Under the Radar: Badfinger, Part 2 (1974-1983, and aftermath)
The Warner Brothers Years (1974-1975)
In 1972, Badfinger had signed a $3 million contract with Warner Brothers for a six album deal. It was Polley who convinced the band to sign to the label, telling the band they'd be millionaires. With the deal, the band received 12% of the US retail and 8.5% elsewhere. The contract also asked for two albums a year, with an advanced payment of $225,000 for each album.
Given the new contract required the band to have two albums out each year, the band went back into the studio only six weeks after completing Ass. Ass was released in November 1973 and the band's next album was released only three months later.
Originally titled For Love or Money, Badfinger's self-titled 1974 album is a mixed bag. Given the band had just finished recording Ass, the band were asked to come up with more material. With this in mind, in should come as no surprise that the final product is all over the place. Still like Ass, there's some material on here that can be appreciated by fans.
Ham offers a strong set of tunes, "Shine On" being my personal favorite. It's a catchy song with both acoustic and electric guitar playing, creating a unique power pop blend. From a commercial standpoint, this should've been a single...but Warners ended up releasing Ham's overly poppy "I Miss You" and Molland's mediocre "Love Is Easy," both of which are some of the weakest songs on the album. Ham also works his magic on the ballad "Lonely You" and the pleasantly funky "Matted Spam." His vocal harmonies with Evans on "Song for a Lost Friend" deserve a nod. Speaking of Evans, he presents us with the melodic "Why Don't We Talk" and the Caribbean-flavored "Where Do We Go From Here." There aren't too many hard rockers on this album, with the exception Molland's "Andy Norris," which ends the album. Compared to the last album, Gibbins fairs better on here with the haunting "My Heart Goes Out." Overall, Badfinger isn't the strongest album but good songs can be found on here.
Declining sales and recording the follow up
Badfinger had failed to do much of anything in the charts, only charting at #161. Still, the band went on and went back to the studio two months later. The band spent a little under a month recording their next album, which was recorded at Caribou Ranch in Colorado and later on at George Martin's AIR Studios in London. The album that came out of those sessions is considered by some fans to be their best album.
"Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke"
Wish You Were Here (1974)
Released in November 1974, Wish You Were Here had the potential to be a comeback album for Badfinger. After the near back-to-back releases of Ass and Badfinger, the band had a little time off. Within less than a month, they had cranked out another album and it's amazing how they were able to pull this off: Wish You Were Here is a magical album.
The album opens with the strong power pop sounds of "Just A Chance." From the vocal harmonies to the use of string sections, it's quite astonishing that this is Badfinger. The music so catchy and upfront. Ham's tunes on Wish You Were Here are quite strong and even personal. "Know One Knows" features angelical vocals from Ham and some wonderful guitar work from Ham and Molland. However, it's the touching ballad "Dennis" that I feel is Pete's strongest on here. The song was written by Ham about his girlfriend Anne's son, Blair. In the song, Ham relates Blair's behavior to that of Dennis the Menace's. It's a clever and heartfelt tune. The heartfelt songs keep coming in the form of Molland's "Love Time," a song he had written for his wife Kathy.
Gibbins get to sing two songs on this album, the strongest being the six minute "In The Meantime/Some Other Time." Evans gets only one song- "King of the Load." Despite it being Evans' only song on here, it's one my favorites off the album: the keyboard line is simply melodic while the lyrics are strong. Throw in a killer guitar solo after the chorus and you got a great song. The album ends with the two part mini-epic "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke." With the exception of "Timeless," this might be the strongest closing to a Badfinger album as it almost has everything: Ham and Evans' harmonizing, the blistering but melodic guitar and a horns section played by the Average White Band. Along with No Dice and Straight Up, Wish You Were Here is one of the best albums Badfinger has ever made.
Financial troubles and band tensions
Not all was well in the band before the release of Wish You Were Here: the band, who were promised to be millionaires, weren't seeing the money coming in. The band turned to their former manager Bill Collins for advice but with no luck. Friends of the band tried to convince the band that Polley wasn't a fair man. It is said that during this time, Molland's wife Kathie tried to help with the band's management and financial problems. According the Kathie Molland, the band were complaining about having "hit records" but not having "a fridge or a TV."
Kathie's involvement in the band's management was not to the liking of the band, especially Ham. Kathie Molland claims that things became so heated between them, she once threw a jar of peanuts at Ham's head. During a band meeting in October 1974, Ham announced he was leaving the band. Polley immediately started shopping Ham around as a solo artist while the rest of the band held auditions for a replacement. In the end, keyboardist Bob Jackson was hired. Ham's departure was short as he returned to the band less than a month later, as Warner Brothers had threatened to drop Badfinger if they went on without him. For a short tour in November 1974, Badfinger were now a five piece band. Shortly after the tour, Molland left the band.
Back in the studio
By November 1974, Badfinger were once again a four-piece band. In December 1974, the band were asked to go back to the studio to record the follow up to Wish You Were Here. The follow-up, Head First, was recorded within an impressive two weeks. However during the recording, the band received more bad news: on December 10, 1974 Warner Brothers sued Polley and Badfinger as they discovered there was $100,000 missing from an escrow account. Warner Brothers refused Polley's offer of the rough mix of Head First, and refused to pay for the sessions for that album. Due to the lawsuit, Warner Brothers stopped promoting for the Wish You Were Here and as a result, stopped pressing the album after only seven weeks. In the end, Head First was shelved.
"Hey, Mr. Manager"
Head First (recorded 1974, released 2000)
During the 1980s and 1990s, some of the songs from the Head First sessions made their way onto Badfinger compilations. In 2000, Snapper Records finally released the album after being shelved for years. Musically, Head First is a great follow-up to Wish You Were Here.
The album opens with "Lay Me Down." Even for a rough mix, this is sounds pretty complete to me: Ham's vocals are strong and the band are in fine form. Evans gets personal with songs such as "Hey, Mr. Manager" and "Rock N Roll Contract." The songs are said to both be directed at Stan Polley and Evans executes this brilliantly. The former is more of a pop tune while the latter is strictly a rock n roll number. Gibbins sings one two semi-incomplete tracks, the best of them being "Back Again." There are some fine slower songs on here with Ham's acoustic "Keep Believing" and Evans' mystical "Moonshine." Bob Jackson even gets to sings a song or two: he share lead vocal duties with Evans on "Passed Fast" and sings lead on "Turn Around." Jackson's voice is wonderful and it's a shame he wasn't able to record more music with Badfinger. Overall, Head First is a great album and it really should've been released back in the day.
Rock bottom and tragedy
For the first part of 1975, Badfinger had hit rock bottom: with one album recalled and another rejected, things weren't looking good. Around this time, Ham had purchased a rather expensive house for his pregnant girlfriend Anne and her son, Blair, to live in. The band tried to go on without Polley managing, although Ham kept trying to call Polley for help.
On the evening of April 23, 1975, Pete Ham received a phone call from the United States. Ham was informed that there was no money to be found in his bank account. Ham started to panic, questioning how this could've happened. After talking with Anne, Ham decide he would go out to a bar with bandmate Tom Evans, who picked Ham up at around 10 pm. It was at the bar that they discussed about how Badfinger would get out of their financial predicament. Evans drove Ham back home at around 3 am on April 24, 1975. According to sources, Ham apparently said this to Evans of the band's situation: "I'll find a way out." Ham then went into his garage studio.
Later on the morning of April 24, Anne woke up and couldn't find Ham anywhere. She then checked the garage, where she discovered Ham hanging from the ceiling. On April 24, 1975, Pete Ham died after taking his own life. He was only 27 years old. Ham had left a suicide note, which only read...
"Anne, I love you. Blair, I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.
P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me."
Ham's suicide sent shock waves throughout the music world. Along with Ham's passing, Badfinger ceased to be. The surviving band members went on to do different projects, with Evans and Jackson forming their own band- the Dodgers. A month after Ham's passing, Anne gave birth to Pete's child- a baby girl she named Petera, after her late father.
The Reunion Years (1978-1983)
In 1978, Joey Molland and Tom Evans decided to get back together and reform Badfinger. During these reunion years from 1978 to 1981, the new band went through many line-ups- with Molland and Evans as the only stable members. During their time back together, Molland and Evans would record two new studio albums under the Badfinger name- Airwaves in 1979 and Say No More in 1981.
"Love Is Gonna Come At Last"
It had been only four years since Pete Ham had committed suicide. With his death, Badfinger was no more. This was until Joey Molland and Tom Evans decided to reunite. The resulting album, Airwaves, is hard for some people to listen to: Ham had an important part in Badfinger and making an album without him was probably not the right thing to do. Personally, I don't mind Airwaves. While it is nowhere near as good as the albums before it, Airwaves had some effort put into it. Even though Ham is nowhere to be found on here, this does sound like a Badfinger album.
After the strange 30 second grainy title track, the album kicks off with "Look Out California." It sounds like the Badfinger of old, but with the sounds of the late 1970s thrown in the mix. Molland and Evans sound great and I love the repeats of "Back on the airwaves." The ballad "Lost Inside Your Love" follows while "Love Is Gonna Come At Last" was the highest charting of the singles released for album, charting at #69. The latter might be my favorite song off the album, as I can easily see this fitting onto one of the previous Badfinger albums, even with its production. The album suffers during the second half but I do have a soft spot for the catchy "Sympathy" and the hard rockin' "Come Down Hard." The album is also very short, clocking in at only 30 minutes. Did the guys have nothing else to offer? For what it is, Airwaves isn't bad.
Say No More (1981)
Of the ten studio albums with the Iveys and Badfinger name, Say No More would have to be my least favorite. It kind of hurts me to say it: while longer than Airwaves, the early 1980s production makes this album a little hard to listen. The production isn't all that great and sounds too much like an album made in the 1980s instead of a Badfinger record. Still, Say No More isn't terrible.
The opener, "I Got You," has this 1950s rockabilly sound that I'm not too crazy about. To me, it doesn't sound too much like Badfinger. Also, most of the songs are unmemorable. "Rock N Roll Contract," which at that point hadn't been released, was re-recorded on this album. The new version sounds lifeless compared to the original. Despite it's flaws, there are some good songs. "Hold On" is quite good and was the album's lead single- charting at #56. Molland's "Because I Love You" is infectous while Evans' moody "Too Hung Up On You" is my favorite song from the album. The closer, "No More," isn't bad either. While it isn't the greatest end to a career, it'll do.
Tragedy strikes again
Sometimes before or after the release of Say No More, there were tensions between Molland and Evans. The two butted heads and split. As Evans continued with the reformed Badfinger with Mike Gibbins (on and off) and Bob Jackson rejoining, Molland fired back by forming his own version of Badfinger- with no Badfinger alumni (with the exception of Joe Tansin, who had played on Airwaves). However, Evans was tangled in some contracts he'd signed, one of them being with a Milwaukee promoter name John Cass. Cass had the housed the band in a model home. According to Jackson, Cass told them the gigs were coming...but the band found themselves playing odd shows- including an appearance on a cable-access horror-themed TV show. Things got nasty when Molland took one of Evans' gigs. By 1983, Molland was able to prevent Evans from using the Badfinger name.
More bad news kept piling up for Evans: Cass filed a $5 million lawsuit for "breach of agreement" on the contract he and Jackson had signed. At the same time, former manager Bill Collins, along with Joey Molland and Mike Gibbins, wanted their share on the royalties for "Without You." Evans was frustrated during this time and visibly stressed. He became addicted to drugs and was now a heavy drinker
On the evening of November 18, 1983, Evans had a heated phone conversation with Joey Molland. According to Molland, Evans said to Molland "I'm going to kill me self." Molland tried to calm him down but Evans was persistent on taking his own life. It look Evans' wife, Marianne, to calm her husband down. After a while, Evans settled down and even called his brother David, saying he was feeling better. The next morning, Evans' six-year-old son Stephen looked around the house for his father. He then went outside and noticed there was a man hanging from a tree...it was Evans. On November 19, 1983, Tom Evans died after taking his own life- just eight years after his bandmate Pete Ham had done the same.
Keeping the name alive (1984-2009)
In 1984, Badfinger reunited as one of several bands part of the 20th Anniversary of British Rock Tour. Joey Molland, Mike Gibbins and Bob Jackson were all in the line-up along with previous members from the post-Ham Badfinger. From 1986 to 1989, Molland and Gibbins toured as Badfinger until Gibbins left- although Molland continued to tour.
Compilations and reissues of Badfinger's music kept the band's name alive throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, singer Mariah Carey released a cover of "Without You." Although it followed the Harry Nilsson version, the cover reached #3 in the Billboard charts and renewed some interest in Badfinger. In the late 1990s, two albums of outtakes and demos made by Pete Ham were released- 7 Par Avenue in 1997 and Golders Green in 1999. In 2000, an episode of Behind the Music about Badfinger aired on VH1. At the same time, a new compilation The Very Best of Badfinger was released.
On October 4, 2005, Mike Gibbins passed away in his sleep. The cause of death was said to be of natural causes. Gibbins was 56. Before his passing, Gibbins had been active- still playing and making appearances at Beatles-related festivals and events. Gibbins even released a few independent solo albums. In 2006, a Badfinger convention was held- with Ron Griffiths and Bob Jackson in attendance.
On July 20, 2009, Stan Polley passed away at the age of 87. Polley's wife, Connie, didn't have an obituary published when her husband passed. The news of Polley's death was unknown until it was revealed in November of that year.
"Baby Blue" in the final scene of "Breaking Bad"
Breaking Badfinger (2013-present)
On what would've been his 66th birthday (April 27, 2013), Pete Ham was honored with a blue plaque at Swansea's High Street station. An unveiling ceremony was held and later, a tribute concert featuring Griffiths and Dai Jenkins took place.
On September 29, 2013, Badfinger's hit "Baby Blue" was used in the final scene for the finale of AMC's hit drama series Breaking Bad. Hours after the finale aired, the song soon became the top selling song on iTunes. The use of "Baby Blue" in Breaking Bad increased sales of the song by 2,981%. As it turned out, series creator Vince Gilligan revealed to Rolling Stone Magazine that he is indeed a Badfinger fan.
Joey Molland continues to tour and play the Badfinger tunes, sometimes under the Badfinger name or as Joey Molland's Badfinger.
Ron Griffiths performs on occasion, most recently being at the Pete Ham tribute concert in April 2013 with Dai Jenkins.
Bob Jackson continues to perform and remains active on social media.
Do you like Badfinger? Any memories? Favorite songs? Please share in the comments section!