The Paley Brothers: The Complete Collection

PaleyBrothers_TheCompleteRecordingsA revised retelling of should-have-been power pop stars

The Paley Brothers – Andy and Jonathan – had the experience, original material and connections to make a much bigger splash than managed in the mid-to-late-70s. Having threaded individually through the Boston rock and New York punk/new wave scenes, their work as a duo charmed power-pop aficionados, but had little commercial impact. Their records with Seymour Stein, Jimmy Iovine, Earle Mankey, Phil Spector and the Ramones failed to ignite widespread notice, and their primary catalog – a four song EP and an album on Sire – has been unevenly reissued since its 1978 release. Surprisingly, this first-ever twenty-six track anthology, curated by the brothers themselves, tells a slightly different story than the original releases; but its alternate takes and mixes may offer some clues to the original lack of commercial rewards.

The collection’s lack of fidelity to the brothers’ original releases is both a blessing and a curse. The eleven previously unreleased tracks offered here, including two from a live date with Shaun Cassidy at Madison Square Garden, flesh out a fuller picture of the Paleys’ time as recording artists, and the alternate takes and mixes provide an aural view that went unheard at the time. But the alternates don’t always best the originals, and the lack of clear attribution creates a shadow of revisionism. The Paley’s may prefer these versions, and there is great merit in letting them out of the vaults, but replacing dear artifacts without so much as a note (the credits source the EP and album without any indication that some tracks are different recordings, and most are different mixes) is a disservice to those seeking clean digital copies of the originals, as well as to those who’d be enticed by the alternates.

With the album having been reissued in 2009, what’s still missing from the digital domain are the previously released versions of the duo’s 1978 Ecstasy EP. What’s here are mono mixes of “Ecstasy,” “Rendezvous,” “Hide ‘n’ Seek” and “Come Out and Play” that, while often more crisp than the vinyl release, are not always better. The alternate take of “Rendezvous,” in particular, hasn’t the Spector-inspired grandeur of the previously released version, and “Come Out and Play” is offered here at the edited length that appeared on the album. To be sure, the alternates are a gift to the Paleys’ fans, but offering them in lieu of the originals renders this “complete” collection incomplete, and leaves fans to find and transcribe original vinyl.

That said, the newly released material here is terrific. Opening the set are two previously unreleased originals from 1979, the bouncy Beach Boys-styled “Here She Comes” and the love-poor (but vocal-rich) “Meet the Invisible Man.” The latter, produced by Andy Paley, features a driving guitar line, brilliant harmonies and a coda that brings to mind the Beatles’ Revolver. Also from 1979 is “Boomerang,” with Brian Wilson adding his vocal to the background, the rock rave-ups “She’s Eighteen Tonight” and “Spring Fever,” the rare Paley Brothers ballad, “Sapphire Eyes,” the blink-and-you-missed it surf-styled “Jacques Cousteau” (though not the single’s B-side “Sink or Swim“),  and a faithfully sweet cover of the theme song to the supermarionation show, Fireball XL5.

In 1978 the Paleys had opened for Shaun Cassidy (who, in addition to fine bubblegum, waxed Wasp with Todd Rundgren), and two covers from their August stop at Madison Square Garden show how easily the brothers added Everlys-styled harmonies to Bobby & His Orbits’ Zydeco-tinged 1958 rocker “Felicia” and Tommy Roe’s 1966 smash “Sheila.” The remaining rarities are a cover of Richie Valens’ “Come on Let’s Go” and the Phil Spector-produced “Baby, Let’s Stick Together.” The former was recorded in 1977 with the Ramones while Joey Ramone was laid up in the hospital, and may be the Paley’s most broadly known single, as it was included on the soundtrack to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. The latter was waxed at the temple of the Wall of Sound, Gold Star, with the Wrecking Crew kicking up the beat from Spector’s previous production of this title with Dion.

The Paley’s have stated that this is not an album reissue, which is fine, but without proper annotation, the changes elide rather than augment. Sorting out what’s actually here (and more importantly, what’s not) is basically impossible. To their credit, the mostly mono mixes of the album tracks improve upon the dated, booming production and vocal processing of the original album vinyl. The 16-page booklet includes liner notes by Gene Sculatti, terrific memories from Sire Records chief, Seymour Stein, and rare photographs that provide visual context for the Paleys’ place in the musical milieu of the 1970s. This is a must-have for Paleys fans, and a good, if not historically complete introduction for those who missed them the first time around. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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One Response to “The Paley Brothers: The Complete Collection”

  1. Spencer says:

    Nice review Hype! Been listening to this release for the last three weeks or so and loving it. I wasn’t familiar with the Paley’s earlier and original recordings but these mixes sound fabulous. I’ve been recommending this release to my power-pop enthusiast friends. As always, I enjoy your site!
    Spencer