Friday, November 26, 2010
Pretty Ballerina, Left Banke (1966)
I'll tell you what it would've been like - you'd have composed and enjoyed great success with the classic baroque pop hit Walk Away Renee, and followed up with my personal favorite, Pretty Ballerina. To hear this emanating from the radio in 1966 (well, both of them, really) was to feel instant ecstasy.
I think I had them pegged for British Invasion singles at the time, but it turns out they were all-American. Michael Lookofsky, aka Michael Brown, was the son of Harry Lookofsky, who was a trendsetter in bebop jazz violin. Harry had his own setup near the Brill Building in Manhattan, where Michael would help out and eventually start cutting tracks of his own with other young musicians who soon called themselves the Left Banke.
To the falsetto vocals by lead singer Steve Martin Caro and the haunting harpsichord (in the first instance) and piano (in the second instance) by Brown, add string arrangements by dear old dad, and these songs couldn't miss. Especially after Dad shopped Walk Away Renee all over the city until he found a record label that was interested.
Everyone from Alice Cooper to Leonard Bernstein has paid homage to Pretty Ballerina, with Bernstein even analyzing and playing it on his TV show back in the day. Alice's version is quite, shall we say, unexpected.
The usual "creative differences" led to Brown departing the Left Banke after the first album, with all of the attendant animosities and dueling versions of groups with the same name. He went on to form and leave at least three other bands (Montage, Stories - just before the awful Brother Louie - and the Beckies). The legends surrounding the dancer Renee are legion - whose girlfriend she was, if she was anyone's at all ... whether or not Brown had a debilitating crush on her - and from what I've read it's not safe to say anything with certainty because for every statement made, someone purporting to be close to the situation disputes it.
But none of that is important. What is important is that Pretty Ballerina pirouettes into my soul to this very day - lovely, lovely, lovely.