Badfinger

TrackAlbum
Come And Get ItMagic Christian Music
Carry On Till TomorrowMagic Christian Music
No Matter WhatNo Dice
Without YouNo Dice
Baby BlueStraight Up
Day After DayStraight Up
Apple Of My EyeAss
Shine OnBadfinger
Just A ChanceWish You Were Here
Know One KnowsWish You Were Here

Badfinger photo 2

Badfinger (l-r): Mike Gibbins, Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland

 

 

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm
Badfinger playlist

 

 

Contributor: Marc Fagel

Sitting here today, Badfinger’s place in the classic rock pantheon seems beyond dispute. They served as the primary torchbearers for Beatlesque pop into the 70s after Liverpool’s originals had gone their separate ways. They are widely credited, alongside Big Star, the Raspberries, and Todd Rundgren, as early forerunners of the power pop genre. And their string of early singles seems firmly embedded in the classic rock canon; indeed, Baby Blue, arguably their catchiest track, memorably served as the closing number for the Breaking Bad series, while being covered by indie rock luminaries including Mary Lou Lord, Barbara Manning, and Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, ensuring ongoing hipster cred.

But things were hardly as rosy during the band’s actual tenure. Badfinger’s travails, well-documented elsewhere, made them one of rock music’s great tragedies, from financial mismanagement to commercial disappointment to internal dissension, with two of the band’s four members taking their lives in the wake of the devastation.

The band released six studio albums (plus a seventh underway at the time of their 1975 break-up that was posthumously issued 25 years later), as well as two albums recorded following the death of their primary singer/songwriter, Pete Ham. Yet despite a wealth of material, picking 10 of their best songs is surprisingly easy. Though their albums ranged from pretty good to great, Badfinger shone particularly bright on their singles, with a fistful of obviously transcendent tunes clearly overshadowing the balance of their work. (I gave some thought to skipping the singles and coming up with their ten top deep tracks, but thought better of it.)

Alas, going with the obvious hits not only gives short shrift to the album tracks, it also overlooks the songwriting contributions of most of the band. While initially a vehicle primarily for Ham’s songs, Badfinger became an unusually democratic outfit, with songwriting (and lead vocal) credits divided fairly evenly among Ham, guitarist Joey Molland, and bassist Tom Evans (with even drummer Mike Gibbins pitching in on occasion)—sort of a forerunner to the like-minded Teenage Fanclub twenty years later. This versatility gave the albums a healthy sense of stylistic variety, certainly more than lesser power pop bands. But Ham’s tunes definitely stood out, and all but one of my Top 10 picks were written (or co-written) and sung by Ham.

Despite the later tragic pall that would hang over the band, things started out looking promising. An earlier iteration of the band, called The Iveys, were the first outside act signed to the Beatles’ new Apple label. The Iveys’ initial recordings, firmly rooted in late British Invasion, Beatles-inspired pop, were issued on a limited-release record called Maybe Tomorrow, while the Evans-helmed single of the same name garnered some airplay. Shortly thereafter, original Iveys bassist Ron Griffiths departed, with Evans moving to bass while Molland joined up on guitar; the reconstituted four-piece that would endure until their 1975 break-up rechristened itself as Badfinger.

For the band’s first proper album, they combined some Iveys tunes with new songs recorded for an obscure and poorly-received Peter Sellers film, The Magic Christian (also starring Ringo Starr). Despite its hodge-podge origins, 1970’s Magic Christian Music is a perfectly solid record. They had a bit of a ringer in Come And Get It, a ridiculously infectious single written by Paul McCartney and sung by Evans. (When McCartney’s solo demo finally surfaced a quarter-century later on the Beatles’ Anthology 3, it revealed that Badfinger had barely tweaked the original. Still, a great song is a great song.) Meanwhile, the balance of the LP demonstrated that Badfinger were more than a McCartney rip-off, with pleasant, melodic pop songs not far afield from mid-period Beatles and Hollies. Crimson Ship and I’m In Love are comparably catchy tunes; Beautiful And Blue is a wistful ballad; and Dear Angie (written by the since-departed Griffiths) is an oddly effecting gem. My personal favorite is the stunning, melancholy ballad Carry On Till Tomorrow, a showcase for the band’s soaring harmonies.

While appearing barely a few months later, No Dice already saw Badfinger shaking off some of their Beatles-influenced roots and adding some more guitar-driven, harder rocking sounds to the mix (though still obviously indebted to both McCartney and Lennon on various tracks). With the single No Matter What, one of rock music’s truly definitive power pop songs, the band confirmed they could write a killer hook every bit as compelling as McCartney’s offerings. Midnight Caller and I Don’t Mind are lovely mid-tempo tunes reminiscent of the first album; and Molland’s Love Me Do (not a Beatles cover) spotlights some perky rock chops. And then there’s the simply gorgeous ballad Without You. Yes, these days the original is overshadowed by Harry Nilsson’s timeless cover, hardly a fair fight given that Nilsson had one of the most remarkable voices in pop music (at least until he trashed it partying with John Lennon). Still, Ham’s no slouch, and the song itself is a stunning piece of songcraft.

 

1971’s Straight Up didn’t make any drastic changes, but solidified Badfinger’s sound, holding up today as the band’s most consistent album. Baby Blue joins No Matter What as a delightfully compelling entry in the power pop canon. Equally enduring is the sweetly tuneful Day After Day, aided by George Harrison’s distinctive slide guitar. (Harrison handled some production duties on the album before handing it off to pop wunderkind Todd Rundgren.) But beyond those killer singles, the deep tracks hold up nearly as well, with fine selections like the McCartneyesque Take It All and Flying.

 

Alas, the follow-up was a bit of a mess, plagued by the sort of problems that would haunt the band for the remainder of their brief run. Delayed by thorny legal disputes with the financially-mismanaged Apple, as well as midstream changes in producers, 1973’s Ass feels thin compared to its predecessors. (It doesn’t help that the album’s title and cover art, apparently a jab at the Apple relationship, are less than appealing.) Ham only contributed two tracks, and while Molland and Evans continued to provide decent enough material, their workmanlike pop tunes don’t elevate the work in quite the same way. Still, Ham’s opener, Apple Of My Eye, is another winner, the opening line “I’m sorry, but it’s time to move away” tucking all sorts of portent into the engaging melody.

After signing to Warner Brothers, the band made a bit of a creative rebound with 1974’s self-titled album (recorded earlier but delayed by the Ass imbroglio). Still, beyond a pair of great songs in Evans’s Where Do We Go From Here and, especially, Ham’s Shine On, another instant pop classic, the album doesn’t distinguish itself in the same way as earlier work. The Beatlesque pop is long gone, and the middle-of-the-road pop-rock is dragged down by a tendency towards blandness. Here’s footage of Badfinger rehearsing Shine On:

Fortunately, the final album to be released during the quartet’s original run sees them out on a higher note. While Wish You Were Here, released later the same year, isn’t a huge stylistic departure from Badfinger, the songs are better, and, perhaps with a little more distance between the band and the Apple mess, there’s a bit more enthusiasm to be found. Opener Just A Chance is Ham at his power-pop best, and the midtempo Know One Knows is similarly catchy. Meanwhile, drummer Gibbins provides a nice Beatle-friendly throwback in You’re So Fine.

Despite Wish’s artistic success, the band remained riddled with financial and personal conflicts. (Alas, multiple singer-songwriters vying for frontman status is rarely a formula for rock & roll longevity.) Ham ended up quitting, but was lured back by Warner Brothers. They hurriedly recorded another album, but Warner Brothers found it deficient and rejected it. Amidst ongoing financial woes, Ham sadly took his own life in 1975, joining Morrison, Joplin, and Hendrix in the 27 Club. It took another quarter-century for the 1975 recordings to see the light of day, 2000’s indie-label release Head First pairing the mostly-finished album with a second disc of rough demos. It’s not hard to understand Warner Brothers’ reticence; the sound is unpolished and many of the songs nothing special. Yet Ham managed one final triumph with—ironically in light of his suicide—the lovely Keep Believing. Meanwhile, Evans’s Hey, Mr. Manager is a caustic yet infectious tune that dredges up some of the band’s management issues (“Hey, Mr. Manager, you’re messing up my life” not exactly pulling punches). Head First doesn’t stream, but here’s an audio rip of Keep Believing:

With Head First’s rejection and Ham’s passing, the band went their separate ways. Evans and Molland regrouped in 1979 for Airwaves, joined by guitarist Joe Tansin and various session musicians. While sounding little like Badfinger of yore, and a little too much like bland FM-dial corporate rock (particularly Tansin’s pair of contributions), Airwaves nonetheless has its charms. As a somewhat generic power pop record, it’s not terrible, and a few tunes, like Molland’s cheesy yet endearing Love Is Gonna Come At Last, are quite catchy.

Molland and Evans managed one more record (with a different backing band), 1981’s Say No More. It, too, was a largely forgettable affair, its Peter Max cover painting more distinctive than any of the songs; though, like Airwaves, it’s perfectly listenable, a passable power pop album that might have been better received if issued as a Molland-Evans record rather than under the Badfinger name. Tragically, history repeated itself for the band, as Evans took his own life in 1983 in the wake of ongoing financial disputes.

In the years since, Molland has continued to record intermittently. His most recent release came out earlier this year, and while not breaking any ground, Be True To Yourself is a surprisingly appealing power pop record, certainly better than the post-Ham Badfinger records, much more deftly capturing the flavor of Beatlesque seventies pop than the legion of Badfinger imitators out there.

 

 

Badfinger photo 3

 

 

Badfinger photo 1

 

 

Badfinger blue plaque

 

Pete Ham (1947–1975)

Tom Evans (1947-1983)

Mike Gibbins (1949–2005)

 

Badfinger (Wikipedia)

The Badfinger Library – extensive information

In-depth history on ‘Louder’

Joey Molland 2015 interview

Joey Molland (Wikipedia)

Joey Molland – Be True To Yourself (2020)

“Without You: The Tragic Story Of Badfinger by Dan Matovina

Badfinger biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a recovering lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the recently-published rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter. Marc’s previous posts include New Pornographers, Bettie Serveert, Flaming Lips, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson and Brian Eno.

TopperPost #922

5 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Dec 15, 2020

    Really superb piece – so many fine songs in here. My older brother had ‘Without You’ as a single but never really got around to exploring them further. This great piece the perfect place to start – thanks.

  2. Glenn Smith
    Dec 15, 2020

    Great list, you’ve covered all the tracks I’d have included. There are so many sad stories associated with this great band, in particular as they relate to that Polley character. Without You was just an album track on No Dice and apparently Harry was at a party when he first heard it and thought it was the Fabs, the rest of course is history. But there is a poignancy and intimacy to the original, Pete’s brilliant verse and Tom’s chorus, that can’t be matched by the subsequent covers especially Mariah’s awful caterwauling. The stunning Day after Day, wth Pete and George H doubling on the slide, came in the middle of a dream run of singles from Pete, together with No Matter What and Baby Blue, what a songwriter. In the early 70’s they were literally everywhere, they are all over All Things Must Pass, Tom and Pete sang back up on It Don’t Come Easy and of course they were in effect the house band for Concert for Bangladesh. I’d strongly recommend Toppermost alumni go back and have a look at Bangladesh for so many reasons (Leon/Bob et al) but in particular for the Badfinger boys.
    Thanks for doing this fantastic appraisal, Badfinger deserve it.

    • Marc Fagel
      Dec 18, 2020

      I really do need to go back and check out that Bangladesh show. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Calvin Rydbom
    Dec 15, 2020

    I’ve had the opportunity to see Joey Molland a couple years ago in one of Todd Rundgren’s All Star Beatles Tributes. Good to hear some of those Badfinger songs done live. Such a snake bit band though.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓