Badfinger – what happened?
The question is often raised in relation to this band.
They are variously referred to as starcrossed, tragic, unlucky, the victims of bad management.
All these things are, perhaps, true but when enough excuses are put up in relation to a band who did receive the breaks you wonder whether they just didn't have enough to cross over into the big time.
The truth is that music nerds, obsessives and goof balls need a secret "tragic" band by which they can communicate to other nerds to the exclusion of the masses.
To that end Badfinger fit the bill.
Today, apart from Beatles completists, cultists and music nerds Badfinger are largely forgotten.
There story is tragic (a couple of suicides) and they were the victims of bad management (later) but they had a good go at the top but were found lacking.
Allmusic: "There are few bands in the annals of rock music as star-crossed in their history as Badfinger. Pegged as one of the most promising British groups of the late '60s and the one world-class talent ever signed to the Beatles' Apple Records label that remained with the label, Badfinger enjoyed the kind of success in England and America that most other bands could only envy. Yet a string of memorable hit singles — "Come and Get It," "No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue" — saw almost no reward from that success. Instead, four years of hit singles and international tours precipitated the suicides of its two creative members and legal proceedings that left lawyers as the only ones enriched by the group's work".
Wikipedia: "Badfinger were a British rock band that originally consisted of Pete Ham, Mike Gibbins, Tom Evans and Joey Molland. The band evolved from an earlier group called The Iveys that was formed in 1961 by Ham, Ron Griffiths and David "Dai" Jenkins in Swansea, Wales. They were signed by the Beatles' Apple label in 1968 as The Iveys. In 1969, Griffiths left and was replaced by Molland, and the band renamed itself Badfinger…Badfinger had four consecutive worldwide hits from 1970 to 1972: "Come and Get It" (written and produced by Paul McCartney), "No Matter What", "Day After Day" (produced by George Harrison) and "Baby Blue". In 2013, "Baby Blue" made a resurgence onto the "Hot Rock Songs" Billboard 100 chart at number 14, due to its featuring at the end of the series finale of the hit TV show Breaking Bad. Their song "Without You" has been covered many times, including a Billboard number one hit for Harry Nilsson".
They were on Apple records, then Warner Brothers, supported some of the big acts of the day, had top producers (Chris Thomas, Paul McCartney, Todd Rundgren) and between 1970 – 1972 they had three Top 10s and another Top 20 in the USA. (and two Top 40 albums)
So, what went wrong?
Despite the tragedy, shouldn't the music be more mainstream? I've only heard three of their albums so I'm probably not in a position to answer that with any certainty but I suspect that their Beatles association was a blessing and a curse.
They love and admire the Beatles … and that comes through clearly in their sound (though on this album they rock out a little more). The trouble is, though, I suspect, that the audience may have perceived them as Beatles rip offs.
And what's worse they were a singles act in an era when to be "meaningful" and "serious" you had to be an album band (and Badfinger's albums didn't do so well). That position, of course, is twaddle but that was the rule of the day when Badfinger were in there ascendency.
In the US The Who had 4 Top 10 albums in the same period even though their singles didn’t do as well. Other album acts (where albums charted significantly higher than singles) around the same time were Led Zeppelin, The Faces, Ten Years After, Deep Purple, Bad Company, Rod Stewart, David Bowie (in the early to mid 70s) and Eric Clapton.
They were certainly more popular than the Small Faces, The Move, The Pretty Things, Humble Pie, The Animals, Mott the Hoople, Free (and perhaps even the Kinks at the time) .
OK, they weren't up there with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elton John but they were hardly unknown.
Perhaps the Hollies match them in terms of success (and perhaps in a few other ways).
Interestingly, despite their English (or, rather, Welsh origins) in England none of Badfinger's albums even made the Top 100 (and they had only three charting singles – though all three were Top 10) … powerpop was always a more American enthusiasm (despite partial Anglo roots in the style) … but that's another story (or rant as the case may be).
Of course Anglos themselves (through their music publications) have heralded Badfinger as a great English powerpop band but they really could have helped them by buying their records at the time.
They did in America and that's a bigger, more difficult market.
I think what has happened to Badfinger's legacy is that when we come back to look at that era we look for the "great bands" the mass culture populist music historians have singled out for us and, despite Badfinger having a couple of (arguably) near great albums, those two factors, being a singles act and a poppy Beatles sound-a-like band, has been an albatross around their neck.
And they cannot get away from the Beatles comparisons. Other Beatles obsessive like Emitt Rhodes (who I have raved about before), can avoid unfavourable comments because he is American and lends the Beatles themes to American sensibilities (so the comparisons are a little more interesting because of its differences) and because he plays all his instruments and produces himself.
It's a pity as there is some seriously good music across the albums I have heard and even here on this album, which the fans don't like as much – probably because it is a little less power pop and little more rock.
Badfinger were the highlight of British power pop but by this their fourth album they were exploring more 70s sweatier and heavier rock sounds as well as some country-ish sounds.
Well, it was recorded in 1972.
It works but there is a lot of deja vu here ….
The sessions for the album started with producer Todd Rundgren (who did their previous album) but the group had a falling out with him after only a week of sessions, which resulted in the recording of only two tracks. Badfinger went to produce the album but Apple didn't like it so producer Chris Thomas was brought in (to remix it).
Most of the songs on the album were written by guitarist Joey Molland and not Pete Ham, who wrote Badfinger's most well-known songs (he contributed only two songs). That's not a criticism just and observation.
These events, though, give the album a choppiness when it really needs a cohesive centre.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Apple of My Eye – (Pete Ham) – McCartney at his best! Apparently the song is a jab or a "Dear John letter" to their record label.
- Get Away – (Joey Molland) – a 70s chug a lug mid tempo rocker
- Icicles – (Molland) – not too bad
- The Winner – (Molland) – so so. One of only two songs not produced by Chris Thomas and Badfinger. This was produced by Todd Rundgren
- Blind Owl – (Tom Evans) – errrr, so so.
- Constitution – (Molland) – a heavy rock song. Quite unlike a lot of Badfinger (a lot like Vanilla Fudge) but it's not too bad…. and Queen may have ripped them off a little.
- When I Say – (Evans) – not too bad … a grower …and a little like The Hollies.
- Cowboy – (Mike Gibbins) – silly pop of the kind that Ringo would throw onto a Beatles record every now and then. So, of course, I like it……
- I Can Love You – (Molland) – nice lyrics but a little dull – produce by Todd Rundgren.
- Timeless – (Ham) – a moody ballad come rocker with an extended jam on the end.
Not too bad but my mate likes Badfinger so he is getting it …
1974 The Billboard 200 #122
Apple of My Eye
Billboard: December 1, 1973 (U.S.)
Rolling Stone: January 31, 1974 (U.S.)
Fusion: March 1974
Zoo Review: April 11, 1974
New Musical Express: April, 1974 (U.K.)
Circus: May 1974 (U.S.)
Phonograph: May, 1974
Stereo Review: August, 1974 (U.S.)
- Wikipedia: "Ass was Apple's last original album that was not by an ex-Beatle. From then on, only the Beatles as solo artists were left to release records on the Apple Records label".
- Wikipedia: "The group performed a wide range of cover tunes on the London circuit from Motown, blues, soul to Top 40, psychedelic pop, and Beatles' hits, which garnered interest from record labels. Ray Davies of The Kinks auditioned to produce them, recording three of their songs at a 4-track demo studio in London's Old Kent Road on 15 January 1967: "Taxi" and "Sausage And Eggs", songs by Ham; and Griffiths' "I Believe in You Girl". On 8 December 1966, Collins and the group signed a five-year contract giving Collins a 20% share of net receipts, the same as the individual group members, but only after managerial expenses had been deducted. Collins said at the time, "Look, I can't promise you lads anything, except blood, sweat and tears". The group performed occasional concerts backing David Garrick, while performing as The Iveys across the United Kingdom throughout the rest of the decade".
- "In 2013, "Baby Blue" made a resurgence onto the "Hot Rock Songs" Billboard 100 chart at number 14, due to its featuring at the end of the series finale of the hit TV show Breaking Bad". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Blue_(Badfinger_song)
- Wikipedia: producer "Christopher P Thomas (born 13 January 1947 in Brentford, Middlesex) is an English record producer who has worked extensively with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen, Procol Harum, Roxy Music, Badfinger, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Pulp and The Pretenders. He has also produced breakthrough albums for The Sex Pistols and INXS".