Badfinger will never escape the following: their Beatles connection, their Beatles-esque sound, their tragic fate, their record industry woes, and arguably their biggest song being more well known via renditions by other artists (“Without You”). Therefore, when people talk about this band they rarely talk about their music. And that’s a shame. Because as derivative as they may be, they’re also a truly underrated band. They had three good singer/songwriters, one of whom was a near genius with enough heart to pull the group out of standard 70s pop territory. They have a couple awesome records, and one total classic. Some of their singles are incredibly memorable and likable, and a lengthy compilation of their best tracks would hold up to any 60s/70s pop group’s work. When I first heard ’em, I immediately wrote them off as brazen McCartney rip-offs. They basically just take the sound of the “Let It Be” album and roll with it for an entire career. But repeated exposure clued me into Pete Ham’s singular voice and pop intelligence, and the band really has a heart of its own that pushes beyond the surface-y Beatles tropes. “Straight Up” must be a part of any classic rock fan’s collection. The rest is more hit and miss, but the hits are great. A band well worth checking out, in any case.
Maybe Tomorrow (The Iveys)
Magic Christian Music *
Straight Up *
Wish You Were Here *
Say No More
7 Park Avenue (Pete Ham)
Golders Green (Pete Ham)
MAYBE TOMORROW (THE IVEYS) (1969)
Before they got all 70s and classic rocky, before they were even called Badfinger, they were a cute derivative 60s outfit called The Iveys. And this was their sole record, produced in part by Tony Visconti and full of nice but very typical mid-level British 60s pop. It goes without saying that these guys were insanely influenced by the Fab Four, but on this early material they seem just as much taken with more eccentric groups like The Move and more romantic wimpy groups like early Bee Gees. There’s very little identity on here, but that doesn’t matter too much. The songs are well written. The band is full of solid vocalists. Joey Molland wouldn’t join the band until “No Dice,” and his place is taken up here by bassist/vocalist Ron Griffiths. You can’t REALLY tell the difference, but I do think Molland would lend the band a rocking edge missing here. Ron does contribute one of the best tunes on the record (“Dear Angie”). Most of these songs – pretty much all the really good ones – would end on the first proper Badfinger record (and the leftovers often get added to it on CD remasters). As a result, this album has grown rather redundant. It’s not essential listening in any way if you’ve already got “Magic Christian Music,” and it’s only worthwhile from a historical perspective. I’ll talk about all the “Magic Christian” songs in the next review – so what to make of the tracks the band left behind to whither away in obscurity? Two of ’em barely register – there’s the cute but completely flimsy comedy-Mod number “See-Saw Grandpa,” and a feeble heavy metal attempt by Ham called “I’ve Been Waiting.” The other three fare much better. “Sali Bloo” is a bluesy rocker with a fun wah guitar hook in the chorus. Drummer Mike Gibbins’ contributes the propulsive and entertaining (if a bit generic) “Think About the Good Times.” My personal favorite is the psych-poppy “Yesterday Ain’t Coming Back,” way more bizarre and twisted and intricate than anything else in the band’s catalog – and it’s got a good melody to boot! I understand that the goofy kazoos and weird vocal harmonies of that track would never have fit into the strict power poppin’ 70s Badfinger mentality, but it’s a lot of fun hearing the band’s early ideas. There are also some decent bonus tracks – particularly the Ham/Evans collaboration “And Her Daddy’s a Millionaire,” a wonderfully spastic psych-pop song that showcases a zany tightness the band would never again even attempt. Big fans of the Finger shouldn’t pass this one up entirely – but it’s not something you really need to worry about.
MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC (1970)
Though this is the first album under the Badfinger moniker, it’s still very much an early work and barely a proper album – more a compilation of older tracks, newer tracks, and soundtrack tunes. As a result, fans tend to write this one off a bit – “The band hadn’t found their sound yet” being a common criticism. Whatever man. This is easily one of the best releases in the catalog, full of awesome material. There’s some real variety, and a genuine confidence missing from a lot of the later albums. As I said in the previous review, 7 of these tracks were culled from the Iveys album – they range in quality a bit, but most of them work great. I love the beautiful soul-pop song “Dear Angie,” written by soon-to-depart bassist Ron Griffiths. “Fisherman” seems a bit adolescent with it’s 60s character portrait vibe, but there’s no denying the killer chorus vocal harmonies. The fluffy “Angelique” is another early track with a gorgeous melody. Two of the “Maybe Tomorrow” tracks fall flat for me – the title track is one of the worst songs this ensemble ever cut, and one of the only times they sound totally unmatched by their ambition. That chorus couldn’t be cornier. Same goes for “Beautiful and Blue,” a sub-Bee Gees piece of schmatz. But now lets get to the good stuff. Pretty much ALL of the movie tracks and new songs kick ass. Paul McCartney gave the boys the opening number, “Come and Get It,” which plays a big part in the Magic Christian movie (that movie sucks, by the way – it’s based on a funny Terry Southern book and tries without success to achieve a Python-esque absurdist tone). Anyway, it’s a fantastic and instantly lovable goofy pop song straight from the heart of the man who was about to write “Ram.” Perfect pop in every way. Next up is the first of two awesome Ham/Evans collaborations, the wonderful “Crimson Ship,” which has a super memorable chorus and more than holds its own next to McCartney’s earlier contribution. The absolute best song here, and certainly one my top three or four Badfinger tunes, is the glorious Ham/Evans power ballad “Carry On Till Tomorrow.” I was clued into the incredible-ness of that song after hearing a great cover of it by Peruvian rock band We All Together. The chorus of the song reaches a majestic height never again achieved by these guys, in my opinion. And there’s an amazing melodic guitar solo in the middle of the song. I don’t see how any Badfinger fan could hear that track and still label this an inessential release. My version of this record comes with a great Iveys bonus track called “Arthur,” once again in the earlier psych-pop mold but featuring a really fun and catchy chorus (it’s not a cover of the Kinks song). So yes, this is indeed a grab-bag sort of record. But you can’t get a comprehensive view of Badfinger without it – too many great tracks.
NO DICE (1970)
This is the first REAL Badfinger album. Joey Molland joins up and the band settles squarely into their “Let It Be” classic rock style. More ragged and streamlined than their earlier psych-poppier sound, this hovers just on the edge of boring formulaic early 70s radio rock. And parts of it definitely dip a bit into that territory. But the boys are saved in the end by the their energy, melodic prowess, and Pete Ham’s emotional writing style. I have to admit that I find most of this album incredibly boring. It sounds to me like a less commanding early warm-up to the masterwork around the corner, and I’d way rather listen to that follow-up any day of the week. The first side on here far outshines the second side, and the whole thing is too slight and tossed off. I appreciate the band’s attempt to keep things simple/stupid – like I said, this record has the exact same sound and vibe of perhaps the most famous “tossed off” album in rock history – but just like their spiritual Godfathers I think this band work better as a tight pop ensemble than a pub rock band. So, even though I think the album is misguided and boring…I also can’t deny the craft. And there are two timeless classics on here. Plus, pretty much every song is a totally well-written and sung piece of power pop. The melodies aren’t always that exciting, but every song has a pronounced enough hook. And even though everybody and his mother will hear this band and think Beatles, nothing on here feels too effortful or derivative. Like I said before, once you get past the obvious Fab Fourness inherent in the sound, you start to realize that these guys do indeed have their own voice hidden in there. Back to song-craft. Every tune on the A-side of this record could have been a successful single in the early 70s. They’re simple and catchy enough, but not TOO catchy – the dopier classic rockers can handle these hooks. The voices are very likable. Everything feels “timeless” in that classic pop way. Opener “I Can’t Take It” has a great major to minor hook in the verse. “I Don’t Mind” sounds like a more muscular version of something on the debut CSN record. “Love Me Do” very oddly steals the famous Beatles title, but it’s a fun and rough piece of boogie woogie in its own right. “Midnight Caller” is such a McCartney rip you might laugh when you first hear it – but Pete Ham sneaks up on you. He had heart, that boy. And the side ends with two TOTAL classics – maybe the two biggest Badfinger songs ever, and the only two tracks I REALLY care about on this record. First up is the unbelievably catchy power pop anthem “No Matter What,” a song I assume everyone knows and thinks of as a Beatles tune. It’s got both a verse and chorus hook totally worthy of the earlier band, which is compliment enough I should think! Then there’s the original version of one of the most epic power ballads of all time – “Without You” – made famous by Harry Nilsson’s powerhouse version and a much later Mariah Cary cover. The original can’t hold up next to the Nilsson, but it’s a killer song anyway. The B-side here doesn’t even come close to the first one, with some obvious filler and a generally uneventful slate of tunes. “Blodwyn” and “Better Days” do country rock with too little hookiness or flair, and “Watford John” is a totally generic boogie woogie rocker. There another McCartney-esque ballad called “It Had To Be” that goes through the motions nicely, but doesn’t achieve much magic. The last two songs on the record bring thing up a bit – “Believe Me” has an endearing soulful verse vocal hook and there’s a lot of classic melodic vibes in acoustic guitar driven closer “We’re For the Dark.” None of these songs are really GREAT though, and except for the two classics on the A-Side, none of ’em leave an impression upon my soul. In the end, this is just a boring piece of decent craftsmanship. They’d get better at this sound.
STRAIGHT UP (1971)
Is there a shred of doubt in ANYONE’S mind about this being the best Badfinger record? Because it just is. Period. I can maybe see an argument for “Wish You Were Here” due to that record’s total consistency. But this scales way bigger heights. It’s a total pop classic. It’s the obvious Badfinger record I’d play for someone who hadn’t heard the band before. It’s the only record of theirs that deserves placement next to any big 60s/70s album. It’s the fruition of their sound, writing, performing, and it’s got great Todd Rundgren production. I have to imagine Todd was a huge part of this record’s success – the whole thing sounds monumentally joyous and perfectly arranged. It’s almost as if Todd was able to channel everything good about the boys into this platter. Or maybe it was just a happy coincidence – Todd working with their best set of songs. Either way, everything on here SOUNDS awesome, and pretty much every song has a hook that’s either really good or totally classic. The A-side in particular just floors me with its perfect poppiness. And Pete Ham totally destroys all over this record, contributing all of the best songs. Let’s discuss those first. “Take It All” and “Baby Blue” open the record, and they’re both indestructible pop classics. The latter, in particular, should be a much bigger hit than it is. What else would Mr. Ham need to do to convince you, audience? Is that not a good enough hook? Everybody always chocks it up to the band’s horrible management, but who knows. In any case, if there’s a more perfect classic rock radio song than “Baby Blue,” I’d like to hear it. The big Ham song here is “Day After Day,” the band’s biggest single ever in the US. It’s another pitch-perfect pop song, with a super George Harrison-y slide guitar part and some great Rundgren drum production. It almost sounds like something Todd would do on one of his own albums, but friendlier and more effortlessly melodic. Later on Pete contributes the super catchy acoustic mantra-esque “Perfection.” But my absolute FAVORITE Ham song here, and probably my all time favorite Badfinger song, has to be the incredibly moving ballad “Name Of The Game.” Goddamn that melody gets me all weepy every time I hear it. Those vocal harmonies, that groove, the constantly evolving hooks….I’m pretty sure McCartney himself couldn’t have conjured up that atmosphere. It’s just a fucking amazing track. Ham’s songs are the best, but the rest of the band turns in some great efforts too. Evans’ “Money” is straight out of a CSN record, but it’s a great song nonetheless with incredible harmonies. “Flying” is one of the more Lennon-y moments in a catalog usually more concerned with McCartney-isms – another great hook. They’re all great on the A-side, and it’s only on the 2nd side where a couple arguable filler tracks show up. But with Rundgren running the show, even the underwritten songs get perfect renderings and don’t sound like filler. Amazingly enough, the band were upset with the way this sounded and the album got a huge slam in Rolling Stone upon it’s release. They stopped working with Todd afterwards, and though they found a damn good replacement in Chris Thomas (another 70s production genius), they certainly never made a record this good again. A big winner – if you have any interest in Beatles-esque pop you should get this right away.
This is where the history of the band becomes more intriguing than their music for most people. I don’t really want to get into all of that – but the basic legend is that they could have been huge but got so fucked by management and labels that instead they made no money. And Pete Ham was driven to suicide at age 27 in 1975. And later on Tom Evans killed himself for similar reasons. So yes, there’s a very sad story surrounding this music. But I can’t really know if the drop in quality represented here is the result of the management issues, or the band’s own stupid decision to stop working with Rundgren and get “heavier.” Whatever the case, Pete Ham disappointingly only offers up only TWO songs on this album. Rundgren actually produced a couple of the tunes here, and not surprisingly both of ’em are big highlights. Chris Thomas produced the rest, and while I’m a huge fan of Mr. Thomas’ work in the 70s (70s Procol Harum, Roxy Music, Sadistic Mika Band, John Cale etc.), he wouldn’t make a totally solid album with these guys until their swan song “Wish You Were Here.” Now, even though this is a big letdown after the brilliance of their previous record, I actually think this album is underrated. It has a terrible reputation – people say the band tried to rock out and failed. Or they talk about the stupid title and weird album cover. Or they talk about the botched and delayed release. They rarely talk about the handful of awesome tracks on here, and I have a feeling that if a bit more time was put into this product (and if Ham wrote a few more songs), this could have been a more acceptable follow-up to the previous album. It opens with a great classic Ham track – “Apple Of My Eye” – one of the best Badfinger ballads ever. Pete doesn’t get another tune until the epic finale, “Timeless,” which is another brilliant expansive ballad which turns into a surprisingly epic and heavy art rock extended album coda. It’s obviously an “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” rip off, but enough with the Fab Four comparisons 🙂 Most of the album belongs to Joey Molland, and he does a WAY better job than I expected. He contributes two top shelf Badfinger classics. “Icicles” was the single, and while it’s no “Day After Day,” it’s a lovely acoustic driven pop song that sneaks up on you with that “live and learn” chorus hook. The other classic is my favorite Molland song ever, and one of the two Rundgren productions – “The Winner” – which sports a super creative arrangement and perfect pop chorus. That may be the best overall track on the entire record. Molland’s writing also shines on the other Rundgren production, “I Can Love You,” a solid power ballad with a nice chorus. Evans contributes the OK country rocker “Blind Owl” and the sweet but slight acoustic love song “When I Say.” There are three big problem spots on this record that immediately render it way worse than “Straight Up.” Molland’s two heavy rockers just don’t really work. It’s not because the band can’t rock. It’s because the songs suck and barely exist as compositions. They’re just totally generic classic rock bullshit. And the first one, “Get Away,” comes second on the record, which just sucks out all the momentum right at the top of thing. And then there’s drummer Mike Gibbins’ stupid country novelty song, “Cowboy.” Were these guys so intent on following their idols that they even had to give their drummer a shitty comedy country number? So look – I can understand why people get so down on this record. But half of it is classic Badfinger. I actually enjoy it a whole more than “No Dice,” even if that earlier record is a lot classier and has the two uber-classics mentioned previously. Put it this way: if you love the previous album, you should definitely get this one but just lower your expectations.
OK, now this time around I refuse to defend these boys. This is the absolute worst product they ever produced. I seriously can’t believe how bad this is. And it’s a confusing bad album because everything SOUNDS right – still professional, still produced by Chris Thomas, still performed with skill and vocal dexterity. But…the songs just suck. Really. Not ONE of these tues would make it to my “Badfinger Mixtape,” if I had such a thing. The point is – no classics. No hidden gems. Just a bunch of mediocre hookless drivel. On every other Badfinger record, I get the sense the writers understood the art of the pop hook. They may not be the greatest songwriters ever, but they’re smart and knowledgeable. They are very few Badfinger tunes lacking solid songcraft. HERE, though, everything goes right over my head. I can’t remember very much of this record after it’s finished playing – for a Beatles-y pop band, that’s a gigantic problem. Because there’s nothing else going for these guys but their hooks! They can’t be saved by flashy playing, or theatrics, or weird production. They either have a good song or they don’t – this is their own aesthetic and modus operandi coming back to haunt them here. I have to really struggle to find nice things to say about this record. Pete comes back to the fold as a big voice this time around, but his songs are totally sub-par. His weak ballad “Lonely You” has the only memorable chorus hook on the entire album, but compared to his earlier tracks the song falls pretty flat. His opener “I Miss You” is ALMOST a keeper, but it’s so friggin’ indistinct and dull! Like Nilsson without personality. The playful and soulful arrangement of “Matted Spam” does nothing to disguise the fact that the song is a totally underwritten dud. And “Song For a Lost Friend” has nothing interesting going for it other than the sadly ironic title (Ham would of course turn into the Lost Friend within a year-ish of this album’s release). Finally, the Ham/Evans “Shine On” is a pleasant soft country rock song, but its leagues away from the best Badfinger tracks. I don’t even want to talk about the rest of the album – NONE of the songs work. They’re either completely generic and lifeless, or else genuinely bad (Gibbons’ “My Heart Goes Out” and Evans’ horrible “Why Don’t We Talk?”). This sounds a bit like an outtakes collection to my ears, and the fact that it was released the same year as “Ass” seems to lend credence to my theory. PLUS, the band would turn around within a year and release their 2nd best album ever. So I really don’t know what the hell is going on with this record – perhaps the band was so annoyed with the music industry they intentionally wrote a bunch of crap they knew would piss off their label. BUT…that label was Warner, and they just signed a new deal with ’em, and this was clearly meant to be a “new start on a new label” sorta record due to the self-titled-ness. It fails on every front as a mission statement or a capitalization and improvement on their work with their previous label. It fails as a quality pop album. It just fails. It’s the only completely worthless product in this small catalog, and I don’t recommend it to anybody.
WISH YOU WERE HERE (1974)
People who care about Badfinger might tell you this is their best album. I think they over-estimate it a bit because it’s so underrated – it was barely released at the time, and when you hear it now, it’s obvious that with some label support it might have been a genuine hit for the band. But due to that management bullshit I mentioned previously, the album was pulled off the shelf seven weeks after its release! It never had a chance. And then Pete Ham killed himself. And you know what? Hearing this album…you feel his pain. The band and producer Chris Thomas obviously shot for the moon here. This is by far the most ambitious and complex album they’d ever record, and also the most consistent. “Straight Up” is definitely the BEST, but it also had that 2nd half filler issue I mentioned before. This one just stays the course from beginning to end, and also pushes into unchartered territory for the band. There are three song-suites on here, all of ’em super hooky and almost bombastic and art-rocky at times. Ham’s “Dennis” is my favorite of the three, and my favorite song on the record in general. It’s not as obviously a suite as the other two – more of a complex singular composition – but it does move through a series of distinct sections. It’s got some big heavy melodic double tracked guitar riffs, lots of beautiful backing harmonies, and at least two or three great vocal melodies. The chorus in the middle of the song sounds more Beach Boys-y than Beatles-y, and I wonder if Pete is talking about Dennis Wilson?! Great song. The two proper song suites both rule – “In The Meantime/Some Other Time” reminds me a bit of peak-era Supertramp. The first part of the medley is a stomping melodic rocker full of string flourishes and big bombastic percussion crashes. The second is a classic pop tune following the patented formula – but unlike the limp crap on the self-titled album, this one has genuine hooks and energy. The third medley ends the record – a bouncy and wonderful Ham rocker followed by a solid Molland power ballad. This album plays like a big grand re-structuring of the original Badfinger sound, and it really is tragic to hear the band finally starting to innovate and shape-shift, starting to come into their own with producer Thomas, right at their untimely end. The first four songs on here unfold with total pop confidence, each hook better than the previous one. And the overall sound here is more lush and dramatic than before, but without losing the rock edge. Ham’s two earlier songs “Just a Chance” and “Know One Knows” might not be quite as good as his “Straight Up” classics, but they easily could have been big hits had they they proper promotion. They’re just classic sounding hook-filled pop songs. This album is a bit of a grower – when I first heard it I didn’t understand all the fuss. But it does grow on you, and it’s obviously a piece of total craftsmanship. It’s probably the best “album” the band ever put together, which isn’t to say it has all the best songs. But they were clearly trying to make a big statement record here, and they succeed – if only people were able to hear it!!!
HEAD FIRST (recorded 1975, released 2000)
The “lost” Badfinger album! This was recorded after “Wish You Were Here,” but due to label and management lawsuits, and some shady business dealings, Warner shelved it. It didn’t see the light until 2000, by which point only the hardcore fans even cared and Ham and Evans were dead. I’m not certain whether this is actually a finished record or just a work in progress released before its completion. The tracks certainly sound completed, but the album is so slight I have a hard time believing the band would put this out as a followup to their most ambitious record yet. BUT…then again…they changed producers here. Chris Thomas was out, and they brought in the guys who produced the first two KISS records! Apparently the band and their team were moving them in the exact opposite direction I personally think they should have gone in. Instead of following their heavy classic rock side, they should have gone deeper into their big ambitious pop side. They should have followed up “Wish You Were Here” with some giant Phil Spector record or something. THIS album, on the other hand, is the most generic and classic rocky they ever would have put out. It’s melodic and pleasant, and it’s much more enjoyable than the self-titled record. The writing is still generally strong here – just indistinct and samey. There are also too many songs about record company woes. Now – if any band had the right to pen such tunes, it’s Badfinger, but I still find such lyrics silly and obvious. Ham contributes a couple mid-level tunes on this – opener “Lay Me Down” and “Keep Believing.” The latter sports a solid verse hook, but it’s a bit lifeless compared to previous Ham classics. The opener might have been better with more elaborate production – its “need your lovin'” hook starts off the album on a high note, but the song itself is just not very memorable. “Hey Mr. Manager” and “Rock N Roll Contract” are (obviously) the two “we hate the music industry” songs. The first one is sorta fun and reminds me a bit of The Byrds, but the dopey 70s radio arrangement doesn’t do it too much justice. The latter is one of the best and most fleshed out songs on this record – the band would even go on to re-record it on “Say No More.” Though I wonder if the band realized the cool harmonized “no you can’t” hook uses the exact same trick as the “need your lovin'” one that I mentioned earlier. Whatever – it’s still a nice idea. “Moonshine” is a pretty George Harrison-esque ballad, but like the rest of this album, it doesn’t stick. These guys are far from “Baby Blue” at this point, and I’m not sure this album would have been all that useful for the guys had it been finished and released back in the day. I prefer to think of “Wish You Were Here” as their swan song. This is just an interesting artifact more than anything else.
Years after Pete’s death and the original band’s demise, Joey and Tom got together with a guitarist named Joe Tansin and a bunch of session players and recorded this mediocre pop album. They released it as a Badfinger record, and though it does indeed sound a lot like Badfinger, it’d obviously be a stretch to consider it a real Badfinger album in the classic sense. For most people – myself included – a Badfinger without Pete Ham is something like the Kinks without Ray Davies. But to the guys’ credit, this album could have been way worse. It’s a moderately enjoyable fluffy listen. There are some OK tracks, and a couple REALLY mediocre ones, but nothing sounds incompetent or unlistenable. And it’s over in a brief 32 minutes! There are only 8 songs (well, 9 actually – but one of them is a brief acoustic intro)! And both Joey and Tom sound perfectly fine in the vocal department, even better than they’ve sounded on earlier tracks. There’s one giant problem spot on the album – right in the middle of the thing we get two incredibly weak compositions by newbie Joe Tansin. They both pretty much suck, and to make matters worse – they don’t sound too much like Badfinger either. “Sympathy” marries a crappy vocal hook to a crappy disco beat/electric piano arrangement. It’s your typical late-70s soft rock sound, and the song is totally lame. Then there’s dull classic rocker “The Winner,” which was ALREADY the name of a much better earlier Badfinger song! What the fuck!? Well, I doubt anybody is going to be choosing Tansin’s annoying and not-at-at-all-catchy song over the great Molland tune from “Ass” any time soon. But the other 6 songs are all fairly listenable Evans or Molland compositions with occasionally above-average hooks. “Lost Inside Your Love” sounds like post Godley/Creme 10cc – it’s a romantic and corny 70s Beatles-derived soft-rock song, and it’s not horrible. The single “Love Is Gonna Come At Last” does this catchy two chord guitar thing riff at the ends of the choruses . Joey’s “The Dreamer” is very obviously a Jeff Lynne attempt – it’s a nice moody Harrison-y ballad, but it can’t hope to compete with master Lynne’s genius romantic pop hook-writing ability. The album’s best song may actually be Evan’s closing track “Sail Away.” It’s got a pretty melody, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and a lush David Campbell string arrangement. It’s the only part of the record that feels relaxed – it has a bit of charm – and therefore it’s the most compatible with the moniker. Good vocal harmonies too. This isn’t a great record, or a remotely essential one, but at least it’s not a disaster. And at least the boys still sound like themselves.
SAY NO MORE (1981)
Wow! Color me surprised – but this second comeback attempt by Joey and Tom is actually really good! Released in 1981, featuring a bunch of sessions players like Tony Kaye from Yes, full of generic looking song titles like ‘Hold On” and “Come On” and Too Hung Up On You” – I must say I was fearing the worst. Especially coming on the heels of the exceedingly mediocre “Airwaves.” But this is a genuinely solid, melodic, rocking, and entertaining record. It’s perhaps the most overtly “power pop” album in their catalog – there’s a tightness and forcefulness to it that seems to take some influence from the new wave scene (but it doesn’t sound at all like a new wave record). I’m reminded of Cheap Trick from time to time, which never happened before on a Badfinger record (but yet both bands are considered progenitors of Power Pop). If you threw a couple quality Pete Ham ballads into this record (impossible at the time of course due to his being dead), you’d end up with a totally acceptable Badfinger record that would hold up nicely next to the classic years. Another incredible thing: even though this was record in the early 80s, there are barely any 80s production moments. It’s a very classic sounding record – the production is actually closer to Rundgren’s on “Straight Up” than any other Badfinger record. Most importantly though is the fact the hooks are in good supply here – every song has a solid one. They’re not incredible moving hooks like “Baby Blue,” but they’re way better written and distinct than anything on the previous album. The big song for me here is Evans’ “Too Hung Up On You” – that is just a perfectly power poppy chorus hook, friends. “Crocodillo” is the most Cheap Trick-y tune the band ever put together, and though it nearly steals the “My Sharona” riff, it has a fun bridge and effectively screamed vocal performance. The album opens with a totally solid run of pop tunes – “I Got You” “Come On” and “Hold On .” Nothing mind-blowing, but all of ’em well above average and expertly performed. Tony Kaye’s keyboards ain’t just window dressing either – he’s a creative player and adds some energy to the proceedings, particularly on the single “Hold On.” There’s an official version of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Contract” from the then unreleased “Head First” record. It’s basically the same song with slightly more “modern” production, and it has a very bombastic nearly hair metal guitar solo at the end! I’m not sure how I feel about that part, but whatever – the song works. Molland gets the final word here with closer “No More,” a decent pulsing power popper with a solid chorus. Notice I continue using the word “solid” in reference to this record – that’s really what it is. A very sturdy and professional piece of rock and roll, especially impressive in lieu of the crippled band and the 1981 release date. If I were a member of this band at the time, and watched ANOTHER of my strong products crash and burn commercially as this one did, I might have lost heart. I’m not sure I would have killed myself. But Tom Evans did. And so Badfinger lost two of its two strongest personalities to suicide, and Molland turned into a Mike Love-esque figure trying to bank on the name to the chagrin of fans and Ham/Evans/Gibbins family members (none of my business, though – for all I know Molland’s heart was in the right place). And that’s all she wrote.
7 PARK AVENUE (PETE HAM DEMOS/OUTTAKES COLLECTION) (1997)
This is a posthumous collection of Ham demos, released in the 90s with some additional instrumentation. Most of this was recorded during the early days of Badfinger. Frankly, this is a must hear for big Badfinger fans. About a third of this unreleased material would blow some of the later Badfinger tunes out of the water had they been properly produced on albums. More than anything I’ve heard on the studio records, this album confirms for me the minor song-writing genius that was Ham. He taps into the melancholy and folkier side of McCartney-esque pop in the same way that Emitt Rhodes did and Paul himself could hardly ever manage. There’s a reason people tend to rip on Paul even while acknowledging him as the Beatles’ resident genius: it’s hard to truly BELIEVE anything he sings. An unrivaled craftsman and performer, he just couldn’t communicate the pathos the way the other Beatles could. Less famous and more vulnerable fellas like Ham and Rhodes milked the style with heart. That’s not to say Ham is a true rival of Paul’s – he’s not even close. But at his own level, he was a super solid writer and singer, and had his band not been embroiled in such crap throughout their career, he might have released something truly great. A lot of these unearthed tracks sound rough and underwritten, and they range in recording quality and impact. But they’re mostly well done, and some of them are true lost gems. My favorite is easily the catchy “Hand In Hand,” a rock solid pop song that could have held it’s own among the “Straight Up” songs. Other winners include fleshed out opener “Catherine Cares” which sounds exactly like a lost Badfinger song, the folky sad “Coppertone Blues,” and the gorgeous “Sille Feb.” We also get to hear a couple actual Badfinger songs in their demo states – like the original rough and rocking “Matted Spam” demo before it got a soul makeover on the self-titled album. The song sounds WAY better here. So if you love Mr. Ham’s songs on the Badfinger records, you should check this out at some point. There’s a quiet but brilliant pop sensibility in these grooves.
GOLDERS GREEN (PETE HAM DEMOS/OUTTAKES COLLECTION) (1999)
A second set of posthumous demos. Like the first, it’s essential listening for big fans but also super inconsistent. We get some fragments, some early versions of classics (the totally half-written “Without You” is particularly fun to hear), and some real lost gems. This is not quite as revelatory a collection as the first one – but it’s still worth a listen or two. Ham is such a enthusiastic singer, and he has a natural way with catchy and friendly hooks. Highlights include: “I’m So Lonely,” a bluesy pop tune with a great melody that could easily have been dressed up into a high quality Badfinger track…”Dawn,” a groovy early Bee Gees-esque tune that deviates a bit from Pete’s normal style….the bouncy Britpop of “Goodnight John Frost”….and the very pretty acoustic demo “A Lonely Day.” There’s also a harmonica drenched tune called “Richard” that sounds a hell of a lot like a lost Basement Tapes track. Since its called Richard and sounds like The Band, I’m going to think of it as a tribute to Richard Manuel, another beautiful lost rock soul who took his own life. Ham singing to Manuel years before their tragic ends – a sad but lovely thought. There are some other decent little sketches on here, and if you combined the best tracks here with the best ones from “7 Park Avenue,” you’d get the closest thing to a lost Badfinger album since “Head First,” the actual lost Badfinger album!