On either side of the psychedelic craze in 1967, scaling up to it and scaling back down again, a curious thing happened to pop music. It got interested in classical instrumentation. The resulting and very short-lived phase earned the label “baroque pop.” Not prog rock, a la Emerson Lake and Palmer, that’s something different. This is before the music got too druggy and silly, or at least, while it was taking a short break from such indulgences. This is… The Left Banke and Honeybus.
More than a few people would point to The Left Banke’s hit song “Walk Away, Renee” as evidence of the Incarnation. I might be one of them. It is 160 perfect seconds of harpsichord, violins and teenage longing – with a woodwind solo! “Walk Away Renee” was written by a 16-year-old kid from New York, Michael Brown, and sung with an eerie amount of emotion by his 17-year-old friend Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin). If you’re in need of encouragement that God uses the “foolish things to shame the wise,” look no further. Talent is so clearly a gift rather than something earned, something channeled rather than something summoned or studied. It can be approximated perhaps, maybe honed some, but never willed or manufactured. One might go so far as to say that “Walk Away Renee” makes a case for talent being a corollary to grace (just one of the many reasons to love Brian Wilson, btw). The Left Banke’s entire recorded output is just 20 songs, about 10 of which are worth seeking out, esp “She May Call You Up Tonight.” But there’s only one “Walk Away Renee” – and there only ever will be:
“Gentle sounds with strings and things” – that’s how one radio jockey described the music of Honeybus, a description that would make even the most tepid punk rocker want to throw up. Honeybus was formed on the other side of the psychedelic revolution. They were older (veterans of Joe Meek’s productions actually), casualties of the British Invasion, and not willing to go on tour; they were only interested in recording. Their signature song, 1968’s “I Can’t Let Maggie Go,” carries an undeniable echo of The Left Banke, all clarinet and strings and endearingly lackadaisical vocals, but this time with a markedly English sensibility, esp in the harmonies. “Maggie” was (sort of) a hit in their native land but hardly made a splash in the States. And like The Left Banke, Honeybus were gone as soon as they’d begun, dropping a few singles and one terrific album (without their main songwriter!), never to be heard from again:
Inspiration, like ministry, does not need to be sustainable to be genuine. Talent rarely follows a timetable. To quote our merciful friend, the wind blows wherever it pleases. Just ask Renee or Maggie, wherever they are.