In recent months there have been a number of obituaries in newspapers and magazines relating to well-known, influential contributers to our beloved music scene, but one who received much less publicity was a certain Michael Brown – (real name Michael Lookofsky) who died in March.
Brown was the brains behind the amazing American 60’s band The Left Banke who ploughed something of a lone furrow when psychedelic and heavy rock was exploding all around them, for their style was in what is generally described as baroque rock/pop. And it was Brown’s extraordinary talent of creating beautiful melodies and arrangements incorporating lush strings and effects within a rock field for which he will forever be remembered.
Brown received a classical musical upbringing with huge support and encouragement from his violin playing father but it was his composition ‘Walk Away Renee’ for which he will be best known. When recorded by The Four Tops this great slab of pop soared up the UK charts. It was also The Left Banke’s first 45 and reached number 5 in the US charts in 1967 bringing the band to the record buying public’s attention. Their follow up was another brilliant Brown composition ‘Pretty Ballerina’ with Brown’s piano and the haunting vocals of Steve Martin to the fore.
Record label Smash capitalized on the band’s early success by putting out an album, the awkwardly titled ‘Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina’ but there was nothing awkward about it’s content. It proved a collection of superb Brown compositions including the immaculate ‘She May Call You Up Tonight’ ,’ I’ve Got Something On My Mind’ and ‘I Haven’t Got The Nerve’ and of course the two singles.
Sadly and perhaps surprisingly Brown decided to leave the band at this stage to concentrate purely on his songwriting. The Left Banke continued without him and produced a second album’ Left Banke Too’ in 1968 in the same style and not without it’s merits for sure. ‘Goodbye Holly’ and ‘Bryant Hotel’ being two of the strongest tracks.
In 1969 Brown resurfaced with another outfit, Montage who released a self titled album of Brown compositions sounding not far removed from the Left Banke but to my mind not as strong. Brown however did provide some great songs including a version of the magnificent ‘Desiree’ (which had previously been released by a briefly reformed Left Banke including Michael Brown) and also ‘I Shall Call Her Mary’ and ‘Tinsel And Ivy’ amongst a pretty good collection.
After this one off album Brown teamed up with Ian Lloyd to form the group Stories who released two albums during Brown’s tenure. Both displayed a more rock orientated sound but Brown’s melodies are still there in such songs as ‘Hello People’ and ‘Winter Scene’ from the self titled first album in 1972 and ‘Darling’, ‘Love Is In Motion’, and the majestic ‘Please, Please’ from the second ‘About Us’ in ’73. After Brown left, the band produced a third, much rockier album before splitting.
Another quiet period seems to have followed for Brown before he was back in business with a rock band called The Beckies in 1976. Again an album was released choc full of great Brown tunes with highlights being the delightful ‘River Bayou’, ‘Fran’ and ‘Midnight And You’. This album again demonstrates his ability to merge complex and delicate melodies in a rock format.
This was the last band Brown recorded with although if you dig deeply you can find him contributing to two of old pal and former Left Banke member Bert Sommer’s albums. ‘Inside Bert Sommer’ from 1969 includes ‘Grand Pianist’ which was also on the Montage album. Brown plays piano on this and two other tracks. On Sommer’s self titled 1971 album can be found ‘Magic Elixir’ with Brown contributing ‘mulsified piano’ to his composition.
Michael Brown was a great talent whose superb songwriting can be enjoyed on all of the above albums. Do try and find them – you will not be disappointed.
About the Author
Mike Warth – Retired teacher and Education Officer, old rocker, lover of prog, psych and folk – the latter for which I sometimes take some stick. (Why?) Currently having a ball working in The Sound Machine, Reading – independent Record Store par excellence and now working with Vernon Joynson on an update to Dreams, Fantasies And Nightmares.