I’m pleased to be able to publish an interesting interview once again, – this time with non other than the incredibly versatile musician, songwriter, performer and producer Andy Paley.
Through the years, Andy’s been involved in countless projects, too many to mention really. Suffice to say, as a major fan of power pop, the Beach Boys & Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, I’m grateful that Andy would answer some questions.
Not only has he been in the studio with both of my musical heroes, on his own he’s also recorded some truly amazing music that will appeal to any fan of hook-laden pop. And who isn’t, really?
After issuing one album with up-and-coming band the Sidewinders in 1972, Andy teamed up with his brother Jonathan and really made an impression a few years later when the Paley Brothers album came out in 1978. It has since been much revered by power pop fans worldwide.
Power pop of course is a later term for the flux of highly melodic, catchy pop-rock that sprang forward during the 70s, – made by young, energetic bands whose songs were bolstered with riffs that drew comparisons to the best British and American pop classics of the previous decade. Often, these hook-spewin’ bands were heavily inspired by that holy trinity of 60s pop-rock, ‘the three B’s’ – the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Byrds.
Although Andy and Jonathan issued their debut on the red-hot Sire Records label right when power pop was about to hit its commercial peak by the late 70s, the Paley Brothers album didn’t do much in sales.
The brothers’ good looks caused quite a bit of gushing in teenybopper magazines but these guys were no mere ‘poster boys of power pop’. They were the real deal, playing with people like Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith and the Ramones and a part of the CBGB scene in New York. Songs were recorded for a follow-up but sadly, nothing materialized.
If you don’t know the Paley Brothers lone album already, be sure to check it out. It’s a great collection of extremely well-performed and sparkling songs. The ridiculously catchy ‘Come Out and Play’ is worth the price of admission alone. It’s basically a text-book example of perfectly crafted pop. Prior to the album, the brothers issued an EP which also contains killer material.
Normally, I would sprinkle a blog post like this with choice cuts off Youtube. But out of respect for Andy and Jonathan I won’t do so here, as they both really dislike the mixes on the 70s EP and album – and those mixes are the ones found on Youtube today! For anyone wanting to hear the songs the way the Paley Brothers envisioned them, refer to ‘The Complete Recordings’, a compilation issued by Real Gone Music in 2013.
Andy and Jonathan dusted off their preferred mixes for this release as well as numerous scrapped songs recorded for a potential second album. And with that, here are Andy’s responses to some questions I sent him.
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Andy, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Cue Castanets. First off, do you remember when you first became aware of Phil Spector’s music?
When I was a little kid listening to AM radio in Halfmoon, upstate New York. Stations like WPTR and WTRY played great records. Early Phil Spector hits like ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’, ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ and ‘Spanish Harlem’ were on the radio all the time. Later ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and so on.
Any particular song of his that made an impression on you early on?
‘Be My Baby!’
What was it specifically that attracted you to his music?
The sound was exciting.
I’ve always been particular fond of your song ‘Rendezvous.’ Could you tell a bit about the story behind it?
It seems tailor-made for the Spector-like production on the Paley Brothers version. But when you recorded it early on with the Sidewinders it was more sparsely arranged?
I wrote ‘Rendezvous’ when I was 17 years old. I recorded it with my band the Sidewinders when I was 18. The record was produced by Lenny Kaye and released on RCA. I had nothing to do with the production or arrangement.
After the Sidewinders broke up I started working with my brother Jonathan. The Paley Brothers cut a version of Rendezvous produced by Jimmy Iovine. I was involved with the arrangement. The record ended up sounding more the way I had pictured it when I wrote the song.
You must be aware of the version by fellow power poppers the Rubinoos? A great version for sure and it sports a riff that seems inspired by ‘Then He Kissed Me’. Were you somehow involved in their recording of it?
I’ve heard it. They are friends of mine. I had nothing to do with it though.
As an aside: oddly enough, around this time Bruce Springsteen also recorded a song called ‘Rendezvous’ with a heavy Spector sound. Cut during sessions for ‘Darkness Around the Edge of the Town’, It came out some years ago on his ‘The Promise’ album collecting unreleased tracks from the 70s. Have you heard this song?
No, I’ve never heard it. But his piano player Roy Bittan actually played on the Paley Brothers version of ‘Rendezvous.’
Back to the Paley Brothers. Another song of yours, ‘Ecstasy’ off the Paley Brothers EP, just oozes the Wall of Sound! Any thoughts on this one? Was the Spector-type arrangement something you had in mind from the very beginning when the song was written?
‘Ecstasy’ was mostly written by my friend Billy Connors. I only helped a little bit. The record was produced by Jimmy Iovine.
Your lone album is a real classic! Apparently, Spector chums like Jack Nitzsche and Steve Douglas were considered as potential producers. Eventually Earl Mankey got the job.
Any thoughts on this process of choosing a producer for your debut album? Were the guys considered choices that you suggested to Seymour Stein [president of Sire Records] or the other way around?
I can’t remember exactly what happened. We met with all of these guys. We talked to Billy Hinsche and Carl Wilson too. I love all of these guys. We worked with Jack Nitzsche for a few days at his house. It was no fun. So we decided not to make a record with him. Earle Mankey did a great job!
‘Turn the Tide’ off the album has always struck me as a sort of ‘power pop meets the full-on Spector sound’?
I see what you mean. Leigh Foxx wrote more of that song than I did. It was his hook. Leigh’s a very talented guy.
[Cue Castanets: Leigh has been involved in a ton of projects and plays bass as a full-time member of the current Blondie line-up.]
In 1977 you briefly worked with the Shangri-Las, a project which has been documented in Ugly Things magazine and later re-printed by Spectropop: http://www.spectropop.com/Shangri-Las/
That must have been an exciting project, none the least the chance to follow in the footsteps of a producer as legendary and mysterious as George ‘Shadow’ Morton! It’s such a shame that those recordings seem to be lost. Are you sure you don’t have any dusty tapes stored away somewhere you’ve overlooked?
No, sorry. Seymour Stein might know more.
I think I’m not alone in wanting to know more about how you came to record with Phil Spector.
In the liner notes to the recent ‘Complete Recordings’ Paley Brothers retrospective, it says that Spector called you up at 3 AM, wanting to work with you. Do you know if he just came across your album on his own or were you basically brought together by Seymour Stein?
I don’t really know. He had our records in his house though.
I can certainly see why Phil Spector would be attracted to the classic pop sound of the Paley Brothers. Did he explain to you why it was he wanted to record you?
Yes. He said he liked our vocal blend.
You spent some days rehearsing at Spector’s place before entering the legendary Gold Star studios for the session. Do you remember if you rehearsed more songs than ‘Baby, Let’s Stick Together’?
We did one called ‘Tonight, Tomorrow and Everyday’. It was very pretty. I don’t think he ever finished the verse lyrics. The hook was very strong though.
It must have been incredible to record in that hallowed place of rock’n’roll history with that producer behind the console. And with members of the soon-to-be labeled Wrecking Crew playing with you.
Could you describe the session?
Sure. My brother Jonathan and I arrived at Gold Star on time. We watched all of the guys arrive and set up.
Hal Blaine’s drums arrived in one road case. Two guys wheeled it in and opened it up and there was his blue sparkle Ludwig kit….all set up. All they did was attach the cymbals and it was ready to go.
Phil had my brother play acoustic guitar along with the Kessel brothers.
Don Randi was on a grand piano next to Barry Goldberg who was playing a baby grand. Phil put me near them on an upright tack-piano. He’d been listening to me play at his house ’cause we rehearsed up there in the days leading up to the session. I’m not in the same league as Don Randi or Barry Goldberg. I write songs on the piano and I can fake my way through a gig or a session but this was different.
Also he had me playing this rolling shuffle which I played in kind of a messy non-traditional way. Don Randi or Barry Goldberg could’ve done the part perfectly but Phil liked the way I did it. Randi played a bunch of classic riffs ….right hand…up high….octaves….he’d done the same sort of licks on Spector’s records many times before….Barry Goldberg was playing a chord every two bars…..B-flat….G-minor…..E flat…..F. I had the busy part. I remember asking Phil if he really wanted me doing it. He said “It sounds great! Wait’ll you hear it!” And he was right. The combination of the three pianos was very cool.
Julius Wechter, Ray Pohlman, Tommy Tedesco, Jim Keltner, Phil Seymour, Rodney Bingenheimer, Steve Douglas, Jay Migliori and Harvey Kubernick were all on it. (Harvey, Rodney, Phil Seymour and Spector clapping on one mic.)
Larry Levine engineered the session.
It wasn’t a very long session. The last few takes it seemed like Phil was just doing them for kicks. I don’t know for sure but I think the take he used was one of the early takes. He could’ve edited a take or two together but my guess is that he didn’t. The band sounded really great.
We cut the vocals really quick. Just a couple of takes. Joey Ramone and Darlene Love both dropped by.
A month or so later Phil went into the studio with the Ramones. The Paley Brothers session was the last session Phil did with all of those guys at Gold Star. He did sessions with them after that but not at Gold Star.
When ‘Baby Let’s Stick Together’ finally came out on the 2013 Paley Brothers retrospective, I was surprised by its rather different feel to the Dion version.
Were you familiar with the Dion take when you cut your version with Spector? Did you work out the new arrangement collectively? It’s a great recording. Reminds me a bit of Spector’s old Bobby Soxx & the Blue Jeans recordings…
I had never heard the Dion version. The arrangement we did was developed through lots of rehearsal at Phil’s house on La Collina.
[Cue Castanets: The Paley Brothers take is not on youtube but seek out the stellar 2013 Paley Brothers retrospective to hear it in all its glory. Here’s the earlier Spector-produced version by Dion.]
Did you only record this one song? Or were others put to tape with Spector producing? If so, do you remember which ones?
No, I don’t think we recorded anything else.
Later on, you’ve worked extensively with Brian Wilson. As someone who has been in the studio with both of these musical innovators, speaking from a producer’s point-of-view, how would you describe their similarities and differences?
They are similar in that they are both masters of what they do.
They are also similar in that they both work incredibly hard to achieve particular sounds no matter how elusive they may be. Whatever sounds they are imagining in their heads they will spend hours, days, weeks trying to achieve. This can be frustrating to co-workers who are trying to give the producer what he wants.
They are also both real fans of rock n’ roll.
The biggest difference is that Phil Spector worked with more artists than Brian. Phil Spector had hits with many different artists from the Teddy Bears to the Beatles. Brian Wilson produced records by Glen Campbell, Sharon Marie , The Honeys etc. but Brian really worked with one big hit making machine; the Beach Boys. That is a major difference between these two producers.
There is a cliché that Phil’s records are soaked in echo and reverb. That is certainly true with some of the records – especially the later ones – but the early ones are really pretty dry.
Brian and Phil both made records that could be described as ‘dry’ and records that could be described as ‘wet’.
In terms of the focus of the blog, I’d like to ask you about all the unreleased songs you cut with Brian in the 90s. Known as ‘the Andy Paley Sessions’, low-fi versions have been floating around among Beach Boys collectors for years.
Those songs are highly regarded by fans and I detect a Spector / Wall of Sound influence on many of them; for instance ‘Some Sweet Day’, ‘My Mary Anne’ or ‘Chain Reaction of Love’ as well as others. Was that a conscious effort or just something that sort of happened? Overall, the songs have a really classic 60s pop sound to them, production-wise.
Brian and I produced a bunch of stuff starting in the 1980’s. We co-produced almost everything. The stuff you’re asking about has been widely bootlegged. Fans ask me about it all the time. There are many other recordings that haven’t seen the light of day as far as I know.
I will tell you that Brian knows how good the stuff is. We were having lots of fun writing and recording back then. We may’ve written a hundred songs. It was a real creative explosion.
We worked together every day for months and months. The recordings sound the way they sound because the two people making the music were having a really good time. We never did final mixes of anything because we were doing it for our own amusement ….,not handing it over to a label for release.
Brian likes old records and I like old records so if the stuff sounds a little old that’s because we wanted it that way.
I wrote and produced a song called ‘In My Moondreams’ which Brian and I did a bunch of ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaahhhhs’ on. I played a 6-string bass solo line on it. That song was released so I did a final mix of it. But in general, the stuff we wrote has never been mixed and released. Maybe someday it will all come out. I hope so.
Andy, thank you for all your interesting insights.
On a final note, if push comes to shove, what are your five all-time favorite Spector productions?
1. The Ronettes – ‘When I Saw You’
2. Darlene Love – ‘Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home’
3. The Ronettes – ‘Do I Love You?’
4. The Crystals – ‘There’s No Other (Like my Baby)’
5. The Crystals – He’s Sure the Boy I Love