For a few short years, this was the band to follow. They wrote smartly crafted, melodic songs that had both a sweetness for the heat and a rock edge to get your air guitar going. Badfinger were the Beatles’ little brother, especially since the band recorded for the Beatles’ Apple Records, and members of the Beatles produced some of their songs.
The story of Badfinger is one filled with Gold Records, and suicides. After leaving Apple Records, as the Beatles empire was dissolving, the band recorded and released an album for Warner Bros. that came out at the same time as their last Apple album. Neither album sold much, so Badfinger went back into the studio to work on another album. Unfortunately, problems erupted with their management company over missing escrow money. Warners pulled their new album off the market and froze their assets. Badfinger accused their management of taking their money. Frustrated, band leader Pete Ham quit the band, then rejoined. Despondent over the situation, Ham killed himself. The band struggled on, but splintered and never recovered. The magic had turned to tragedy. The band dissolved then years later reformed but struggled. Tragedy struck again as a second band member took his life. Today, there is only one survivor of the classic lineup that released the hit records. He continues on the Badfinger tradition.
Before all of that tragedy, four who eventually became Badfinger, found a formula that came to the attention of people with the Beatles. That’s where our story begins.
Originally from Wales, the band went through several iterations before becoming The Iveys, who were signed to Apple Records. After one more lineup change it became Pete Ham, Joey Molland, Tom Evans and Mike Gibbons. They made an album for Apple which wasn’t released in England or America. Not good news.
Enter Paul McCartney. He agreed to provide some songs to a Peter Sellers film, The Magic Christian (also starring Ringo Starr). McCartney offered up a song called “Come and Get It” and offered to produce it. The song made it to number seven in the U.S.
An album, Magic Christian Music, was assembled from tracks off the previous album and some newly recorded songs. The album was attributed to Badfinger, their new name.
No Dice – In 1970, Badfinger began recording with Mal Evans, the Beatles long-time road manager who was trying to become a producer. Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick, took over the sessions. “No Matter What” cracked the top ten in the U.S. with the patented Badfinger guitar sound and tight vocals. Also on the album was a Pete Ham-Tom Evans composition called “Without You”. Although not released as a single, it would be recorded by Beatles’ friend Harry Nilsson, who would have a world wide number one hit. Sadly, the composers of that song would see very little of the money as it was entangled in money the group’s manager would be accused of stealing.
Straight Up – Recorded in 1971, this album had no less than three different producers, each with a different vision for their sound. Recording started with Geoff Emerick as producer. Upon finished, the album was rejected by Apple, who allowed George Harrison to work with the band on a few tracks before departing to stage The Concert for Bangladesh. Next up was Todd Rungren who again started over on tracks. Released late in 1971, the album sold well and scored two hit singles, “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue”.
Badfinger appeared in The Concert for Bangladesh playing in the band. During the tour in support of Straight Up, drummer Mike Gibbons quit but ultimately rejoined the band. Splits were already forming. Apple even failed to release “Baby Blue” as a single even though it was a hit in other countries. Apple was in the hands of miser Allan Klein, who had driven a wedge between the Beatles, and who would drive Badfinger away from Apple.
Ass – In 1972, the Beatles were gone, and their record company was heading toward closure. The band was able to work with Chris Thomas (Roxy Music, The Pretenders) to produce the album. By the time this album was released in late 1973, Badfinger had moved on to record for Warner Bros Records and was about to release their label debut. “Apple of My Eye” was the lead off single for Ass. Neither the single or the album were successful, not surprising, as the label offered little promotion or support.
It’s easy to feel the band’s progress from the Magic Christian songs to Straight Up, and then achingly melancholy and angry with Ass. Buoyed with confidence as their success pushed their songs up the charts, being part of the Beatles empire would quickly weight them down. All of the members were songwriters but Pete Ham had a gift for power pop, memorable lyrics with guitar chords that sounded eerily of the Beatles during their middle period. Ham wrote the majority of their hits, but the others contributed songs that boosted their album sales.
The boys could rock but their guitars never got out of balance, like the Beatles, their guitars drive them toward the goal line. Conversely, Ham and Evans in particular could downshift to soulful ballads. In the hands of lesser writers, “Without You” would have been a maudlin embarrassment.
The Warner material, along with selections from later variations of the group have been released, as have their Apple albums on extended CDs with unreleased material and song versions not released. The post-Apple material lacks the snap and melodic efficiency of their early albums. While their Apple years were emotionally and monetarily rough, they thrived under the tutelage of the creative forces at the label. They might have only contributed magic christian songs, but that period was straight up magical.