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.
They tried some other recordings without much success and Mike left the group a short time later. He stayed in the music business for a number of years. The Left Banke tried to carry on but didn't last long without its principal songwriter; they did, however, re-group for one more song in 1980. Brown is regarded by some as overrated and unpredictable, and by others as a musical genius. His reputation is based primarily on the tremendous success of Walk Away Renee, a song he wrote as a teenager.
The Four Tops successfully covered Walk Away Renee in 1968 and had a number fourteen hit with it.
As for Renee, she moved to Boston with her family shortly after the Left Banke recorded Walk Away Renee, and no one in the group ever saw her again.
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