Badfinger featuring Joey Mollard
Badfinger. It's a name that most music fans have heard at some time or another. 'Cos like, aren't they something to do with The Beatles? Didn't Paul McCartney write one of their singles? Whatever happened to...?
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Exactly. Rock history hasn't treated Badfinger very kindly at all. Walk into any major music chain in the UK and you'll be hard pressed to find a Badfinger album. And when you do manage to strike lucky, nine times out of ten, it's a US or Japanese import. When you consider that Badfinger were a British band, this is a very poor state of affairs. So, why no kudos here in the UK? Why, when the band's name is mentioned, is it usually used to describe a band who sound like a second-rate Beatles (I've heard it mentioned in connection with Oasis recently)? If you're expecting me to speculate on the answer to that little poser, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm as baffled as the next Badfinger fan. All I can do is state the case for the band's defense.
And the case for the defense is strong. Far from being the "poor man's Beatles" that they're often labeled, Badfinger were actually pretty much the officially sanctioned 1970s version of the Fab Four. As The Iveys (Pete Ham and Tom Evans on guitar, Ron Griffith on bass, and Mike Gibbins on drums), the prototype Badfinger were signed to The Beatles' recently formed Apple label in 1968, having been discovered by Bill Collins, a friend of Beatles associate Mal Evans, and their first LP, Maybe Tomorrow, appeared the following year. (It's worth noting that the first signs of dissension were starting to appear in The Beatles' ranks round about this time, with Ringo briefly walking out on the band during the "White Album" sessions. Is that a baton I see being passed on?!) Its release gained little fanfare, despite it being a thoroughly decent debut (so decent, in fact, that six of the album's twelve tracks - seven if you count the re-recorded version of Fisherman - also found their way onto the official Badfinger debut LP). The Beatles' influence on The Iveys' sound and songwriting was obvious, but this didn't seem to bother anyone at Apple, Beatles personnel included. In fact, it seemed to work to The Iveys' advantage, as the band became something of a pet project in Beatle circles. The Beatles saw something in The Iveys that they understood and felt a kinship with, and friendships were forged.
Shortly after the release of their debut album, and with a change of name (it was thought that The Iveys' name was a major stumbling block in getting the band some deserved recognition with the public - the new name came from Badfinger Boogie, McCartney's working title for A Little Help From My Friends), a shift from guitar to bass for Tom Evans and the recruitment of Liverpudlian guitarist Joey Molland (replacing Ron Griffith), Badfinger was born, and with the single Come And Get It - a Paul McCartney-penned tune specifically written for Badfinger - made their debut in the UK charts, peaking at number 4 in January 1970. The sound was distinctly Beatlesque, and the album from which it came, 1970's Magic Christian Music (named after the Peter Sellers / Ringo Starr film, 'The Magic Christian', from which Come And Get It also came), showed Badfinger to be extremely hard working students from The Beatles' College of Pop. If, as it's sometimes mooted, Rubber Soul and Revolver are volumes one and two of the same record, Magic Christian Music must surely rank as volume three. It boasts an eclectic mix of song styles. From lounge music (Knocking Down Our Home) to semi-Byrdsian whimsical pop (Give It A Try), from bluesy toe-tappers (Rock Of All Ages) to epic, string-laden ballads (Carry On Till Tomorrow), all aspects of mid-to-late Sixties pop music were covered. And well. Magic Christian Music is nothing less than one of the first classic records of the early Seventies.
It's the band's next album, though, No Dice (also released in 1970), which perhaps defines Badfinger in many people's minds, as it includes the band's own recording of the song they wrote that Harry Nilsson took to number one, Without You (also covered in recent years by Mariah Carey, but the less said about that the better) and No Matter What, the band's second UK hit and a song covered relatively recently by the late US Power Poppers Jellyfish (and even more recently by scuzzy British rock 'n' rollers The Wildhearts). Elsewhere on No Dice, the Beatles influence is still very much in the foreground. The smooth vocal harmonies of It Had To Be wouldn't have seemed out of place on Abbey Road, and the slow, soulful groove of Believe Me is an obvious close cousin of McCartney's Oh! Darling from that very album.
The term 'Abbey Road-esque' is often used to describe the flavour of the band's third LP, too. Straight Up was released in 1972, and is a finely crafted, but immensely soulful, slice of Seventies Pop. Although not the album the band originally planned to make (for a tantalizing glimpse of that, listen to the bonus tracks on the No Dice and Straight Up CDs; here you'll find orchestrated versions of some of Straight Up's tracks that suprisingly put the admittedly superb released versions in the shade), it's certainly the finest album Badfinger recorded for Apple. Produced by Todd Rundgren and George Harrison (although not at the same time - Harrison handed over the controls to Rundgren when he had to dash off to put together the Concert For Bangla Desh LP, a live album on which members of Badfinger played, along with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Harrison himself), Straight Up is the spiritual successor to Abbey Road. It's the album The Beatles would have recorded if they'd made it into the Seventies. It boasts perfect vocal harmonies, melodies in the finest Beatles tradition and a punchy but smooth production. All this and twelve of Badfinger's best ever songs (Baby Blue, Day After Day, Take It All, Perfection, It's Over... need I say more?!). Ironically, though, Straight Up sold poorly in the UK, with the public seemingly refusing to take Badfinger seriously as an albums band. Legal problems were also starting to dog the band around this time. Their songwriting royalties were tied up by a dispute with Apple, and they ended up falling out with the label and eventually signing to Warner Brothers.
Ass, Badfinger's final album on Apple, was released in 1974. The sleeve showed a donkey being lured away by a giant hand holding a carrot; a reference to Warner's very tasty million dollar advance. The record's sleeve may have been a tongue-in-cheek dig at Apple, but there was a definite sadness in Badfinger's voice. The band saw Apple as a spiritual home, and being forced to leave in such circumstances was obviously very painful. The lead song on Ass, Apple Of My Eye, was penned as a fond farewell to the label, and the album's final track, Timeless, even went so far as pondering Badfinger's place in rock history (at least that was one interpretation of the epic song's lyric). It was as if they thought that their day had been and gone; which, musically, it obviously hadn't, as they hit their peak later that same year with the flawless Wish You Were Here, their second LP for Warner's.
Six weeks after the completion of Ass, the band were back in the studio recording their debut LP for their new label. Badfinger (the original working title of the LP was 'For Love Of Money') is a strong and varied album, covering all bases from heartfelt ballads (I Miss You, Lonely You), to Led Zeppelin-ish hard rock (Give It Up), to the band's trademarked Power Pop (Shine On). Sadly, though, the album failed to sell. Happily, this pushed the band to further heights of excellence musically, and just three months after Badfinger hit the record stores, they were back in the studio creating their swansong, the critically acclaimed Wish You Were Here.
Wish You Were Here boasts a warm, rich, textured sound and a set of nine songs that, for the most part (Got To Get Out Of Here being the main exception), ring out with an infectious joyousness. As Dan Matovina says in his sleeve note to Rhino's The Best Of Badfinger Volume II, Wish You Were Here is an album that when "turned up, can leave you feeling like you've just experienced the London Philharmonic!" From the chiming pure pop chorus of Know One Knows (with its cheesy but lovable Japanese spoken word section), to the almost prog rock (prog pop, anyone?) epic In The Meantime / Some Other Time, to the final glorious medley, Meanwhile Back At The Ranch / Should I Smoke - a track that actually has the power to take one's breath clean away - Wish You Were Here is, without a doubt, Badfinger's most exhilarating and vibrant album. Which makes the fact that it was pulled by Warners after a month on release all the more tragic.
Sadly, Badfinger once again found themselves embroiled in legal problems, as a lawsuit was filed by Warner's publishing division against the band's management company, who had allegedly been tampering with funds. It was these problems that led Joey Molland to quit the band at the end of 1974. Keyboard player Bob Jackson was recruited as Joey's replacement, and the band began recording a new album, Head First. However, Warners refused to release the LP as the lawsuit was still ongoing (four songs were released posthumously on The Best Of Badfinger Volume II, though).
On 24 April 1975, with no income, mounting debts and his band forcedly locked into a stationary position, Pete Ham hanged himself at his London home. His suicide note laid the blame squarely at the foot of the music business, and, in particular, the band's American manager.
Badfinger's eventual rebirth in 1978 (with Joey Molland and Tom Evans recruiting various other musicians, after spending two years working as labourers) led to the release of two more LPs, Airwaves (1979) - a criminally underrated album, boasting as it does some fine contributions from guitarist Joe Tansin, not to mention legendary keyboardist (and occasional Stones collaborator) Nicky Hopkins - and the patchier Say No More (1981), a 'back to basics' LP that never really takes flight due to its poor production. Both LPs flopped. Badfinger's 'comeback' attempt hadn't worked. Royalty disputes still followed the band wherever they went, and Molland and Evans once more found themselves struggling financially.
Tom Evans took his own life on 18 November 1983. Just like his friend had done eight years earlier, Evans hanged himself.
As usual, the business side of the music industry had crippled the creative side. Speaking to the BBC in 1996, Tom Evans' widow, Marianne, said of her late husband and his songwriting partner, Pete Ham: "They were too sensitive. They were not business people, they were songwriters, and they couldn't stand up for themselves. They were not strong enough for the business side of it. If they had been strong, they would still be alive."
The tragedy of the Badfinger story does tend to cloud their music with an air of sadness. But as so much of that music is inspirational in tone, it's the kind of sadness one gets listening to, say, Abbey Road or John Lennon's Imagine LP. It's the sadness of life, basically. The world is indeed an awful place, but it's reassuring to know that, despite this fact, Badfinger tried their best to make it feel a little bit better. It's a cliche, I know, but their music really will live forever.
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