Album Review: The Paley Brothers — The Complete Recordings

File these guys under Music You Probably Missed. Chalk it up to record execs not knowing exactly what to do with The Paley Brothers, or perhaps assign some of the blame to the artists themselves for not fitting neatly into a “box” as the record business demanded (and demands) of recording artists.

Whatever the reason, The Paley Brothers (Andy and Jonathan) would release but one long-playing album for Sire (1978’s cleverly-titled Paley Brothers) and then fade into obscurity. But that album was a real cracker, as was the cache of material they recorded before and after.

But even the hardest of hardcore powerpop fanatics weren’t all fully aware of The Paley Brothers. My first exposure to them was within the pages of The New Music, an excellent (if now charmingly dated) 1980 survey of new wave and cutting-edge musical acts penned by renowned music journalist/critics Glenn A. Baker and Stuart Coupe. Granted a full column in the book, The Paley Brothers’ history is laid out in potted fashion, and the authors make it clear that their album (“produced by Earle Mankey, an original member of Sparks”) is worthwhile.

But in those days I never heard their music, never stumbled across Paley Brothers in new or used record bins.

My second exposure to the duo was many years later, when I discovered their delightful 1976 single “Come Out and Play,” the title track on Rhino’s Come Out and Play: American Power Pop I (1975-1978) compilation. With an infectious vibe that was equal parts distilled Beatles influence and bubblegum, it hit the sweet spot (if not the top of the charts).

But that was it, until now. But the intrepid archivists at Real Gone Music have compiled all available Paley Brothers recordings onto a jam-packed 26-track CD called The Complete Recordings. And it’s exactly that: the entire contents of the Sire LP, plus a Sire EP titled Ecstasy, plus well more than a dozen other compilation-only or previously-unreleased tunes. There’s even a live cut from 1978, “Felicia,” recorded at Madison Square Garden when the Paleys opened for Shaun Cassidy.

Yes, you read that right: Shaun Cassidy. And that little fact may help to explain the situation within which The Paley Brothers found themselves. They were signed to a label hip enough to include The Ramones and Talking Heads, but bubblegum-sounding enough to earn (or “earn”) a slot as openers for the twee teen idol of the month.

The thing is, The Paley Brothers actually were – if not all things to all people – successful in both hip-quotient and candy-coated goodness. When they rocked hard, they rocked hard. When they took it a little softer, it worked, too. The brothers (who penned nearly all of their own material, with the odd cover such as Tommy Roe‘s “Sheila” thrown in now and again) were adept at writing hooky, catchy tunes, and they paid attention in the studio as well. Andy would go on to become an in-demand producer and writer, working extensively with Brian Wilson (there’s a huge cache of unreleased material from those sessions) and most recently, co-writing the latest single from Charleston’s wonderful Explorers Club.

The Complete Recordings even includes a track from their (surprise!) abortive sessions with Phil Spector, and an odd little ditty, a cover of “Theme From Fireball X-L5.” The previously unreleased material holds its own alongside the Sire material. While powerpop never made the inroads its adherents had hoped, the highly-regarded (among those in the know, anyway) body of work from The Paley Brothers is highly recommended, and RGM has made discovering it easy.

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