THE LEFT BANKE
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The Left Banke are one of the strangest, well, *things* I've ever listened to...they're famous for their few hits, but equally as famous in the 60's community for their endless controversies. Heck, they're not even really a band, at least on their first album; despite their revolving-door cast, they still employed session men on most of their cuts. Ex bandmembers Tom Finn and Rick Brand freely admit that the band was immature, underprepared for success, overrun by strife, and should by all rights never have lasted past the first single, let along for two albums (and some miscellany, which I'll get to in a second).Yet they did, and these endless internal contradictions are barely perceptible to one listening to their music, which is some of the most amazing (if endlessly wimpy...geez, even the Zombies beat these guys out for spine!) I've ever heard. Really makes one think, eh? In any case, though, "following" the LB's career is surprisingly difficult, as while the band lasted only two albums, their "soul"--songwriter Mike Brown--has actually involved himself in quite a few projects over the years, some far easier to find than others. As such, I'll be Mr. Public Service and give a quick run-down re. Left Banke-RELATED projects that are well worth everyone's while: a) Montage. One of my absolute favorite lost-cause albums. Montage was a band that Mike discovered, and while he wasn't technically a member, he played keyboards on/wrote most of the songs for/produced their first and only album. And it's an absolute gem, a complete and nigh-unconditional success...the songs are beautiful, the production simple, and the effect tremendous. My only sore point is the lyrics (penned by Bert Sommer, who occasionally overexerts himself in tangled, endless metaphors) but even they're quite fine most of the time. Notably, Montage also contains two songs that will be familiar to LB-istas: "Men Are Building Sand" and "Desiree" (both in markedly different arrangements, the latter being infinitely stripped-down compared to its LB counterpart) After being OOP for, well, forever (it was issued briefly in 1969, quickly went out of print, and then RE-issued by Bam Caruso in the mid-eighties right before *they* largely went under), Sundazed finally issued the album on CD in 2001, adding three excellent bonus tracks. Well worth tracking down. b) Stories. Unlike the Montage, Stories is more of an actual band with actual personalities other than Mr. Brown...in other words, built to not last! Their first album has Brown's participation all the way, and is quite excellent. Following his need to NOT. BE. WITH. BANDS. FOR. MORE. THAN. ONE. ALBUM, though, he leaves midway through their second album, About Us, which ironically contained a Brown-less and completely uncharacteristic hit in "Brother Louie." Despite Brown's absence, though, About Us and the slightly-proggy followup Traveling Underground are both excellent...see my comments on LB Too regarding the "Lingering Greatness" effect. c) The Beckies. Possibly the strangest of the post-Banke Brown projects, honestly, and also the hardest to find (it's never been on CD, AFAIK). Think Badfinger-esque powerpop, in 1976, no less...its failure isn't exactly puzzling. That said, it's really quite good, even though one of the singers is *slightly* overmelodramatic...the album can't decide whether it wants to be a British Badfinger fest or a deeply-emotional...uh, I dunno, Raspberries fest, maybe? d) Yvonne Vitale. Apparently MB's wife/girlfriend, she released a disc in the early nineties for, oh, about 12 minutes. Said CD was chock full of MB compositions. I don't own it, but I've heard it...the lyrics are pretty awful, the production pretty awful, and Vitale's a bit inconsistent vocally, but it's still nice. Low on one's priority list, though. Apparently, Brown and some ex-Bankers are currently working on something, but only time will tell...also, some Brown/Sommer compositions show up on some of Bert's albums ("Magic Elixer," "Grand Pianist," etc.). AFAIK, these are not available on disc.
Steve Finney <firstname.lastname@example.org> (04.12.2005)
There's one more (very pretty) Left Banke obscurity, which is a Coke commercial available on a (bootleg? but available) CD called Things Go Better With Coke, which is a compendium of about 60 60's Coke commercials by groups such as the Moody Blues, Vanilla Fudge, BeeGee's, Troggs, Tom Jones, .... In general, they are original songs very much in the style of the bands, but "Coke" gets mentioned somewhere, and the refrain "Things Go Better With Coke" usually shows up at some point. I was never all that enamored of the Left Banke's two hits (which I remember from the 60's), but their Coke commercial was so pretty I went out and got the Storm album, and discovered some great stuff!
Mark Corbett <email@example.com> (20.11.2002)
In the past year I’ve discovered many great late 60s American pop albums. I’ve been stunned at the quality of this stuff. It's gorgeous. In addition to the above superb Left Banke album, check out the key albums by The Millennium, Sagittarius, The Association, The Cyrkle, The Turtles and Margo Guryan, to name but a few. This is music with no ‘sell by’ date, music that lifts you up and lets you float away. I’m off now to try and hunt down that album by The Yellow Balloon……..
You're right on the mark, BTW, about how Storm's restructuring of this album does little to effect it. Indeed, Storm's radical remixing of many of the album's tracks (to their *great* benefit, I might add) only heightens the feeling that this isn't an album at all, could never have been an album...it's a collection of tracks, and we'll leave it at that. Some are fully-realized studio productions, some are embellished demos, and some are just demos. That said, I completely agree with your conclusion, and the level of composition-ship here is absolutely mindboggling. An essential purchase.
Steve Potocin <firstname.lastname@example.org> (08.12.2002)
First thing, Mark Corbett Has been listening to my records! I have a small difference of opinion with George on this ; I feel the best song is 'Pretty Ballerina', it's close, I think I feel his pain more in this song, although Walk away is classic. Glad to see they have fans to this day. Brown formed the band Stories who did the song 'Brother Louie', strange, but true!
Is the song "Shadows Breaking Over My Head" by the Left Banke meant to be a scary song? Is it meant to be eerie? Please explain. I know that it's a song from the 1960's, specifically the year 1967. But was it meant to be eerie?Is the song "Shadows Breaking Over My Head" considered to be psychedelic? Was the song "Shadows Breaking Over My Head" meant to be psychedelic? Like a bad dream or a nightmare? What exactly is meant by that song?
Ray Tomorowitz <email@example.com> (19.03.2004)
Maybe I'm dating myself, just showing my age or dissatisfaction with much of today's so-called pop music, but the first Left Banke album belongs in everyone's collection. Very rarely do I enjoy every cut on an album. To be able to write a good poppy tune in under 3 minutes is a major accomplishment. Left Banke offered a distinct diversion to what was popular at the time. Let's keep all that in context. It was a moment in time that will never come again. Mike Brown's classical influence is all over the project. I was listening to it as I drove in to work this morning, and harmonizing with Steve all the way. I defy any group to put a package like this together today. Thanks guys. I salute you.
This is as good a place as any to sing the praises of this website as a place where one can discover (or rediscover) some great artists and discs from the past. It's because of this site that I picked up The Left Banke: There's Gonna Be A Storm, one of my best purchases of the past few years from an "unexpected pleasure" standpoint.For years the only Left Banke tunes I ever heard were "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina." Great tunes they were, but my favorites from the Left Banke's first album are "I Haven't Got The Nerve," "She May Call You Up Tonight," and "Shadows Breaking Over My Head." I love that harpsichord riff and the way the vocals add up in "Haven't Got The Nerve." "She May Call You Up Tonight" has even more intricate harmonies. "Shadows" has the best string section riffs in an album that's loaded with 'em. And the rest have a lot to offer, too, even that attempt at a country song. A key player in the Left Banke story was Harry Lookofsky (sp?) who was a veteran string arranger and player and also Michael Brown's dad. You can look up his credits on the AMG site...very impressive. Trouble was, he also was trying to manage the band, which led the others to see a conflict of interest, as we say in the legal trade. Anyway, Lookofsky and Brown had pretty much flown the coop for most of the second album, and I think you can hear a difference in the string arrangements. They generally lack freshness and often sound cliched and syrupy.
David Goodwin (28.11.2002)
For whatever reason, Mike Brown has something I like to call the "lingering-greatness effect," by which I mean that his absence, contrary to popular wisdom, doesn't immediately destroy the bands he formerly participated in, despite hsi presense being so valuable. I point to Too, Stories' About Us, and their Traveling Underground as prime examples, but it is on Too that it is most obvious. Sure, the entire album is the band essentially trying to *mimic* Brown, but I think they pull it off quite well, and I find it to be perhaps slightly more enjoyable than you apparently do. Note of endless agreement: 'Dark is the Bark' is utterly fantastic. Note of slight disagreement: I love "Desiree" unconditionally. It's my favorite "Wall of Sound" production from *anybody*, and some of the little production touches never cease to amaze me (I love, for example, the way the vocal harmony is split on the line "Somewhere far a*waaayyy*...Steve's voice is amazing). I also like "Bryant Hotel" in all of its obvious Kinks-ness, but yes, it is one of the weaker songs on the disc.And a quick comment on the actual Storm compilation. There's Gonna Be a Storm is, of course, the easiest Banke thing to find on disc, and it also provides the listener with *almost* everything they recorded. As such, I'd just like to fire off a few notes: a) Most of the first album is either drastically remixed, or presented in previously-unreleased mono mixes. The stereo remixes are *really* nice, as this album has always sounded weirdly poor. If you're a purist, the original mixes ARE available on CD (on Bam Caruso's And Finally disc, and LINE's disc of Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina), but good luck on finding 'em, and you'll probably be disappointed. b) Too is identical to the original album, but with a reshuffled running order, and 'Desiree' is real mono instead of reprocessed stereo. c) "Men are Building Sand" is a previously unreleased track, featuring Bert Sommer on vocals (he's also on "And Suddenly" and "Ivy Ivy") d) Storm isn't *quite* complete, as it's missing exactly three tracks. One, called "Foggie Waterfall" appeared only on Rhino's History of the Left Banke disc, and is universally AWFUL...I see why they left it off. Nothing redeeming. At all. The other two, released under Steve's name, are quite good, and have never made it to CD...time will tell, I guess.