March 16, 2012

The Left Banke - Pretty Ballerina (1966)

In 1967, this group’s keyboardist and primary songwriter, Michael Brown, began to come at odds with his bandmates. It led to him recording the song, “Ivy, Ivy,” without them, and instead using session musicians. Since he released the song under the band’s name, the other members of the group asked their fan base and radio DJs to not support the record. The single not only flopped, but it prevented the band from major future successes as DJs were reluctant to play the reunited band's material after the previous controversy.

This song, written by Brown, was the follow up to their first hit, “Walk Away Renée,” which was also written by Brown. Luckily, it was recorded and released in late 1966, becoming a hit in early 1967, before all of the internal drama. Both “Walk Away Renée” and this song were written about Renée Fladen, the girlfriend of the group’s bassist, Tom Finn, and the object of Brown’s affection.

To read more about the group and to hear “Walk Away Renée,” check out our previous post here.

A Special Edition post with Tom Finn of The Left Banke!

Today’s post is yet another special edition! The bassist of The Left Banke, Tom Finn, was kind enough to share a great story (at great length!) with A Bit Like You And Me. You'll enjoy this one:
A Bit Like You And Me and readers,

When my band, The Left Banke, first got together back in December of 1965, our rise to success was as rapid as a jet airliner. We did our first recording in February of 1966, "I've Got Something On My Mind," and we immediately played our first show at a church teenage dance in the New York City area. We were paid $100 for this local show, but instead if pocketing the $20 each, we rented a brand new Cadillac limousine, which cost us $75. We all wanted to make the same impact on the young girls as our idols The Beatles had done, so in addition to the limousine, we brought my girlfriend Renée (of "Walk Away Renée" fame) along with us. She was truly a sight to behold with her long Lady Godiva-like bright-blonde hair and black boots up to her knees.

When we arrived, the throngs of young kids were all outside waiting for us. From that moment on, they screamed their heads off until the show was over and we left. What can I say? We were sixteen and seventeen years old at that time.

Our first recording was not accepted by any record company and, so, it was back to the drawing board.

Our next recording was "Walk Away Renée," but it was also turned down by the record companies of the day. Finally Smash/Mercury Records’ A&R man, Charlie Fach, told our producer he liked the big hook and paid an advance of $1,200 for the recording. This was in April of 1966. They released it immediately for the upcoming summer market and we made immediate plans to tour to support "Walk Away Renée".

Our first trip was to Florida, so we went to New York's JFK International Airport to take our first airplane ride ever.

None of us ever flew before, so we were all nervous and telling stories of plane crashes, etc. As we taxied down the runway, I could see our producer/manager waving to us from the roof of the terminal building. The jet, an Eastern Airlines Boeing 707, took off at about an hour before sundown and we gained altitude very quickly. I was feeling better about the flight because everything was smooth and there was no turbulence. We reached our cruising altitude and the “No Smoking” sign went off, so I lit a cigarette and looked out the window.

The pilot came on the intercom and welcomed us aboard, saying, "This is Captain Andrews. We've reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. and over the left wing of the plane you'll see Atlantic Cit-…"

He stopped mid-sentence.

Suddenly all the oxygen masks in the plane dropped down right before my eyes. One of the stewardesses shrieked.

"Oh my God! Grab a mask! Quick!"

I reached for an oxygen mask but the tube was flattened out and no air was coming through. Then I heard a loud roar and we were going down, almost straight down, so fast that the centrifugal force prevented me from lifting my head from the headrest. I looked at the faces of my bandmates and they were all terrified. The passengers were generally quiet except for some whimpering. Anyway, what was happening was a decompression and the pilot was making an emergency descent.

He was trying to get down from 35,000 ft. to about 3,000 ft. in order to neutralize the cabin pressure. He never made an announcement about what was going on at all, so we thought we were going to crash and die. There was no doubt in my mind.

My reaction to the dire situation, which was really very unexpected, was that I got very, very angry. I just kept thinking, "I'm only seventeen and now I'm going to f**king die?" I was really furious at the airline company.

The pilot leveled off at about 5,000 ft. and he finally made an announcement, but he never once said what the problem was. Instead, he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to return to JFK airport and we might have to circle around until we get a landing assignment."

Well, we eventually landed and went back to the terminal where we waited for another flight. After about two or three hours we boarded another jet. When we were building up takeoff-speed on the runway, this new plane suddenly reversed its engine speed and hit the brakes. The plane skid off the runway and ended up all the way past the end of the runway in the grass. We were bumped around so hard that all of our belongings were all over the place.

Again, we received no explanation for what happened, except one person said they ‘saw a flash of sparks coming from under the plane’. I think something fell off of the plane and hit the concrete and caused the sparks, probably a wing flap.

So then, to evacuate us, they sent a bus out to get us off the field. Anyway, we waited back at the terminal again (until 2:00am) and were finally driven to La Guardia Airport to take another jet. I was so tired from all of this, I actually fell asleep on the third plane, and said to myself, "F**k this, let it crash. I'm going to sleep.”

That plane finally got us to Florida.

This is a true story, with no exaggeration,
Tom Finn
The sincerest thanks to Tom and The Left Banke for this story and their music!

To see if The Left Banke will be in concert near you, click here.
To buy their music, click here, here, and here.
Hear more songs on their Myspace page here.
And check out their website here!

And now that you've enjoyed this exclusive story, why not check out what other exclusive stories we've received?

album art

The Left Banke - Pretty Ballerina (1966)

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I had a date with a pretty ballerina
Her hair so brilliant that it hurt my eyes
I asked her for this dance
And then she obliged me
Was I surprised?
Was I surprised?
No, not at all

I called her yesterday
It should have been tomorrow
I could not keep
The joy that was inside
I begged for her to tell me
If she really loved me
Somewhere a mountain is moving
Afraid it's moving without me

I had a date with a pretty ballerina
Her hair so brilliant that it hurt my eyes
I asked her for this dance
And then she obliged me
Was I surprised?
Was I surprised?
No, not at all

And when I wake on a dreary Sunday morning
I open up my eyes to find there's rain
And something strange within says
"Go ahead and find her
Just close your eyes, yeah
Just close your eyes and she'll be there"
She'll be there
She'll be there


  1. The Left Banke did an interview with Teen Screen in 1966 that directly references Tom Finn's story. You can read the transcript here read about halfway down:

    1. That's an excellent link. Thank you very much for sharing!