Friday, May 18, 2018

May/Might: She May Call You Up Tonight

The Left Banke: She May Call You Up Tonight 

When you think of the Left Banke, if you do, you probably think about “Walk Away Renee,” or maybe “Pretty Ballerina.” And maybe, just maybe, you think about “She May Call You Up Tonight.” After that, though, I bet you are drawing a blank. Certainly, those are three great songs that helped to define a style referred to as “baroque rock,” but after that, the Left Banke’s musical output is pretty much unknown.

I’m in the camp of people who know about those three songs, and basically nothing else about the Left Banke. Luckily, though, I have access to the Interwebs. Turns out, the band has one of those stories that is all too familiar. Early success, internal bickering, revolving door membership, even competing versions of the band, and various reunions over the years, with varying lineups. There are even some brushes with future fame—versions of the band included, at times, Michael McKean, better known as an actor, including as David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap, and Bert Sommer, who played Woof in the original Broadway production of Hair in 1969-70 (and whose actual hair was immortalized on the Playbill). A young Steven Tyler sang background vocals on the band’s little-heard second album. But you cannot deny that the Left Banke’s sound was influential well beyond the band’s output or commercial success. You can hear their influence in early Linda Ronstadt, in Eric Carmen, and Belle & Sebastian, among many others.

I’m pretty sure, though, that while I may have heard the original version of “She May Call You Up Tonight” at some point, I really paid attention to it when I heard Richard Thompson do it live, with son Teddy, at the Tarrytown Music Hall. I remember thinking that it sounded familiar, but was totally unable to place it. There’s a recording of it, with Teddy, on 1998’s live album Celtschmerz. There’s also another version on Thompson’s Chrono Show album, featuring performances from his 2004 tour. The Wikipedia article for that album says that Thompson had been doing the song live since the 1970s, and it must have been something that the Fairport Convention crowd was into (Thompson has been quoted about his love for the Left Banke’s debut album)—The Albion Country Band, led by former Fairport member Ashley Hutchings, played it live in 1972 (with a gender change), with Richard and Linda Thompson guesting, Ian Matthews (who left Fairport in 1969) did a cover of it in 1980, and Linda Thompson did the gender-changed version of it on her solo album in 1985, after breaking up with Richard.

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