Friday, May 20, 2011

Walk Away Renée

I've often wondered whether it's a curse or a blessing to carry a name like 'Luka', 'Angie' or 'Alison', a name that instantly reminds everybody of a song. I imagine it gets old when every time you say, 'my name is Angie', you have to bear with some half-wit's hapless Mick Jagger impersonation.

Having said that, though, if my name were Renée, I think I'd wear my musical namesake with pride. Because as great as the three songs above are, they really can't hold a candle to 'Walk Away Renée'. It's one of those songs that just seems to be out there, floating around, as part of the fabric of the universe or something. Who on Earth are the Left Banke? It doesn't really matter - apparently the keyboard player (playing what sounds like a harpsichord behind those swooning strings) wrote the song as a testament of his unrequited puppy love for the bassist's girlfriend, which doesn't sound like a recipe for a long-term musical collaboration, and is perhaps the reason I don't really know who the Left Banke are.

Doesn't matter - one two-minute moment of glory is more than enough if it's as glorious as this. It's all about that expansive melody, that covers massive vistas while maintaining that heart-tugging bittersweet feel of unrequited love. It's an amazing accomplishment, one that stands up whoever's covering it. The original is superlative, but the Four Tops do it wonderfully, as do any of dozens of others. The local bar band can't actually wreck this song - its beauty is indestructible.

One of my very favourites is a strange one - while jobbing for Billy Bragg when still a member of the Smiths, Johnny Marr sat in a corner plucking the melody out on an acoustic guitar. Bragg surreptitiously recorded him and wrote a 'recitation' of young love to go over top of it. When he heard the result, Marr agreed to properly record his acoustic guitar interpretation. The simple beauty of his version, the melody sparkling note-by-note on the strings of his guitar, is unsurpassed, and Bragg's slightly ridiculous additions are actually quite effective, mawkish and clumsy but very genuine.

I got the idea to Google the song to see if there happened to be a guitar tab of Marr's arrangement. it turns out that there is, and with my limited guitar ability and plenty of practice, I can kind of eke it out reasonably well. Which is no testament to my abilities at all, it's a credit to the song's generous melody that keeps shining no matter how much you batter it.

Still, pleased with myself. An amazing song arranged by an amazing guitarist, and my pale little shadow of it still manages to sound, well... not half bad. Magic, if such a thing exists.

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