Sunday, May 22, 2011

In Search of the Lost Prince of Rock and Roll

Several years ago, I posted a piece ( about Michael Brown, co-founder of the Left Banke, and composer of "Pretty Ballerina" and "Walk Away Renee" when he was 16, founder of the Stories, a Beatle-esque pop band that recorded concurrently with the Raspberries and Big Star, without ever achieveing any of their commercial success or notoriety, and finally, weirdly (since he was from NYC) the musical leader of the Beckies, an obscure mid-70's St Louis, MO rock band who put out one great (in my opinion and apparently no one else's) album on Sire which was remaindered a week after its release.
That was in 1977. At that point, Michael Brown, one of the undoubted pop music genuises of his time, disappeared, dropped out, retired.
He has released no recordings since The Beckies album.
All in all, he released one record with the Left Bank, 1.5 records with the Stories ( he left before the second album was finished and before they had their one hit, a remake of Hot Chocolate's "Brother Louie") and one record with the Beckies. (Between the Left Banke and the Stories, he also released an album under the name Montage, with only the vaguest credit, although several of the songs are reconizably Michale Brown songs).
To me, Michael Brown is one of the great mysteries and perhaps one of the great tragedies of the modern rock  era. Few composers, arrangers, producers have come along with so much obvious musical talent and such a clear creative vision. And yet, 45 years since the release of "Walk Away Renee," there is so little to show for all that talent.
It is apparently true that, to put it mildly, Brown had problems working with others. He left every band he was in soon after the bands formed. There are also rumors he might have experimented too heavily with hallucinagenics and he may have suffered from stage fright.
While listening to the Beckies album recently, I started wondering what Brown's music would be like today, if he was still writing and recording. I decided to create a mix that tracks Michel Brown's music, beginning with several of his own compositions, through t examples of work that seems to me to be either strongly influenced by Brown or very similar in style to what he was doing, and finally ending with a few songs by current bands that in my opinion, could have been created by Brown.

Along with the Zombies, Brown was credited with inventing "Baroque Pop," a horrible name for pop music that employed strings and, sometimes, instruments like harps, harpsichords and French horns, which would more commonly be found in an orchestra. But he was also a genius when it came to arranging strings, horns and harmonies, and his style of piano playing owe more to his early classical training then to Jerry Lee Lewis or Leon Russell.
We may never know what happened to Michael Brown. And we can only imagine what music he would have created if he had not disappeared.

Michael Brown Mix

The Playlist:

1. Pretty Ballerina - Left Banke
2. Barterers and Their Wives - Left Banke
3. Desiree - Montage
4. Please, Please - Stories
5. Fran -The  Beckies 
7. Can't Stop My Love - Andy Pratt 
8. New York Tendaberry - Laura Nyro
9. Meagan's Gypsy Eyes - Blood Sweat and Tears 
10. A Rose For Emily - The Zombies 
11. Kites Are Fun - Free Design
12. Crayon Angels - Judee Sill 
13. Day Is Done - Nick Drake 
14. These Days - Nico 
15. Taking Tiger Mountain - Eno 
16. Paris 1919 - John Cale 
17. Wedding Day - Alejandro Escovedo 
18. Settler - Balmorhea 
19. North - Phoenix 
20. Afraid Of Anyone - The National 
21. The Gulag Orkestar - Beirut 
22. All Delighted People - Sufjan Stevens
23. Pedalo - The Heart Strings
24. River Bayou - The Beckies
25. Love Is in Motion - Stories
26. Walk Away, Renee - Left Banke

Heads up! The file is large, so it will take 10-20 minutes to download.

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