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Walk Away Renée

"Walk Away Renée" is a song made popular by the band The Left Banke in 1966 (single release: July 1966, Smash Records), composed by the group's then 16-year-old keyboard player Michael Brown (real name Michael Lookofsky) and Tony Sansone. Bob Calilli is also credited as a writer, though he didn't actually write any of the lyrics or music - he received credit in exchange for setting up the session in which the writing stage of the song was completed. The song was also a chart hit for the Motown group The Four Tops in 1968.

The song features a flute being played during the instrumental portion of the middle portion of the song. Michael Brown got the idea for the flute solo from The Mamas & the Papas song "California Dreamin'" which had been recorded in November of 1965 but wasn't a hit and in heavy rotation until early 1966. The song also includes a lush obbligato string orchestration, memorable harpsichord accompaniment, and a falling chromatic bass melody which led critics to refer to the group's sound as Baroque pop, "Bach-Rock" or Baroque n Roll.

Rolling Stone placed the song at number 220 in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. After its initial release, it spent thirteen weeks on the charts with a top spot at #5. It has been widely covered by artists in a wide range of genres and styles, often with great success. For example, Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy recently covered the song on their album Adieu False Heart. The New York Times' reviewer Jon Pareles stated of their cover version that:

"Their spare reading of the Left Banke's 1965 hit "Walk Away Renee" brings the lyric's ache into full relief, and allows Ronstadt a brief return to the pop-rock milieu from which she emerged"

The real Renée

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 but quiet 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. . 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 present for the recording of the song which 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."

But according to the lyricist, Tony Sansone:

"I never saw or knew Renee. The name was used because the Beatles wrote Michelle so I thought they could use a French name so could I. Mike [Brown] went with the flow..

Session details

  • Drums: Al Rogers
  • Bass: John Abbott
  • Guitar: George (Fluffer) Hirsh
  • Harpsichord: Mike Brown
  • Strings: Harry Lookofsky & Friends
  • Flute: unknown session musician
  • Arranger: John Abbott
  • Lead Vocal: Steve Martin Caro
  • Backing Vocals: George Cameron & Tom Finn
  • Engineer: Steve Jerome
  • Studio: World United NYC
  • Date: early (1966)
  • Produced By Harry Lookofsky, Steve Jerome, Bill Jerome

Cultural references

  • Tom Scholz of the arena rock band Boston has credited the "heart-tugging mood" of "Walk Away Renee" as the main inspiration behind his band's signature hit "More Than A Feeling".
  • The Belle and Sebastian song "Piazza New York Catcher" contains the line "You’d settle for an epitaph like 'Walk Away, Renee'.
  • Gwen Stefani's middle name, Renee, was inspired by this song.
  • Singer Rod Stewart named his daughter born in 1992 Renée because "Walk Away Renée" is one of his favorite songs. Her mother is Model Rachel Hunter
  • Celebrity manicurist and Jazz recording artist, Deborah Lippman has a line of celebrity inspired nail colors which are frequently named after songs. One of her popular colors is a shade of burgundy co-created with Renée Zellweger and named after the song Walk Away Renée

Notable Cover Versions

  • The Four Tops have the most successful cover of the song. It was culled as a single from the Tops' LP "Reach Out" (which was released shortly after the Left Banke hit with the tune) and reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968. In fact, The Four Tops' hit "Reach Out, I'll Be There" and "Walk Away Renee" by The Left Banke were on the charts at many U.S. radio stations at the same time in early fall, 1966. This cover is perhaps even more notable because for the time, it was a bit of an oddity - a black band covering a hit by a white band when the reverse was the norm. The original reached #5 and the Four Tops cover reached #14 on the charts.
  • Frankie Valli recorded and released a disco version on his 1975 album "Our Day Will Come.
  • John O'Banion covered the song on his 1st EP "John O'Banion" 1981.
  • Rickie Lee Jones covered the song on her 1985 EP Girl at Her Volcano.
  • Southside Johnny covered the song on his 1986 album "At Least We Got Shoes.
  • Billy Bragg has covered the song, but with different lyrics..
  • Vonda Shepard sang it on the television series, Ally McBeal, referring to one of the characters who was called Renee. Her version appeared on the album, Songs From Ally McBeal.
  • Tori Amos performed the song in honor of Schapelle Corby at her May 10, 2005 show in Brisbane, Australia.
  • Les Fradkin has an version on his 2006 release- "Goin' Back".
  • David Cassidy covered the song on his 2003 album "Touch of Blue.
  • The Ronstadt/Savoy cover was used as a closing song for NBC's Crossing Jordan in January 2007.
  • GJORGI covered the song on his 2nd EP "Now And Forever" in 2008. This version was produced one of the song's co-writers, Tony Sansone, including an extra verse which was written by Sansone in 1975 for Frankie Valli.


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