The song “Walk Away Renee” by The Left Banke is an example of Sixties Baroque pop music. Back in the 1700s, Baroque composers often used a descending bass line to convey sorrow. Writers Michael Brown, Tony Sansone, and Bob Calilli used this musical idiom in constructing the verse for “Walk Away Renee.” The bass notes descend chromatically (one half step at a time) throughout the verse, providing the same sorrowful effect. And this beautiful song about heartbreak is based on a true story.
Writer Michael Brown was secretly in love with the girlfriend of the Left Banke’s bassist. And the girl’s name happened to be Renee. Brown recalls what happened when the pretty Renee showed up at their recording session: “My hands were shaking when I tried to play, because she was right there in the control room. There was no way I could do it with her around, so I came back and did it later.”
The descending bass line, as well as the harpsichord and strings, led critics to describe the Left Banke’s sound as “Baroque Pop” and “Bach Rock.” The record became a solid hit, spending 13 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at #5 in the fall of 1966.
“Walk Away Renee” is listed at #220 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It became a hit just two years later for The Four Tops, and in 2006 for Linda Ronstadt.
And what became of the eponymous Renee? Renee Fladen-Kamm is currently a noted singer, vocal teacher and recording artist living in the San Francisco Bay area. She records medieval music as vocal director of the San Francisco based Sherwood Consort.
The Left Banke lineup was: Al Rogers (drums), John Abbott (bass), George Hirsh (guitar), Mike Brown (keyboards), Stever Martin Caro (lead singer).