On Jan. 7, 1967, The Left Banke’s “Pretty Ballerina” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #96. It was the second single from the band to hit the Top 20 (it would reach #15— following quickly on the success of its predecessor, “Walk Away Renee,” which went to #5).
The Left Banke was a New York group formed by teen (prodigy?) Michael Brown. Brown, a keyboardist, added classical music touches to the songs he wrote. Brown’s father was the producer and arranger for The Left Banke recordings, which included Steve Martin-Caro’s near-falsetto vocals and studio musicians.
In 1966, orchestral instrumentation and chamber music was just beginning to be implemented in pop music (think: the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” or “Yesterday”).
“Pretty Ballerina” was unique with its use of viola and oboe to accompany piano and violins, and the music industry (always looking for a hook) tried to label it “baroque rock” and “baroque and roll.”
The band had split up prior to the success of their songs. In ’67, they quickly reformed and began touring, but their music was hard to recreate on stage. The excesses and temptations of the road, undisciplined behavior and dissent led The Left Banke to a second break up. Brown would reflect, 18 years later, that the band may have had a chance at longevity if they’d had a better manager.
Despite their short spark in recording history, The Left Banke’s songs have remained in the public’s consciousness and been credited with influencing innovative arrangements and new possibilities in rock ‘n’ roll music – that are still being explored by artists today.