively over-exposed to the point that people can't stand it anymore. In teh late 70s, e.g., Boz Scaggs was everywhere. It got to where it irritated the hell out of me. Then sometime in the late 80s, I happened to tune in to WRPI one morning and the DJ was playing a bunch of Boz Scaggs, and I though, "Geez, I didn't remember that this stuff was actually good." A lot of Mommas & Poppas stuff is that way for me, too.

I got lucky with "Hey Ya" because I barely listened to the radio when that was on saturation play. So I can still enjoy it when it comes on, while the others in my household are lunging for the dial to get rid of it.
posted by lodurr at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2007


« Older [Insert something about internet killing radio...   |   Universe, by Jonathan Harris and the world Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post