Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 18, 2021

252) Montage — “Desiree” (69) (US) (baroque pop)

OK, please don’t walk away — even you, Renee: this shimmering baroque number was written by the Left Banke’s driving force, but isn’t performed by the Left, rather by four guys from Jersey (even though the Left had recorded it first, after the songwriter had left the Left but wrote it for them anyway). Got it?

Mark Deming explains in All Music Guide:

Michael Brown, the [Left Banke’s] 17-year-old wunderkind, songwriter, and pianist, decided he didn’t care for life on the road. By the time the Left Banke cut their second album, Brown was out of the picture . . . . Brown reconciled with his bandmates long enough to write and produce a single, and both sides were included on [the album], with “Desiree” sounding like a grander variation on the tone of the first LP. The single was a flop, and none of the [other] songs . . . fared any better, but even though it proved the be the band’s swan song, it’s a great pop album . . . .

Michael Hann flips out over the Left Banke’s “Desiree” in the (UK) Guardian:

In Desiree, though, it had the best song [Brown] ever composed, arranged and recorded: anyone who thinks Brian Wilson was the only person capable of jaw dropping symphonic pop in 1967 should pay close attention. Brown knew he’d hit the jackpot, too, despite the US public’s obstinate refusal to send it higher than No 98 in the Billboard Hot 100 [in October of ‘67] — he rerecorded it for the only album by his next group, Montage, though not as well . . . .

https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2012/mar/23/old-music-left-banke-desiree

As to Montage’s version, Jack Rabid (is that his real name?) explains in AMG:

Montage sounds far more like the real follow-up to the Left Banke’s first LP . . . than the actual one, The Left Banke, Too. This is because after the first LP the band’s three singers had sadly parted ways with keyboardist and prime songwriter Michael Brown, who instead became Montage’s mentor/mastermind. . . . And though Brown was not technically a Montage member, he not only wrote all the music and produced this LP, but he also played all the trademark piano and organ and charted the vocal arrangements. Yet the four New Jersey no-names he found clearly translated his vision of extraordinarily lush, unspeakably beautiful orchestral chart pop.

Finally, Richie Unterberger, also in AMG, noted that Montage “might as well be considered a Michael Brown solo project . . . . [w]ith lovely choral vocals and sublime pop melodies, it strongly recalls Brown’s work with the Left Banke.”

OK, there are mixed opinions about which version of “Desiree” is better. I love both versions, but give the edge to Montage. See what you think.

“Everything returns again, both the laughter and the rain. She is living somewhere far away. . . . Desiree you know how it hurts me, living alone through all the years. Nothing can hold the tears in me.”

Here is the Left Banke’s version:

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