MP3: The Left Banke - Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina
It's really unbelievable that with the recent internet and press fuelled revivals of interest in bands like Love, Beach Boys and the Kinks that so far no one has got around to doing the same for The Left Banke. Formed in New York in 1965, the band played an intricately arranged mixture of baroque, string heavy pop and nuggets style rock, and are definitely one of the most under-appreciated bands of the era. The band signed to Smash records, a subsidiary of Mercury, and released their debut single Walk Away Renee in late 1966. It became a hit, reaching number 5 on the billboard chart, and was soon followed by the perhaps even more lovely Pretty Ballerina (recently covered by Eels on their With Strings live record) which charted at number 15 in early '67. Soon after their debut album, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina (imaginative title there) was released, and is just absolutely stunning. Not many other bands at the time were concentrating on high quality album tracks as much as The Left Banke. There's truly not a bad song on the record. However by late 1967 tension was forming amongst band members, and when subsequent material failed to chart, songwriter Michael Brown left the band. A record by the rest of the band, named Left Banke Too, soon followed in 1968, and is also rather great despite the loss of two bands members (singer Steve Martin had also gone AWOL by this point). However in 1969 Martin and Brown rejoined, and a new single, Myrah, came out. Not much more was to follow. A few songs were done for the soundtrack to the movie Hot Parts, but it wouldn't be until 1978 that three of the original members would release another album named Strangers On A Train, which featured the moderately successful hit Queen Of Paradise.
Rumours arose online in 2005 that most of the original members were rehearsing in preparation for a tour and possible recording, but the death of Beckies man Jimmy McAllister, who was set to be part of the lineup, saw the end of any more reunion related news. I really have no idea why The Left Banke's recordings are so hard to find. The only CD release I know of is a double CD compilation called There's Gonne Be A Storm which came out on Polygram back in 1992 and is long, long out of print, currently selling on ebay for $65 for used copies. I'm not sure why a label like Rhino hasn't picked up the rights to the bands catalogue to do some proper reissues, it seems such an obvious thing to do that I can only guess that there are some rights issues involved. I'm sure the demand would be there, as Michael Stipe has cited the Banke as being heavily influential on his vocals and songwriting, and Jens Lekman's recent excellent though uncredited sampling of Left Banke strings on 2 or 3 of his songs should be enough to get the hipsters interested, if they're not already.
For more info on The Left Banke, check out leftbanke.nu, which is an information goldmine and also features downloads of lots of unreleased and hard to find Banke and Banke offshoot tracks. The Left Banke Fan Page is also worth a look. Meanwhile if anyone has or knows where to get a Left Banke tshirt, I want one right now. RIGHT NOW. Here are the bands first two singles, which i'm sure you'll love as much as me, and should really inspire you to check out their other records. If my demanded reissue of their entire catalogue doesn't soon follow, i'll put more songs up in protest, mark my words.