The Left Banke: "Walk Away Renee"
The complexity of the song belied the youth of 16-year-old composer Mike Brown. Brown’s dad, violinist Harry Lookofsky, owned a small studio in New York City; Brown played keyboards and soon began rehearsing there with friends Steve Martin (vocals), Jeff Winfield (lead guitar), Tom Finn (bass) and drummer George Cameron. The teens called themselves the Left Banke and Brown, whose background was in classical piano, set about writing.
Members of the group told Dawn Eden that the inspiration for Brown’s song was Renee Fladen, a girlfriend of bassist Tom Finn:
George Cameron: Renee was Mike Brown's big love, and Tommy liked her a lot too. Tall, blonde, and quiet. Mike was like a little kid around her. He'd bring her up to the studio to hear his latest songs, and then we'd all come out and sing. She'd just sit there and listen and smile a lot. Tom Finn: I brought her over to the studio. For a kid of 16, or 17, she was free, liberal, open-minded, sexy- everything. She was just very different for that time, so she bowled Mike over.Mike Brown told Eden that he wrote “Walk Away Renee” in the winter of 1965, one month after meeting Renee. They never had a romantic relationship.
I was just sort of mythologically in love with her...The song’s reference to a “sign that points one way” was part of a fantasy of Brown’s. The one-way sign is at the corner of Hampton and Falmouth Avenues in Brooklyn; Brown imagined himself there with Renee, where he told her to walk away.
It was only because I was away from it that I could appreciate the beauty of it. Once you've become immersed in it, you can't see the sunlight coming through the window, because you are then in the light.
Besides providing the studio and producing the song, Brown’s father Lookofsky played all of the strings on “Walk Away Renee.” Steve Martin sang the lead and Brown played the signature harpsichord. Brown says that Renee’s presence in the studio upset him.
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.Renee Fladen, bothered by the attention from different members of the band, soon disappeared from their lives, but not before serving as the Brown’s inspiration for their second hit single, “Pretty Ballerina.”
Mike Brown left the group shortly after and the Left Banke never charted again. The Four Tops had a hit with a cover of “Walk Away Renee" in 1968. And Renee, now Renee Fladen-Kamm, moved to the West Coast where she became a singer and vocal coach.