The Complete Recordings

Paley Brothers

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The Complete Recordings Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Among those in the know, the Paley Brothers are the stuff of legend. Andy wound up achieving some measure of fame as a record producer but when he and his brother Jonathan played pure pop in the '70s, they never had a hit, no matter how hard they tried. Unlike Shaun Cassidy -- who they did open for and, arguably, they were much cuter than that famed teenybopper -- the Paley Brothers wrote their own songs and not only did they play their own instruments, they played them well. Unlike the Ramones, who were also signed to Sire just before the Paleys and who invited the brothers to appear on the Rock 'n' Roll High School soundtrack, there was no ironic distance to their pop: they sang songs of sunshine and puppy love, sounding like the heirs to the Beach Boys. And, unlike Eric Carmen and the Raspberries or Cheap Trick, they never leavened their harmonies with crunching chords; there was no power to their pop. Judged by their sound, they were children of AM pop, but by habit and inclination they were power poppers, running with the Ramones, Patti Smith, and other first-generation punks, playing CBGB even when they were getting press from 16 Magazine.

All the ingredients for massive success were there but success never came, leaving the Paley Brothers as perhaps the greatest example of a band that, by nearly every measure, should've been stars. Compared to Big Star, the legendary unheard guitar pop band of the '70s, the Paley Brothers were bright, cheerful, and uncomplicated. There was no messiness, no conflicted emotions or strange detours into Indian music, which is probably why their cult never extended beyond pop true believers, but hopefully Real Gone's long-awaited 2013 release of The Complete Recordings will broaden their cult considerably. Although sequenced non-chronologically, The Complete Recordings has all of their 1977 full-length LP, their 1976 EP Released on Ecstasy, the deliriously fun 1979 single "Jacques Cousteau (The Young Jacques)," and their Ramones-backed contribution to the Rock 'n' Roll High School soundtrack, along with no less than 11 unheard songs from the vaults (according to an interview with Jonathan conducted around the time of this CD's release, there's enough unheard material to comprise a Complete Recordings, Vol. 2). By mixing up the unheard material, all recorded after the duo left Sire, with the LP and EP, the compilers force focus on the individual songs, front-loading the disc with four impeccable pop tunes, all unreleased -- "Here Comes My Baby," an original that's an unabashed '60s throwback; the candied "Meet the Invisible Man"; "Too Good to Be True," which may be the closest they ever got to true power pop; and "Boomerang," a perfect Beach Boys tribute -- before delving into the surprisingly muscular live cut "Felicia." Here, much of the Paley Brothers' strengths has been revealed and the disc hasn't even gotten to the songs that were released. As it rolls on, the album demonstrates the Paley Brothers' musical dexterity, keen songwriting, sharp sense of humor, and a sunny disposition that never becomes cloying. They are pure, unaffected joy and that is a wonder to behold.

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