R.I.P. Michael Brown: Fifteen Best “Walk Away Renee” Covers

• Willie Loco Alexander and the Baboon Band. From the Boston Incest Album released by Sounds Interesting Records in 1980. Alexander was a keyboardist who dabbled in baroque pop himself with The Bagatelle back in the ‘60s.
• Billy Bragg. A story-song, using the “Walk Away” melody as the soundtrack. Stunning.
• The Four Tops. A genuine hit for the group, which they were still doing when I saw the last Levi Stubbs Tops tour in 1999.
• Arrows. Mid-‘70s British band who had the original hit with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” in 1975. Their “Walk Away Renee” is very close to the Left Banke version, just a touch rockier. Heavier drum sound.
• Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. Lush in ways Michael Brown did not consider: bluesy lead vocals, female backing vocals, melodic bass lines…
• Linda Ronstadt. Folksy, with prominent acoustic guitar and, I guess, cello.
• Vonda Shepard. If Nina Simone had covered this song, it might have gone like this. Rangy vocals and all piano.
• Gabor Szabo. Mournful instrumental classical-guitar rendition.
• Somerdale. Wondrous stadium-rock-anthem style version. Hard to know what to make of this; it’s just overwhelming.
• Les Fradkin. By changing a few inflections and scansions, Fradkin shows you how regimented the lyrics to this tune are. Then the guitar breaks free too.
• Terry Reid. Takes the whole thing apart and puts it back together as a Brit-blues exhibition.
Dummy. Loud and fast and gnarly. Kind of wrong.
• Alvin Stardust. Horribly dated—not in a baroque pop kind of way; in a ‘70s studio-pop tricks way.
• Willie Bobo. Hipster jazz rendition. Nothing baroque about this one.
• Karla DeVito and The Roches. Overblown production with soaring vocals and obtrusive horns.
Carol Noonan. Lyrical and sweet and slow.
• Jive Bunny and the Mixmasters. One of those “Stars on 45”-style medleys matched to a steady propulsive dancefloor beat. This one’s made up of Four Tops hits, including “Walk Away Renee.”

It should be noted that there’s a Louisiana band called Renee and The Walkaways, and a 2011 documentary titled Walk Away Renee, about a road trip the filmmaker Jonathan Caouette takes with his mother Renee.
Interesting that most, though hardly all, covers of “Walk Away Renee” choose to retain the violins. Yes, the original coined the whole concept of baroque pop, but the song itself is rather straightforward and could be taken in a number of directions.

One thought on “R.I.P. Michael Brown: Fifteen Best “Walk Away Renee” Covers”

  1. Glad to see the Arrows made it to #4 on your list but you need to check out the solo version(s) by Alan Merrill who was the Arrows’ lead singer.

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