Under the Radar: Badfinger- Part 1 (1964-1973)
The history of rock n roll isn't always pretty. There are some bands with nothing but a tragic story. When it comes to power pop band Badfinger, it's a story of Shakespearean proportions. Their music was so upbeat and catchy but bad management and financial problems made them hit rock bottom. It would also lead to the suicides of two band members in the process.
These two articles will go through all ten studio albums released by Badfinger (the first being released under their original name, the Iveys). For people who are strangers to their music, you may use this as a guide.
The Iveys ("classic" line-up)
Pete Ham- guitar/vocals
Tom Evans- guitar/vocals
Ron Griffiths- bass/vocals
Mike Gibbins- drums/vocals
The Iveys (1964-1969)
Badfinger's origins come from Swansea. The band originally went under the name the Iveys. The original group consisted of guitarist/singer Pete Ham, guitarist Dai Jenkins, bassist Ron Griffiths and drummer Terry Gleason. Gleason left in 1965 and was replaced by Mike Gibbins. In 1967, Jenkins would follow suite and was replaced by Tom Evans. With their third line-up, the band were now 3/4 through of what would be known as Badfinger.
The band were eventually discovered by a man named Bill Collins. Collins offered to be the band's manager. Collins started them off by having the entire band live in the same house, along with girlfriends and wives. In 1968, the Beatles announced the formation of their own record label- Apple Records. With creating the label came the task in find artists to sign and each person in the Beatles camp found someone. It is believed by many that assistant road manager Mal Evans was the one who discovered the Iveys. Soon enough, the Iveys were signed in 1969. The Iveys were signed along with Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax, Mary Hopkin and James Taylor. In 1969, the band released their debut album.
Maybe Tomorrow promo video (1969)
Maybe Tomorrow (1969)
Released in 1969, Maybe Tomorrow would become the one and only album released under the Iveys name. So in a way, it's still the first Badfinger album. In terms of it being a debut album, it's not bad at all but then again there are a few weak songs. Keep in mind: this was their first album and they were on a new record label. I'd say there's more stronger songs than weaker songs on here. Even at their age, these guys could certainly write songs.
The title track, written by Evans, had the potential to be a hit single. Sadly, this wasn't the case but it's still a great pop song: Evans' vocals fit in perfectly with the beautiful strings section. While this is under the Iveys name, this is still Badfinger as you can hear those splendid vocals harmonies. "See Saw Grandpa" is a bit silly but is still good fun while Griffiths' "Dear Angie" is a sweet ballad about Griffiths' wife. Other highlights include "Sali Boo," "I'm in Love," "They're Knocking Down Our Home." The last of those three is a wonderfully written song by Ham, and it just might be my personal favorite off the album. According to one source, Paul McCartney is said to have been a fan of the track! The album does have some filler such as "Angelique" and the five-minute "I've Been Waiting" (although the latter does have some killer guitar work) but overall, this isn't a bad album at all.
Pete Ham- guitar/vocals
Tom Evans- bass/vocals
Joey Molland- guitar/vocals
Mike Gibbins- drums/vocals
Despite the disappointing sales of their debut, Apple gave the Iveys another chance. Their next project would be making a soundtrack to a comedy film entitled The Magic Christian, which starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. The band actually only recorded seven new songs, with the other half of the album being songs from their debut (some of them were remixed).
Producing several of the new songs was Paul McCartney. The band were in need of a hit single so McCartney offered them a song he wrote called "Come and Get It." McCartney had written the song and recorded a solo demo for it as well (which can be found on Anthology 3). Being the producer, McCartney even held auditions within the band to see who would sing the song (he eventually chose Evans).
Two things would change within the band during this time. Sometime in the fall of 1969, Griffiths was finding it hard to be in the band. Of the band members, he found himself butting heads with Evans. Griffiths was also married at this time and had a child. Given the band were living all in the same house, it became difficult for Griffiths to have his family there (according to Griffiths, there was one time where Evans deliberately pissed Griffiths off by cranking up music- the noise making Griffiths' child cry). By November 1969, Griffiths had left the band. For a short time, the band were a three-piece band while they were looking for a new member. In the end, the band hired Liverpudlian guitarist Joey Molland. With Molland as the new guitarist, Evans swapped over to bass.
The second thing the band went through was a name change. As Gibbins once said with a laugh, the Iveys name was just "too sappy." During this time, the band were thinking of new name. Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall was the one who suggested the name Badfinger. As the story goes, John Lennon was writing what would become "With a Little Help from My Friends." For some time, the song had the working title "Bad Finger Boogie," as Lennon was playing and writing the song on the piano- playing it with his middle finger as his index finger was hurting. The band liked the name and in December 1969, "Come and Get It" was released under the new Badfinger name. A month later, Magic Christian Music was released.
"Come And Get It" on Top of the Pops (1970)
Magic Christian Music (1970)
Released as the first album under the Badfinger name, Magic Christian Music almost served as a second debut for the guys in the band. While Magic Christian Music is a very good album, there is one downside: almost half of the album consists of songs from Maybe Tomorrow. This isn't the worst thing ever but if you were to listen to both albums back to back, it's a bit weird to have to listen those songs again. Some of them are slightly different with "Fisherman" excluding the seagull sounds and "I'm In Love" excluding the second vocalist in the 3rd verse.
However, I feel this is the stronger album due to the addition of the seven new songs. "Come and Get It" is an absolute classic. It's a catchy tune with simple lyrics and great vocals from Evans and everyone in the band. The vocals of Ham and Evans blend together wonderfully. This is also the case for "Crimson Ship," a song that tells the tale of a magical voyage. There are some hard rockers on here such as "Midnight Sun" and the 1950s boogie woogie of "Rock of All Ages." "Carry On Till Tomorrow" could've been another hit for the band as it is a powerful ballad with great vocals. The song is so emotionally powerful, it transitions to some tasty guitar solos towards the end. "Walk Out In The Rain" is solid while "Give It A Try" might be the weakest of the new songs. Still, Magic Christian Music is a good album the has a nice mix of old and new.
With a hit single under their belts, Badfinger were now on the move. At the beginning of 1970, the band went on tour mostly in Europe and then in the US in the fall. By November 1970, the band had another album out.
"No Matter What" promo video (1970)
"Without Out" lip synched TV performance
No Dice (1970)
When you look at their first three albums, Badfinger had finally made an all-around great album with No Dice. Produced by Geoff Emerick and Mal Evans, it would become the highest charting album the band released.
The album features two of the band's best known songs. The first, "No Matter What," was a hit single as it charted at #8 in the US and #5 in the UK. It's easy to see why: the song is extremely catchy with memorable lyrics and strong vocal harmonies. By this time, the band's music was a genre now known as power pop. "No Matter What" is certainly a power pop classic. The second song was the ballad "Without You." Written by Ham and Evans, it's a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics. The band's rendition wasn't a hit but when singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson covered it in 1971, it became a #1 hit.
As for the rest of No Dice, it's quite strong. Ham shows off his songwriting skills on here with "Midnight Caller" and "We're For The Dark." Molland even shows the he's a great songwriter himself, having co-written "I Don't Mind" and "Better Days" with Evans. There are also a few hard rockers that come in the form of "I Can't Take It" and "Watford John." If there are any weak songs, it would be Molland's "Love Me Do" and Ham's "Blodwyn." The former isn't a cover of the Beatles tune while the latter is a soft rock tune about a wooden spoon. Still, these aren't necessarily bad songs. In fact, the entire album is good- which makes No Dice well worth listening to.
Success and management
When No Dice was released in November 1970, the band also signed a contract with a new business manager named Stan Polley. Earlier that year, Bill Collins had met Polley and thought he'd be a good addition to Badfinger's management. At that time, Polley had managed Al Kooper and Lou Christie. With Polley in, he founded Badfinger Enterprises. With this company, the band were signing a contract that allowed Polley to receive touring receipts, songwriting and publishing royalties. Polley would then put this money into holding companies. He also gave each band member a bank account. For the rest of their career, the band complained about not being properly paid any earnings.
While Polley had power, he wasn't the most loyal man. In 1971, an article in the New York Times stated that Polley's name was brought up by criminal figures in Senate investigation hearings. It was also stated that Polley had been a "bagman" for the mafia. Research shows in a financial statement from Polley's accountants that between 1970 and 1971, the band members weren't earning equal amounts of money- Molland having the most with some $8, 000 and Ham having the least with some $5,000. Polley, however, was said to have earned some $75,000, almost ten times the amount Molland had.
Friends of the band warned them about Polley but the band wouldn't budge, as they were too much in awe of Polley. The band continued to tour and record from 1970 to 1971. By the end of 1971, the band released their next album Straight Up.
"Day After Day" on Set of Six (1972)
"Baby Blue" (1972)
Straight Up (1971)
For some Badfinger fans, Straight Up is considered to be the band's best album. Recorded from May to October 1971, Straight Up is an amazing follow up to No Dice. Personally, I think Straight Up is the stronger album. It's also my favorite album by the band. The album was originally produced by George Harrison, but commitments to his historic Concert for Bangladesh shows prevented him from continuing his work (Harrison did invite Badfinger to play in the band Harrison had assembled for the shows. He even had Pete Ham join him during "Here Comes The Sun"). Todd Rundgren would end up producing the rest of the album.
Straight Up boasts another two hit singles for the band. The first of them, "Day After Day," is a wonderful soft rock ballad from Ham. There's a wonderful slide guitar played by Harrison that leads the entire track. With Ham's warm vocals and the strong acoustics, it was another hit for Badfinger. Ham is said to have written the song after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, Beverly. The second single was the rocking "Baby Blue." The guitar heavy tune is another song from Ham, this time written after he had broken up with his girlfriend Dixie (her name even makes it into the lyrics). Ham and Evans work their vocal magic while Molland wails on the guitar.
Straight Up is filled with power pop goodness. Ham offers the powerful "Take It All" and the mini-epic tale of "Name of the Game." Molland also gets to showcase his songwriting abilities on the pop "I'd Die, Babe," the down-right bluesy "Suitcase," and the soft sounds of "Sweet Tuesday Morning." Evans doesn't get as many songs, although he shares co-writing credit with Molland on some songs. Evans delivers on "Money" and the album's closer "It's Over." Looking at the tracking list, Straight Up is absolutely essential.
Delayed album and switching to Warner Brothers
Recording for the band's fifth album, Ass, began in earl 1972. Ass would've been released around this time but there were problems with the new album. Todd Rundgren was to produce again but he left after producing only two songs. The band tried to produce it themselves but Apple were unhappy with the product, sending Chris Thomas to fix it to their liking. There were also conflict within the band's publishing and copyright. This was all due to Stan Polley's ownership of the royalties. In the end, all of the songs were credited to being written by Badfinger instead of the individual members.
In June 1972, drummer Mike Gibbins left the band for a short time. During this absence, drummer Rob Stawinski took his place (the video of "Baby Blue" above features the band with Stawinski, not Gibbins). Some four to five months after he left, Gibbins rejoined. By this time, Polley convinced the band to leave Apple Records and instead sign with Warner Brothers. The band, having become tired of Apple, decided to go with it. In 1972, the band left Apple Records.
Released in 1973, Ass was Badfinger's last album for Apple Records. From what's been written about the making of the album, it was difficult making it given the delays and the production. The latter is one thing that many Badfinger fans seem to be bothered by with Ass. Compared to the previous albums, the production on Ass is a little rough. Another thing that is noted about Ass is that of the 10 songs, Joey Molland writes and sings five of them. This leaves little room for the other guys in the band. Despite it's weaknesses, I can safely say I do like Ass especially after owning the 2010 remaster, which sounds excellent.
As mentioned before, Molland's work takes up most of the album. However, his songs are very strong here. The Joni Mitchell influenced "Icicles" is wonderful while "The Winner" has great power pop hooks. Molland even gets heavy with the blistering rock n roll sounds of "Constitution." The other members all get a chance to shine during the album. For Ham, we are given the ballad "Apple of My Eye" and the wonderfully guitar heavy "Timeless." The former was written as a song about their split from Apple while the latter is easily my favorite song off the album. The lyrics are so simple and it almost has the same "soft to heavy" approach that "Carry On Till Tomorrow" has. Evans offers "Blind Owl" and "When I Say," both of which are great songs. Gibbins even gets to sing and write a song with "Cowboy." While it isn't the perfect Badfinger album, there's a lot that can be appreciated on Ass.
Please click here to read part 2 of the article, which goes from 1974 to present day.
So, are you a Badfinger fan? Have a favorite song or album by them? If so, you can share this in the comments section below.