"Walk Away Renée" is a song recorded by the band The Left Banke in 1966 (single release: July 1966, Smash Records, title printed as "Walk Away Renee"), written by the group's then 16-year-old keyboard player Michael Brown (real name Michael Lookofsky), Tony Sansone and Bob Calilli. Steve Martin Caro is featured on lead vocals. The song was also a chart hit for the Motown group the Four Tops[2][3] in 1968.

The song features a flute solo played during the instrumental bridge 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 1965 but wasn't a hit and in heavy rotation until early 1966.[4] The arrangement also includes a lush string orchestration, a memorable harpsichord part, and a descendingchromatic bass melody which led critics to refer to the group's sound as Baroque pop,[5] "Bach-Rock" orBaroque n Roll.[6] The session was produced by Brown's father, jazz and classical violinist Harry Lookofsky, who also led the string players.

Rolling Stone placed the song at number 220 in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[7] After its initial release, it spent 13 weeks on the charts with a top spot at #5.[8] and reaching #3 in the Canadian RPM Magazine charts. It has been widely recorded by singers in a wide range of genres and styles, often with great success. For example, Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy recorded the song on their 2006 album Adieu False Heart. The New York Times' reviewer Jon Pareles stated of their version that:

“ Their spare reading of the LeftBANKE'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 ”[9]

The real RenéeEdit

The song is one of a number Brown wrote about Renée Fladen-Kamm, then-girlfriend of The LeftBANKE'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 and tall blonde. The song was written one month after Brown met her.[10] "Walk Away Renee" was one of a series of love songs the infatuated Brown wrote after meeting his newfound muse.[11]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.[12][13]

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"[10]

Fladen-Kamm was looking on during the recording of the song, and her presence 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."[14]

However, co-author Tony Sansone has given a different version of the origin of the song. Sansone has stated in interviews that he wrote the lyrics for the song, and that he randomly chose the name Renee because the Beatles used the name Michelle in their hit song of the same name, and so he did likewise, choosing the French name Renee as the female object for the song.[15]

Session detailsEdit

  • 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

Notable recordingsEdit

The Four Tops' recording of the song was featured on their 1967 album Reach Out and is arguably the most famous cover version of the song, having reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, #3 on the UK Singles Chart in 1968, and #2 in the RPM Magazine charts. The Andantes provided backing vocals on this Motown release.