The Andy Paley sessions are an unfinished recording project by American songwriter-musicians Brian Wilson and Andy Paley. Begun in the early 1990s, the intent was to record a studio album comprising original material written and produced by the duo with participation from Wilson's group the Beach Boys. It was the last time Brian would work with the band before the death of his brother and bandmate Carl Wilson in 1998. Paley previously worked with Wilson as a co-producer and co-writer for the albums Brian Wilson (1988) and Sweet Insanity (unreleased).
In February 1992, California courts issued a restraining order on Brian's therapist Eugene Landy. The next day, Wilson phoned Paley explaining that they were now free to do whatever they wanted. Without an album or recording contract in mind, the two proceeded to write and record several dozen songs that reflected Wilson's personal interests. In the meantime, Wilson completed two solo albums for 1995: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times with Don Was and Orange Crate Art with Van Dyke Parks, both of which contained no new original material by Wilson. He was also subject to much legal wrangling between bandmate Mike Love for songwriting credits and back royalties which resolved in December 1994.
Many internal conflicts prevented the album from completion. Carl disliked the material, as did Brian's wife and manager Melinda, and record labels expressed little interest in signing Brian to a contract. While sessions were underway, Brian embarked on songwriting and recording collaborations with businessman and label owner Joe Thomas, which resulted in the Beach Boys' Stars and Stripes Vol. 1 (1996) and Brian's Imagination (1998). Few of the Paley sessions' recordings have seen official release since then, though many tracks circulate via bootlegs.
Songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist Andy Paley first worked with Brian Wilson for the album Brian Wilson (1988), which Paley later called "a pretty good record ... [but] there were too many cooks and Brian wasn't really calling the shots." Encouraged by Paley, some songs from the album drew from close to 170 rough tape demos kept in briefcases next to Wilson's piano. Paley said: "There's great stuff, but there are also what I call 'hamburger songs'. A lot of those are real junk" (referring to songs Brian composed in exchange for hamburgers from his brother Dennis). After working on the material for several months, additional producers and songwriters were called in for Wilson. The duo reteamed for the recording of Sweet Insanity, which Paley called "even less real Brian than the first one", and it was left unreleased.
The day after California courts issued a restraining order on therapist Eugene Landy from contacting Wilson, Wilson phoned Paley to work on an assortment of recordings destined for a potential album which could have featured some involvement with the Beach Boys. Paley remembered that Wilson would speak of each song's vocal arrangement in terms of which parts the Beach Boys would sing. Wilson called it "some of the best material I've done in a real long time", adding that he is "baffled" why Smile (whose recordings were still largely unreleased) continued to attract attention, quipping: "Things are so different now. The new material just kicks the shit out of Smile." Sessions coincided with the recording of I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (1995) and the Brian Wilson–Van Dyke Parks collaboration Orange Crate Art (1995) in addition to a brief writing collaboration with power pop band Jellyfish. Co-founder Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. told Rocky Mountain News in 1993: "Brian's an amazing guy and still has a lot of musical ideas. Him being one of my musical heroes, it was amazing to sit in a room with him and at a piano and write for a few days. People ask me what he's like, and I've said he's like a really powerful computer with a really bad printer."
After Beach Boy Mike Love successfully sued Wilson for songwriting credits – which resulted in Wilson losing $5 million – Wilson told MOJO in February 1995: "Mike and I are just cool. There's a lot of shit Andy I got written for him. I just had to get through that goddamn trial!" Two weeks following the trial, Love invited Wilson to his home in Lake Tahoe for a "serious" songwriting session, in which they wrote one song tentatively slated for the television show Baywatch Nights. Wilson said in March 1995: "I'm trying to get used to our new thing, and I think I will. It's so hard, you know. I feel like I'm on the spot, and I don't like that feeling." Next month in April, it was unclear whether the project would turn into a Wilson solo album, a Beach Boys album, or a combination of the two. Paley told Billboard: "We've got 30 things in various stages of development. Sometimes Brian says 'Yeah, let's put the Beach Boys' voices on this,' and other times he's not so into it, so I don't know how it's going to work out." On Wilson's birthday in June 1995, Paley brought Wilson to Ocean Way Recording to visit a Phil Spector session, another contemporary who was making a tentative comeback. Wilson was reportedly "overwhelmed". In August 1995, Wilson announced he had "40 incredible songs" and "would be damned if we can only have 10 or 12 of them on one album".
The material ranged from full-blown rockers to delicate ballads. The writing process involved one or the other convening at each other's house to sketch ideas on a boombox and contribute musical or lyrical ideas until the song was ready to be recorded in a professional studio with session musicians paid for by Wilson. Paley said: "We've just been doing what he [Brian] likes to do — the kind of records he's always liked; I don't try to change anything in any way — his vision of what he wants. When he says 'Do this!' In the studio, I do it. I don't question it. If he knows what he wants, I do it or get somebody who can."
Wilson said of the partnership: "Andy has a lot of talent for anything you can think of. He plays many instruments; he can write music and lyrics, and he can arrange, produce and sing. He can run, pass or kick — a triple threat. He's the most frighteningly talented person that I've met, and the most serious about music. The guy is absolutely dedicated to music to the point where there is nothing in the world that's gonna stop him. And that's frightening when a guy can do that." On Wilson, Paley said: "When I was a kid listening to Beach Boys records, I used to go nuts trying to figure out what the hell was going on. It sounded so easy, but you'd get to a spot where it was, Jesus, is that a major chord or a minor chord? Now that I'm in the studio with Brian, I know that sometimes he's playing both. He'll do things that sound like they're going to be terribly dissonant, but when it's all put together, It's beautiful. It's actually a great sort of philosophy.
Some song titles were "Gettin' in Over My Head", "Slightly American Music", "I'm Broke", "Chain Reaction", "You're Still a Mystery", "It's Not Easy Being Me", "Marketplace", "Soul Searchin'", "Proud Mary", "Desert Drive", "Frankie Avalon", and "Dancin' the Night Away". Musicologist Philip Lambert states: "The songs from this period, most of them still unreleased, follow trends begun a decade earlier, exploring different pop idioms and returning time and again to favorite compositional devices like the repeating stepwise melody (in 'Mary Anne,' reviving melodic archetypes from 'Heroes and Villains,' 'Sweet Mountain,' and 'Mona'), and the descending stepwise bass ('Some Sweet Day')." Some songs originate before the 1990s, as evidenced by "Marketplace" and "It's Not Easy Being Me" being copyrighted in 1987.
Elaborating on the origins for the song "Soul Searchin'", Paley said that he had the track finished before Wilson had heard it, but not its lyrics. "Brian came up with the first line (recites “I was a bum…”) and we worked on it from there. Brian contributed heavily with lyrics on that one. ... The original mix was really good; the way I wanted to sound in my head was like a Philly soul record. A lot of stuff was added to the Beach Boys track, things that I wasn’t nuts about — like acoustic guitars." Solomon Burke later recorded a version for his album Don't Give Up on Me (2002).
On "You're Still a Mystery", Paley explained: "Brian had the part, (sings) 'Tell me your secrets, don’t try to hide, give it to me straight now…' and I wrote the counter melody (sings) 'I thought you were my friend, it’s happening again…', which ended up being the hook. I used to carry around a cassette boom box and we were over at this house and Brian said, 'I got something really good' and it was a part that we wound up using on 'You're Still a Mystery.' It was a 50/50 collaboration on that song except for the bridge, which Brian wrote by himself."
"Gettin' In Over My Head" was written for the film Grace of My Heart (1995), a fictionalized account of the 1960s Brill Building era that included a character based on Wilson.
The Wilson–Paley recordings span 1987–2008, though the main 1990s sessions commenced in spring 1992 and lasted until fall 1994 at Mark Linett's Your Place or Mine recording studio in Glendale, California. Further recording was produced by Don Was in November 1995 and Wilson–Paley sometime in 1997 and 1999. Was expressed excitement after sifting through the pile of demo tapes Brian and Paley had provided, as Paley remembers: "We had meetings and everything was getting rolling. ... Everyone was so happy to be there ... First I thought: 'Wow, this could really happen.' And when Carl sang 'Soul Searchin',' it was like ... wow this really is going to happen!"
In an August 1995 MOJO article, friction between Brian and the Beach Boys was reported, and Paley claimed that Love attempted to rewrite some of the material. The magazine Request reported: "When he [Brian] played some of the new tracks for the Beach Boys ... the members were politely supportive, but ultimately declined his invitation." Brian blamed Carl, saying that Carl disliked the song "Soul Searchin'", of which he sang its lead vocal, and didn't want it released. Brian's wife and manager Melinda Ledbetter also blamed Carl, saying that he did not believe the music was commercial enough. During a background vocals session for "Dancin' the Night Away", Carl walked out, according to historian Andrew Doe. Camera crews were present for the song's recording, which was intended to be used for Baywatch Nights. Some vocals for the song's bridge were recorded by Carl, but others including Brian failed to get Love to sing.
Shortly after, Paley said that the album was unlikely to become a Beach Boys record: "Brian and I had a meeting with Mike Love and he listened to everything and Brian really stuck up for these songs and told him he didn’t want them changed in any way. I know he’s so anxious for this music to come out, and I know I am too." Brian said: "I’ll work on my own, solo, before I work with a bunch of guys that don’t give a shit about me. ... there’s probably five or six real good reasons why they don’t like me. One is they’re jealous. Two: erm, they’re assholes. Three: they’re too businessmen and too businesslike. And four: there’s no respect. They have no respect for me. They just spit at me and kick me, no respect at all. I say, ‘Well, fuck it then!’ ... Carl is my brother, but Carl is an asshole. I love Carl, I love his singing, but he’s an asshole to me. Those guys are assholes. I oughta beat the hell out of them all. I dunno, I’d probably get beat up if I tried that."
Instead, Carl proposed that Brian work with Sean O'Hagan of Irish band the High Llamas, to which Brian showed little interest. Attempts were made to coordinate a collaboration between O'Hagan and Brian, but were unsuccessful. Around the same time, music businessman and former wrestler Joe Thomas was enlisted to co-produce the Beach Boys' album Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, an album composed of country music stars covering Beach Boys songs, for which Brian was a participant. It was Thomas who suggested the idea of a country album, and it was released on River North Records, the label he had been running.
Love is quoted: "I have no idea why that [reunion album] didn't come together. I think everyone was willing to do it. I'm not sure how eager, but certainly willing." Love expounded in his 2016 autobiography that Brian "entered a new phase" after marrying Ledbetter in 1995. She became Brian's conservator, and in November, her lawyer sent a letter to Love's with a list of financial demands to compensate for Love's recent litigation. After recording Stars & Stripes, the group discussed finishing the album Smile; Ledbetter was a strong proponent, but Carl rejected the idea, fearing that it would cause Brian another nervous breakdown.
By 1997, Wilson and Paley were still recording, but unable to find a record contract. "I don't blame anybody for having their doubts about Brian," said Paley, "Because you look at what's been out there and it doesn't tell you what he's capable of. The Beach Boys' country album? Come on." Later that year, Brian moved to St. Charles, Illinois, spurred by a new partnership and friendship with Thomas. In Peter Ames Carlin's 2006 biography of Wilson, he writes: "[The] slick sound of Joe's work — and the entree it might allow Brian into the adult contemporary market — was a large part of his appeal."
When Carlin asked Paley why Brian didn't finish the songs on his own, given that there was so much excitement and enthusiasm over the project, Paley responded: "A lot of people didn't want it to happen. I can't really go into it." In June 1997, Request had written that Brian was being pressured by his "closest associates" to abandon his meticulously crafted arrangements with Paley and record an album more in the style of Kenny G. A few months later, Brian commenced recording a new solo album with Thomas, who purposely took it upon himself to ensure that the new work would sound as close to adult contemporary radio as possible. In 1998, the magazine Uncut wrote: "Brian was being coerced away from Andy Paley (by wife Melinda, according to observers), toward Joe Thomas." From the same article, O'Hagan intimated: "Melinda likes [Thomas], and [Brian's] dependent on Melinda. ... He just wants to feel safe and comfortable"
In June 1998, four months after the death of Carl Wilson, Brian released his fourth solo album, Imagination, containing only one song written with Paley: "Where Has Love Been?". In the August–September 1999 issue of Magnet, Brian said of the album: "I wasn't having that much fun at the time. ... I just thought people were out to kill me. I had a fantasy in my head that people were out to murder me. I just couldn't deal with it. I just sort of flipped out." About a month earlier, Rolling Stone journalist Jason Fine reported Brian's upcoming work:
Melinda plans to release a live Wilson album and then return to St. Charles in the fall so Brian can record a second album with [Joe] Thomas. Though Wilson seems more eager to finish the material he's done with Andy Paley than to return to St. Charles, Melinda says he's obligated to do another record with Thomas. She calls the Paley–Wilson material "great therapy" but says his vocals are not up to par and believes the production isn't good enough to be released commercially. As is often the case with Brian's career, Brian doesn't seem to be the one calling the shots. "I'd like to stay here in L.A., but we built the studio, so I guess I have to go," he says simply.
On August 23, 1999, Wilson filed a suit against Thomas, seeking damages and a declaration which freed him to work on his next album without involvement from Thomas. Thomas reciprocated with his own suit, citing that Melinda Ledbetter "schemed against and manipulated" him and Brian. The case was settled out of court.
In 1995, Vox's John Mulvey called it "quite simply the most consistent and inspiring music Brian has made for at least 25 years. For any elder statesman of rock, they would be shockingly good. For a man allegedly a gibbering wreck, they’re nothing short of revelatory." Retrospectively, The Washington Post called the material "worthy of release". Peter Ames Carlin wrote that the songs "set a new standard for Brian's solo work". On July 16, 2015, Brian performed the unreleased "I'm Broke" live for the first time, with Seattle Music Insider describing it a "bluesy rarity".
The following is a list of officially-released songs which originated during the Wilson–Paley sessions.
This is a partial list of musicians and production staff involved with the recordings.Andy Paley – producer, Steinway grand piano and 6-string bass on "Soul Searchin'"
Brian Wilson – producer, vocal track producer
Guests and session musicians
Mike Love – bass vocal on "Soul Searchin'"
Carl Wilson – lead vocal on "Soul Searchin'"
Elliot Easton – guitar
Danny Hutton – vocals
Jim Keltner – drums on "Soul Searchin'"
Benmont Tench – electric piano on "Soul Searchin'"
Waddy Wachtel – guitar on "Soul Searchin'"
Don Was – producer, backing track producer