This started out as really a review of my favorite Badfinger album and tracks, but an extended hospital stay left me plenty of time to listen to the albums plenty and dig in to the band’s ’70s run with original members Peter Ham, Tom Evans, Mike Gibbons and Joey Molland. A great band – who could’ve been one of the decades biggest acts, if not for some very sad circumstances.
Badfinger is remembered largely for their connections to The Beatles, a couple of big hits, and the tragedies that ended the band. But get more in to the band’s catalogue and one can see there was a lot more to Badfinger. All 4 members could write, sing, and play multiple instruments. They were signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records and left a wealth of classic British pop-rock – hit singles, classic albums, and a few songs that would be covered by many.
The band debuted with “Magic Christian Music” – from which 3 songs appeared in the Peter Seller’s film The Magic Christian [which also featured Ringo Starr]. Most notably was Paul McCartney’s “Come And Get It” – which became the band’s first hit. Although it was a great start, it is not a Badfinger favorite of mine, as it sounds very much like a song intended for a Beatles album [nothing wrong with that]. as opposed to a new band breaking out in the 70s. This album would feature a number of other classics, as the band transitioned from British ’60s pop act The Iveys in to one of the greatest 70s recording acts. Classics include the ballad “Carry On Til Tomorrow”, guitar heavy “Rock Of All Ages” – both produced by McCartney. Other favorites include “Midnight Sun” – another cool guitar rock track, and the acoustic “Walk Out In The Rain” – both showcasing the writing and playing of Pete Ham.
“No Dice” is the band’s first real classic album. It featured 4th member Joey Molland on guitar and boasted a few hits, classics, and most notably the band’s most successfully written song [by Ham & Evans] . It also came in an iconic gatefold LP cover [many of this band’s LP covers seemed to have been bad afterthoughts]. “Without You” is an absolute classic! And although it would become a #1 for Harry Nilsson, and would be covered by dozens of others [including Mariah Carey, Air Supply, Shirley Bassey, Heart..], I really prefer the band’s original. Oddly, it was not issued as a single by Apple Records [tho it was a B-side later on in Japan]
Harry Nilsson – “I was at a party one night in Laurel Canyon, and somebody played this song, and I thought it was Lennon. and the next day I called my friend – ‘what was that song? -[sings ‘you-uu’ ] – it’s a Beatles song, a Lennon thing, and he was ‘I know which one you mean, but I can’t think of it’ . And everyone remembered that but no one remembered the song . And we were all going through all the Beatles collection, and then I said oh I know – it’s not the The Beatles – it’s Grapefruit, it’s not them. Then finally somebody said Badfinger. So, we found Without You, and I took it to Richard Perry, my producer, and said ‘hey Richard I think I found one.'” [from interview with DJ Pete Fornatale, 1992]
The album’s only single would be “No Matter What”; another Pete Ham tune, with a classic riff, and probably the band’s 2nd most covered song – most notably by Def Leppard. “We all had a copy of that song growing up. It’s one of the kinds of songs that influenced how we write our own material. Badfinger was like the heavy version of the Beatles. Anything that was Beatlesque would influence us. It didn’t have jangly stuff like a Beatles’ song, but it had clever chords and great melodies. It made you want to tap your foot and shake your head.” [Joe Elliot, http://www.deflepparduk.com ]
No Dice was quite a mixed bag and featured a number of gems, particularly the Pete Ham penned tracks “I Can’t Take It” , his 2 ballads “Midnight Caller” and the slightly country-ish “Blodwyn”, and acoustic gem “We’re For The Dark”. Ham also shares vocals on another ballad – “It Had To Be You” [penned by drummer Mike Gibbons]. This album’s a bit heavy on the ballads, but it has a few more upbeat moments with “Love Me Do” [penned by Joey Molland],”Better Days” [penned and sang by Molland and Tom Evans], and love the guitar blend on the solo to “Believe Me” [written by Evans]. Heck, I think I like this album even more now!
American musician Don Mancuso [ex Black Sheep, Lou Gramm Band] would also record his version of “No Matter What” on his solo album ‘Now You See It’ – “They reminded me of a different version of the Beatles. Great hooks, sounds and vibe. Vocals were amazing. And they had a character and energy that inspired me to push that in my original ideas.”
“Straight Up” was the band’s 3rd album, one which saw 3 producers changing hands throughout the making of it. Not crazy about the LP cover – a band photo, reminiscent of The Beatles For Sale album. The drama and delays and lack didn’t hamper this album, nor did a few bad reviews, I think Straight Up is just as good as No Dice, perhaps even a bit more rounded in solid songs. “Day After Day” was the first single, which I really like, a bit of a mid-tempo ballad, great melody, but it would be the band’s 3rd [and last] Top 10 hit. It would feature George Harrison lead guitar playing. https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/when-george-harrison-played-for-badfinger/
The 2nd single [US] “Baby Blue” was more upbeat, lose, heavier guitar. It would be the last Badfinger song from Pete Ham and the original line-up to chart….that is until it was revived in 2013 on the TV show “Breaking Bad” – which stirred new interest in the song and the band. Robin Zander [Cheap Trick] and Rick Springfield have both covered this song in recent years.
John Sloman [ex Lone Star, Uriah Heep] grew up in Wales, and loved the band in his early years – “I’d grown up listening to The Beatles. One of my abiding memories is first day at Secondary school. All the new kids lined up in the assembly hall waiting nervously to be addressed for the first time by our headmaster. A kid just over there had a transistor radio pressed to his ear…I could just make out McCartney singing ‘Hey Jude’. Move on two years…The Beatles, as a unit, were fading from the public eye. But wait a minute…who is this on the radio? They sound like The Beatles…but also completely original…’Come and Get it’ was sassy and loaded with pop-innuendo. But it’s not The Beatles…it’s a band called Badfinger. No internet…just good ole fashioned radio, out of which came pumping ‘No Matter What ‘. I loved the vocal delivery…that guitar sound. Then i discovered that Badfinger were signed to Apple…and Paul McCartney had written ‘Come and Get it’. Then came the beautiful ballad ‘Day after Day’…poignant opening line: ‘I remember finding out about you…’ produced by another Beatle, George Harrison. I can’t recall who told me they were Welsh…from Swansea…just along the coast from my home town of Cardiff. This was so inspiring to me that a local band could be actually working with the Fab Four…or at least, two of them. Another great song ‘Baby Blue’, I would later discover was produced by someone called Todd Rundgren. Interesting how the threads of one’s life become entangled, often in the most delightful way. Badfinger never disappointed. There was always a depth of feeling in the vocal which suggested a greater pain than a mere 3 minute pop song could convey. Sometimes I’ll be working on a song and I’ll stop and think ‘that sounds a bit like The Beatles’. But then sometimes, I’ll think ‘that sounds a bit like Badfinger’.”
Beyond the singles, Straight Up features Pete Ham at his peak with classics “Take It All”, “Perfection”, and epic piece “Name Of The Game”. Any 3 of Ham’s ballads would’ve made excellent 3rd singles, but by then the band’s time at Apple Records was winding down.
Joey Molland would contribute as many songs as Ham, best being the acoustic ballad “Sweet Tuesday Morning” , the acoustic pop of “I’d Die Babe”, and the rocking “Sometimes”. “Money” [Evans] is another gem, quite a different feel. Straight Up would be the last Badfinger album to make the Top 100 in the US.
The band’s last album for Apple Records [and last Apple release by a non-Beatle act] was released 2 years since their previous album, a huge gap in those days where many bands would push out 2 albums a year! It featured another LP cover I think is sub-standard – a drawing of a human hand dangling a carrot from the sky to a donkey. I get it – but I don’t. Neither the album or the lone single – “Apple Of My Eye” [an ode to the band’s soon-to-be former label] would even break the Top 100.
Pete Ham, who had written the glut of the band’s hits and material, would only pen 2 songs for Ass – one being the single / ballad “Apple Of My Eye”; a shame, presumably this got little push as a single]. He also contributed one of my favorite Badfinger songs in “Timeless”, an epic guitar heavy track that starts out light and moody, mixing vocals, and builds up in to a lengthy guitar solo til the end.
This album lacks the amount of solid material the previous 2 albums had, but it does have some great moments with “Constitution” [Molland] – a heavy blues rock track, with a great riff, heavy guitar and a cool vocal throughout. Too bad there wasn’t a few more with this type of energy on Ass! There’s also 2 decent ballads – “When I Say” [Evans] and a “I Can Say I Love You” [Molland] – a very unique track here, a bit of synths and a more modern feel.
Years prior the band signed with manager Stan Polley, an unforseen ill-fated move. Polley obtained a deal with Warner Brothers for 6 albums [2 per year]. Their next album was simply issued as “Badfinger” and released just a few months after Ass in the US; while it came out around the same time as Ass in the UK [due to legal issues with Apple]. Again, another dud cover [in my opinion] didn’t help, nor did the choice of 2 singles – “Love Is Easy” [Molland] and then “I Miss You” [Ham] – not up to par with the band’s earlier favorites. This album sounds a bit rushed and underproduced, lacking in many catchy tunes and memorable choruses.
Not all is forgettable on this album tho – Ham’s “Lonely You” is the standout song here, a classic Badfinger ballad [Nicely covered by Canadian Carl Dixon on his album ‘Into The Future’ in 2001]. It would’ve made a far better choice for single, as would Molland’s punchy rocker “Island”. “Song For A Lost Friend” [Ham] is a good song, and I like “Give It Up” [Molland] – which offers up something different and plenty of heavy guitar work. As a whole though, this album was a low point in the band’s recordings.
Carl Dixon [Coney Hatch, ex The Guess Who] – “Badfinger was a group that I loved when I was a kid, beginning with The Magic Christian album. Aside from Come and Get It almost all the best songs were written by Peter. The band’s Achilles heel was in trying to function as a democracy and make space on the albums for inferior songs by the other members. That, along with their cursed business dealings at every stage made undeserved hardship for Badfinger. Pete Ham though, shone through as a beautiful soul with a heartbreaking melancholy in his singing voice. The sincerity and vulnerability in Pete’s lyrics certainly influenced my own writing. That’s why I chose to record another of his songs, the little known ‘Hand in Hand’ from a CD of unreleased rarities and demos by Pete, on my Lucky Dog album. A tribute to this sweet artist who meant a great deal to me.”
The band’s last album that would be released by Warners and from the original line up came out in late 1974, and due to Warner Bros lawsuit against Badfinger’s management [over missing funds] the label soon pulled it and discontinued the album less than 2 months later. Another shame, because after the largely forgettable previous album – “Wish You Were Here” was a complete turnaround. The cover wasn’t as daft as the previous few, though the sailor outfits remind me of Alice Cooper’s “Muscle of Love” [from late ’73] and the album title would pre-date the Pink Floyd classic album of the same name by a year. But – on to it …. This is my favorite Badfinger album – great songs, more energetic, great production…
Wish You Were Here starts out upbeat with a cool guitar hook on the pop-rocker “Just A Chance” [penned by Ham], love the drum sounds, guitar breaks, and horns are a nice touch. “You’re So Fine” [Gibbons] is a catchy pop track with acoustic guitar, and a southern feel. “Got To Get Out Of Here” [Molland] is a spacey ballad, highlighted with keyboards which give it plenty of atmosphere. “Know One Knows” [Ham] is a really upbeat feel-good track [musically and lyrically]; a memorable chorus, love the guitar solo, and overall production – one of my faves here. My favorite here tho [and one of my favorite Pete Ham- Badfinger songs] is “Dennis”; a personal song by Ham to his girlfriend’s son. Love the changes in this song, great vocals, harmonies, build up, theatrics, and then all comes back down to a soft play out til the end. The theatrics continue on to “In The Meantime / Some Other Time” [Ham/Molland]; plenty of changes and twists; very energetic epic piece. There’s 2 further decent ballads in “Love Time” [Molland] and “King Of The Load” [Evans]. “Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch / Should I Smoke” ends this album just perfectly; a rocker that features a few changes, and a great blend of vocals, heavy guitars. Cool track!
Wish You Were Here is a classic, one of my favorite albums of the 70s. It brought Badfinger out of that Beatles’ styled mix of pop and ballads and showed them [then] as current and full of energy in the middle of the decade. A crime this album’s shelf life would be cut so short. Thankfully it has been re-issued in recent years [including colored vinyl], a remastered & expanded version of the album was released late last year, and this year saw a 2 LP release of the extra tracks & alternate mixes from Wish You Were Here packaged with early takes and outtakes from the 1974 self-titled album.
Sadly, this would be the last album released from the band [though 2 later reformation LPs would be made in 1979 and 81]. Following WYWH Pete Ham quit the band, and Bob Jackson [keyboards, vocals] was hired. Ham rejoined, and before recording began on the next project Joey Molland quit, leaving Badfinger a 4-piece again, but not much longer.
Soon after the band realized they were in financial trouble [Molland probably saw this first], they hurried back in to the studio to start a new album with Bob Jackson. Due to the lawsuit between the band’s management and Warners, the label shelved the tapes of “Head First”, and the album would not come out for another 25 years [and not taken from the master tapes]. I like this album, tho it was a rush job [recorded in 2 weeks]; it’s got plenty of good songs, and hasn’t dated much.
Head First has that same energy that Wish You Were Here had, and I’m sure under different circumstances at the time, this album would’ve done quite well. It’s a bit more rocky, and a bit more progressive; certainly Bob Jackson’s keyboard and writing talents were a welcomed addition, from what I hear. Jackson’s “Turn Around” is my favorite track on this album; it’s heavier, a bit darker, more progressive. Bob would co-write on 2 others here – “Passed Fast” [with Evans], again a more progressive track, shared vocals, cool guitar solo… and the more laid-back “Moonshine” [with Evans & Gibbons]. The last songs from Ham would be the upbeat opener “Lay Me Down”, a good rock song, great vocal, harmonies, piano, and guitar. He also wrote the more laid back acoustic based pop number “Keep Believing”, written to departed member Molland; a classy arrangement, harmonies, and guitar work from Ham. Tom Evans conttributed 2 songs – both of which dealt with the band’s situation at the time – the rocking “Rock ‘N’ Roll Contract” and the classic “Hey, Mr Manager” – a classic, and penned to the band’s crooked manager Stan Polley. “Back Again” and the very short “Rockin’ Machine” both came from drummer Mike Gibbons [who could also sing and add guitar]. Both Gibbons tunes are acoustic with the former being a decent ballad and the latter being a bit more country sounding.
Head First finally came out in 2000, along with a 2nd disc of outtakes and demos. Here’s hoping someone will one day obtain the master tapes with intended mix, and an LP version with original running order. But anyone who likes Badfinger should definitely search this CD release out.
Folowing the recording of this album, the band was in limbo, and in the ensuing stress Pete Ham took his own life. That was the end of Badfinger [disounting future ‘reunions’]. Joey Moilland had gone on to record one album with with Natural Gas [w/ Jerry Shirley, Mark Clarke, Peter Wood], and later took to Badfinger reformations and still plays Badfinger and his own stuff to this day, as well as recording several solo albums. Tom Evans would join with Jackson in the short-lived Dodgers, playing on the singles, but was replaced before the album was made; he would later join Molland in resurrecting Badfinger for 2 albums in 1979 and 81.
After a falling out with Molland and various reformed and rival Badfinger line-ups Evans also took his own life in 1983. Gibbons would briefly do session work after Badfinger, and after a brief retirement in the ’80s, he would later make a string of his own albums [RIP 2005]. Bob Jackson kept very busy over the years – first forming & recording with The Dodgers in ’78, and later joining and recording with The Searchers, The Byron Band [ex Uriah Heep frontman] in ’81, The Fortunes, as well as taking part in a few Badfinger reformations in the ’80s. He was instrumental in getting the Head First album released, and in more recent years has formed his own version of Badfinger to play around the UK, as well as releasing a new single in 2016.
There have been a few books on the band, most notably Dan Matovina’s lengthy and in-depth “Without You – The Tragic Story Of Badfinger” , as well as “Joey Molland – Badfinger and Beyond” by Michael A. Ciimino.
Of interest is also the documentary “Strange Fruit” , which focus’ on the rise and fall of the Beatles’ label and other artists on Apple Records.
Bob Jackson – Badfinger
Badfinger: A Conversation with Chris Thomas
I’ve only discovered them ‘beyond the hits’ within the last few years, so apologies for any inacurracies above. There is plenty of Badfinger recordings [rarities, live, solo] which I’ve yet to hear. Thanks to my friend Ron Mann for introducing me to Badfinger and a few others.