Steve Martin Caro (second from left) was a master of wistfulness.
Steve Martin Caro (second from left) was a master of wistfulness. YouTube screengrab

Steve Martin Caro—lead singer and a key songwriter for the Left Banke—passed away January 14 at age 71. (Known as Steve Martin during the Left Banke's '60s prime, the musician later added "Caro" to his name after comedian Steve Martin became famous.) Martin Caro's deeply expressive voice augmented the band's sublime pop, which inevitably has been described as "baroque" due to the presence of flute, oboe, harpsichord, French horn, and other typically non-rock instrumentation, and for its florid, ambitious melodies.

At their best, which was often over their first two albums—1967's Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina and 1968's The Left Banke Too—the Left Banke rivaled the Beatles and the Beach Boys for sheer hook-crafting brilliance and ingenious dynamics. Like the greatest bands of their ilk, the Left Banke made the most intimate feelings seem momentous. They deserve a prominent place in whatever musical pantheon any taste-makers want to construct.

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For the Left Banke, Martin Caro co-wrote such stunning songs as "She May Call You Up Tonight," "I've Got Something on My Mind," "Shadows Breaking Over My Head," "I Haven't Got the Nerve" (sampled by the Folk Implosion for "Natural One," which appeared on the Kids soundtrack), "Lazy Day," and "Dark Is the Bark" (covered by Ulver, of all people). In addition to his mellifluous vocals, Martin Caro played drums on "Goodbye Holly," tambourine on "Nice to See You," and bass on "Bryant Hotel." He also released an exceedingly rare solo single in 1971, "Two by Two (I'm Losing You)."

As a singer, Martin Caro excelled at projecting profound romantic longing; he was a master of wistfulness. See especially the hits "Walk Away Renée" and "Pretty Ballerina," plus the should've-been-hit "Shadows Breaking Over My Head" for conclusive proof. RIP, Steve Martin Caro.