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“She May Call You Up Tonight” — The Left Banke

June 28, 2010

Yes, DJ MJD’s Back Tracks is back (are back?)!

My friend Ted Herrmann likes to try to stump me with trivia questions about old rock songs.  A while back, he quizzed me about who originally performed some of the songs on the CD Under the Covers, Vol. 1 by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs.

Sweet (a singer/songwriter best known for his 1991 album Girlfriend) and Hoffs (singer/guitarist in The Bangles) had played members of the fictitious rock group Ming Tea, which appeared in the three Austin Powers movies — they did the song “BBC” with Mike Myers (as Powers) on vocals1.  Then, in 2006, the two formed the duo Sid n Susie2 and recorded the aforementioned CD — 15 cover versions of some of their favorite examples of songwriting from the 1960s and 1970s.  A few are very familiar (like “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas & the Papas); others are lesser-known tunes by well-known performers (like “And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles).  Some, however, are quite obscure (such as the opening track, “I See The Rain” by Marmalade). 

Fortunately for me, the first track Ted asked me about was “She May Call You Up Tonight.”  “Oh, that’s by The Left Banke,” I replied.  The group is best remembered for their big 1966 hit “Walk Away Renée;” they also had modest success with a follow-up single, “Pretty Ballerina.”  

The Left Banke’s album, which featured those songs, might have escaped my notice back in 1967 — there was a lot of incredible music released that year — had it not been for the glowing review of it I read that summer in the final issue of The Mojo Navigator Rock & Roll News.3  “This is one of the most powerful first albums to emerge from any new group in a long time,” raved the reviewer (probably the late, great Greg Shaw).  In retrospect, that sounds overblown — but the album was quite good.

Even so, I probably wouldn’t have remembered “She May Call You Up Tonight” had it not been for the cover of it by the brilliant singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson on his 1998 live CD celtschmertz.4  It was an inspired choice — Thompson frequently writes with poignant clarity about the tribulations of romance — and with his propulsive acoustic guitar replacing the piano riff of the original and high harmonies provided by his son Teddy Thompson, he made the song his own.  That is why I could answer Ted Herrmann’s question so easily when I heard the Sid n Susie version. 

Enough about the covers… let’s give a listen to The Left Banke’s version of “She May Call You Up Tonight.”

Hmmm… what exactly is going on here , anyway?  The song was written by the 2 main creative forces in The Left Banke — keyboardist Michael Brown and singer Steve Martin Caro.  An internet fan site5 claims that both “Walk Away Renée” and “She May Call You Tonight” were inspired by Renée Fladen — the girlfriend of original Left Banke bassist Tom Finn — with whom Michael Brown was infatuated.  That’s a good story — probably too good, I’d say. 

I prefer to leave things ambiguous — and speaking of ambiguous, when Susanna Hoffs sings the song, it kind of turns the love triangle on its head, so to speak. 

Then what could I say that would sound right?


From → The 1960's

  1. Ted permalink

    Alright, you win this round, DJ, but remember, there are 47 oldies in the movie “Pirate Radio.” I will stump you yet!

  2. Hey, this is great! A friend told me about The Left Banke a few months ago, so I knew nothing when I was researching for my post. It’s great to get more detailed info from another fan! Thanks!


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