TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Released as a single (Motown 1119) on Thursday, January 18, 1968.
SONGWRITERS: Mike Lookofsky, Bob Calilli, Tony Sansone.
PRODUCERS: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier.
BACKSTORY: “Walk Away Renee” was recorded by the Four Tops in late 1966 and early ’67, and issued on their album Reach Out in July 1967. It was a remake of a non-Motown hit by the Left Banke, which was co-written by that group’s leader, Mike Lookofsky.
By the close of ’67, the team responsible for writing and producing most of the Four Tops’ greatest hits at Motown, Holland/Dozier/Holland, had left the company. Although there was some unissued H/D/H material with the Tops, it was clear that the powerhouse partnership was over. (Read more about the group’s career here.)
Meanwhile, Motown’s British affiliate, EMI Records, decided to release the Tops’ version of “Walk Away Renee” as a single as 1967 drew to a close. It was an immediate hit, capitalizing on the quartet’s enormous U.K. popularity and reaching the Top 3 in mid-January – by which time Motown in the U.S. followed suit and issued the track as a single. By March 1968, “Walk Away Renee” became the Tops’ tenth Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
To extend the Four Tops’ international popularity, Motown also had them record “Walk Away Renee” in Italian in March 1968, which was released in Italy soon afterwards as “L’Arcobaleno” (“The Rainbow”). This version was made more widely available in 2013 on the group’s 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1964-1972, and in Motown Around The World: The Classic Singles, a 2010 compilation of foreign-language tracks by various Hitsville U.S.A. stars.
REMAKES: “Walk Away Renee” has proved to have quite an afterlife since the Left Banke original and the Four Tops’ version. The song has been recorded by, among others, Rickie Lee Jones, Eric Carmen, Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy, Southside Johnny, Marshall Crenshaw, and Vonda Shepard. In Britain, singer and political activist Billy Bragg recorded a different interpretation of “Renee” as the B side to his 1986 hit single, “Levi Stubbs’ Tears.”
FOOTNOTE: The Four Tops’ “Walk Away Renee” is featured in the soundtrack of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The movie, starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, made its U.S. debut in 2017, and goes into international release early this year.