Brian Wilson calls him the “most frighteningly talented” person he’s ever met.
Jerry Lee Lewis calls him when he needs some new tunes.
And SpongeBob SquarePants calls him a friend.
Andy Paley is a lot of things to a lot of people. But one thing that he’s universally known for, aside from a man who will admittedly take on nearly any musical project, is being one of the most impactful songwriters and producers his peers have ever met.
As a young adult, his band was scouted by some of the best record executives in the country, including Clive Davis.
As a storied pop songwriter, his tracks have wound up with legends like Elton John, Little Richard and Madonna singing them back.
And for over 15 years, the 67-year-old Halfmoon native has brought new musical depth to the world’s favorite deep-sea creatures as a songwriter and producer for Nickelodeon’s longtime staple “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
And he attributes all of his success both in cartoons and beyond to those early days in the 518, discovering music and seeing his heroes live at a young age.
“I’m thankful that I grew up in the Mohawk Valley,” Paley said. “It definitely prepared me for a life in music. There’s no question about it. I wish I was there right now.”
In a sense, he’s igniting that same spark in millions of children across the world.
A Crescent kid
Paley grew up in Crescent, in an area called Church Hill, off of Route 9 and across the street from the Mohawk River. He and his four siblings bussed over to Shenendehowa High School each day and after school, Paley would learn guitar from his neighbor Gerry Harris.
“That was my first time [with a guitar],” he said. “We played together and he taught me how. The local radio stations were WPTR and WTRY and the big DJ was Boom Boom Brannigan. These are all fond memories.”
Brannigan, who was something of a childhood hero for Paley, hosted a battle of the bands at Raphael’s on Route 9 in the early ‘60s, which Paley and his group the Satellite Six ultimately won. The group, he said, was named after Glendora’s ‘50s television slot “Satellite Six.”
“I was surrounded by cows and corn, and I’m under the covers listening to a transistor radio, listening to music that was just fantastic,” Paley said. “I was listening to Del Shannon, the Four Seasons, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye. This music was blowing my mind. Whatever it was, I was a rock and roll addict.”
That addiction to music — including local acts like The Bougalieu — led him to some of the most unforgettable shows in the Capital Region’s history when he wasn’t even old enough to drive. Paley recalls seeing the Beach Boys at the RPI Fieldhouse and the Rolling Stones at the Palace Theatre in the early ’60s.
“There was one cop in the theater,” Paley said of the Rolling Stones show. “And everybody went crazy. I went to the evening show. The daytime show was cut short because girls were screaming. It became like a mob scene. I was lucky because the later show was a much longer set.”
As for the Beach Boys, the 1962 concert was his first time seeing his future collaborator Brian Wilson in person. “It was a big act, it was a big deal. It was amazing,” he said.
Entering the industry
After a stint at boarding school in Vermont and later graduating from a school in New York City in the late ‘60s, Paley then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he started his RCA-signed band the Sidewinders. The group dropped a relatively successful album but didn’t last. That’s when Paley and his brother, Jonathan, during a drive to California, decided to go at it themselves.
“And on the way on this drive, we took our time and talked about stuff because, all of a sudden I did not have a band, the Sidewinders was over,” Paley said. “And I asked my brother if he wanted to do stuff, and he did. So we started the Paley Brothers, although that wasn’t really the name, somebody just named us.”
Early on, the group saw bites from executives like Clive Davis, but eventually signed to Seymour Stein from Sire Records. From there, they released their 1978 self-titled debut album, which many critics saw as an underrated record for its time.
“We signed with Sire exactly at the time of the Talking Heads and the Ramones,” Paley said. “We made a record which was nothing like either of those bands, it was way, sort of, pop. We were in Tiger Beat Magazine. We were kind of promoted in a bubble-gum way but at the same time, we were jamming with Patti Smith and we made a record with the Ramones. We were all over the place. But then my brother and I decided to go our separate ways.”
After the brothers split up, Paley began working as a keyboardist with Patti Smith’s band. He then started producing records in Boston and in Europe and began breaking into movie soundtracks. His first was for “Dick Tracy” in 1990, where he worked with the likes of Madonna, Ice-T and Jerry Lee Lewis.
“We enjoyed working with each other so much, so we decided to do a whole album later after the movie,” Paley said. “So I ended up doing a whole album with Jerry Lee, which was great.”
That’s usually how stuff worked for Paley. Artists often learned of him through word-of-mouth, including one of his childhood heroes, Brian Wilson.
In 1987, as Paley was producing an album in London, he got a call from Stein at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner in Manhattan. Stein was with Wilson, who had just inducted songwriters Leiber and Stoler.
“They had been talking to Brian about doing a solo album,” Paley said. “They suggested that he talk to me and I come and work with Brian on his first solo record. I talked to Brian on the phone, which was an incredible thrill for me. It was 3 a.m. in London. I don’t know what time it was in New York when I got that phone call, but I was wide awake.”
Within a few days, Paley began working with Wilson on what would eventually become his self-titled debut album in 1988. The record was so well received that it earned the name “Pet Sounds ’88” from critics, referring to the Beach Boys’ landmark project. And it gave Paley a place in music history, propelling him into further projects with the music legend.
Meeting Wilson — who Paley first saw when he stopped at the RPI Fieldhouse — was a bit of a full-circle moment for Paley. He met a hero.
But Paley was about to become that same hero for millions of kids across the world. He just didn’t know it yet.
Before his biggest role in television soundtracking with “SpongeBob,” Paley recalls meeting voice actor Billy West when he was working at a guitar shop in Boston. A few years later in Los Angeles, he rubbed shoulders with animator John Kricfalusi.
“He was starting a new cartoon,” Paley said. “And he told me he was looking for a voice guy and I introduced him to Billy. And Billy came out, stayed at my house here in LA and went to work with John every day.”
Kricfalusi, of course, was the creator of the iconic Nicktoon “The Ren and Stimpy Show,” as well as the voice of Ren. West, on the other hand, became the voice of Stimpy. In short, Paley introduced Ren and Stimpy.
And he, too, played a role in the show. Not only did he create classic songs like “Don’t Whizz On The Electric Fence,” but he also manned some of the cartoon’s sound effects.
His stint on “Stimpy” also led him to more cartoon work. Some notable performances include those on Cartoon Network shows like “My Gym Partner’s A Monkey” and “Camp Lazlo,” as well as the children’s program “Olivia.”
But his most successful work came in 2004, when NRBQ’s Tom Ardolino introduced Paley to a longtime fan, Tom Kenny. Kenny, of course, was and still is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants — Nickelodeon’s staple character and the world’s favorite sea sponge.
“He said you guys should write songs together,” Paley said.
And they did. Paley had no idea what SpongeBob was at the time, or who Kenny was, but he was always willing to jump on an opportunity.
“Kenny and I started planning to make these SpongeBob records with every member of the cast — Squidward, Pearl, whoever it was,” Paley said. “We thought of it like the cartoons for the Monkees or Jackson 5 or the Beatles. We just thought, ‘Why not just do good pop songs and have SpongeBob and Patrick and Plankton and everybody sing?’ ”
From there came “The Best Day Ever,” Paley’s massive track featured at the end of 2004’s “The SpongeBob Movie.” It was a big moment for Paley, and a big moment for kids across the world when SpongeBob later performed the song as part of the Season 4 opener in 2006. About 3.7 million people tuned in to watch it. Then, 2006 marked Paley’s first album with the “SpongeBob” cast, “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Best Day Ever.”
“If you look at the credits on this record, you’ll see Nino Tempo playing saxophone,” Paley said. “And then you’ve got James Burton, who is Elvis Presley’s guitar player. You’ve got Brian Wilson singing background vocals.”
Now, Paley joins Kenny in his live band, Tom Kenny and the Hi-Seas. The pair, along with several other musicians, started playing ‘60s tunes at weddings and parties, and they frequent clubs in Los Angeles.
“We’re just a really fun dance band,” Paley said. “Occasionally we’ll pop into a ‘SpongeBob’ song, but in general it’s party music… Fans come to the shows and say, ‘Oh, ‘I Love My Tighty Whiteys’ is such a pretty song.’ A lot of these people get it. They totally get what we were going for.”
And that’s what Paley intended to accomplish with the music of “SpongeBob SqyarePants.”. He wanted to channel the great pop songs of the ‘60s and bring them to today’s children. And he left a lasting impression on kids all over the world. While it might not be played by transistor radios under the covers, Paley’s music has given generations of children the same feeling he got when he first watched the Beach Boys at the RPI Fieldhouse of the Stones at the Palace.
He may not be a rock star in the usual sense, but his work behind the boards says otherwise.
“It’s very gratifying,” Paley said of his young fans approaching him. “It’s the most gratifying thing.”
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