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Just an awfully pretty little thing from a group that thought it was arty to put an extra “e” on the end of their name. Written mainly by band member Michael Brown, Walk Away Renée, a top five hit in 1966, was part of a “baroque rock” craze that briefly washed over the industry in the mid-Sixties, and was one of a number of big hits that featured woodwinds; the flute was as much a part of the Sixties sound as saxophone was for the songs of the Eighties, and like most contemporary trends that were flogged to death by lesser artists, it had its origin in a Beatles song, 1965’s You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.  According to Spotify, there are at least 60 songs that charted within three years after the Beatles’ use of the instrument that feature flute (or its close relative, the recorder, used most memorably by Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday ). Think California Dreamin’, Sloop John B, Pied Piper, Reach Out I’ll Be There, Going Up to the Country – it was everywhere, just one of those boulders the lads rolled down the hill before moving on to other things, never to repeat themselves, while dozens scrambled to latch on to the trend.

Still, it’s a lovely tune, regarded by some as the highest exemplar of the baroque rock genre**, and a rather touching expression of unrequited love for a real girl, so the story goes, written by Brown about bassist Tom Finn’s then-girlfriend Renée Fladen, also a performer, who hung with the group for a while. He wrote Pretty Ballerina for her too, and one wonders how much Finn understood about his band mate’s infatuation. None of the bios mention any particular rancour.

One might have expected Walk Away Renée to have faded into the distant past by now, a long-forgotten, idiosyncratic artifact of a bygone era, but no. Not at all. There’s just something about that melody, and that hook in the chorus, that keeps it from going away. The original is still getting airplay, and over the years other artists have kept coming back to it, including Billy Bragg, Rickie lee Jones, Cyndi Lauper (with Peter Kingsbery), Linda Ronstadt, Marshall Crenshaw, and even Motown’s Four Tops, back in the day. A more recent rendition by Vonda Shepard is also attached above. I found this in the YouTube comments section under the video of Lauper’s performance:

Renée Fladen

**Not hardly, if Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, and In My Life are lumped into the baroque category, as they are by those who argue that the Fab Four started the whole ball rolling.

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