In my opinion, the perfect pop song has melody, a great hook, great instrumentation without being overbearing and the lyrics usually have a sense of nostalgia or regret or of course, love. Phil Spector’s production on The Ronette’ s”Be My Baby“, The Beach Boy’s “God Only Knows“, The Zombies “This Will be Our Year“, Big Star’s “Thirteen“, ELO’s “Telephone Line“, The Knack’s “My Sharona” and quite a number of songs by producer Max Martin have these qualities that make up a great pop song.
For my money nothing is better than “Walk Away Renee” and”Pretty Ballerina” by The Left Banke. They were both co-written by a classically-trained keyboardist named Michael Brown, who passed away last week at 65. Like so many great pop songs they were written about a specific girl, the muse for these songs was Renée Fladen.
What’s amazing about “Walk Away Renee” is that it perfectly encapsulates a teenager’s feelings of love lost. It is lyrically able to capture this emotion because it came directly from a 16-year-old Michael Brown, who was smitten with his band mate’s girlfriend. It’s a familiar theme, Eric Clapton would write a similar themed song, called “Layla” five years later.
From deep inside the tears that I’m forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide
Everyone can relate to that passage of unrequited love.
“Pretty Ballerina” was similar themed. It’s a story of infatuation. The boy asks a girl out and to his surprise, agrees to a dance. But the boy declares his infatuation too soon “I called her yesterday, it should have been tomorrow” and “I begged for her to tell me if she really loved me”…Big mistake because by the end of the song he can only see her in his dreams “Go ahead and find her, just close your eyes, yeah. Just close your eyes and she’ll be there”
The strings and baroque feel to both of these songs add to the melancholy but it’s balanced by the pure joy in the chorus’.
These songs will live forever and it’s a better world because Michael Brown fell in love with someone else’s girl and decided to put it to song.