Few bands in the history of rock n’ roll have been simultaneously as lucky and doomed as Badfinger. Lucky because they were not only one of the wildly eclectic assortment of artists the Beatles signed to their Apple Records label in 1968, but also because they had the talent and the songs to actually make something of their good fortune. And doomed because of poor management and a fatal dose of hopelessness. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
When the band joined the Apple roster, they were operating under the name the Iveys. And, much like their similarly botanically named contemporaries the Hollies, the Iveys Á¢€” who consisted of vocalist/guitarist Pete Ham, vocalist/guitarist Tom Evans, bassist/vocalist Ron Griffith and drummer Mike Gibbins Á¢€” were playing a highly melodic, often jaunty and sometimes dramatic mix of British invasion rock n’ roll. They were slightly out of fashion in the late ’60s, and yet, being that they sounded an awful lot like the Beatles, it mattered very little. The Beatles could do no wrong, and as the Beatles themselves were acutely aware of this, they wisely took the band under their wing. In time, Badfinger became the most successful act on the Apple roster, apart from the Beatles themselves. Along with Big Star and the Raspberries, the band helped shape what we all would come to know as “power pop.”
Tony Visconti was tasked with producing the debut LP by the Iveys. The album was preceded by a single that was thought to have great potential, the melancholy, Left-Banke-ish, Tom Evans-sung ballad “Maybe Tomorrow.” When it failed to dent the top 40 in the states (the single stalled at #67), the album’s release was canceled by Apple’s US distributor, Capitol. However, the album still made it to store shelves in Japan and parts of Europe. What those countries heard was a mixed bag of feisty rockers, cutesy pop ditties and a very Beatley sound.
From the lighthearted tale of a “Fisherman,” sung again by the Paul McCartney of the band, Tom Evans, to the bizarre juxtaposition of a sad eviction tale sung along to vaguely Mexican-sounding, not terribly unhappy music with a supple Pete Ham lead vocal, “They’re Knocking Down Our Home” (download), the contents of Maybe Tomorrow are all over the place. Sometimes this is a good thing; other times it falls flat, like when the band added some ridiculous call-and-response to “I’m In Love,” or the silly wah-wah and affected chorus vocals in “Think About The Good Times” (download). The most impressive song here is the closer, a Pete Ham-sung, a long-ish tune called “I’ve Been Waiting” (download) that foreshadowed Weezer’s dramatic, similarly placed “Only In Dreams” 25 years later. The band’s first effort may not have been a broadly defining moment, but the power pop template was being formed. Except that nobody really knew it yet.
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“Maybe Tomorrow,” 1969
In late ’69, the Iveys became Badfinger at the suggestion of Apple’s main man, the late Neil Aspinall. The edgier name was also accompanied by a personnel change Á¢€” bassist/vocalist Ron Griffiths departed, which led to another Beatlesque change in that already McCartney-sounding Tom Evans gave up the guitar for the bass slot when Liverpool native Joey Molland (who looked an awful lot like McCartney, though sounded nothing like him) joined the band. Joey’s bluesier guitar playing would serve as a good foil for Pete Ham’s melodic sensibilities, though Molland’s songs would turn out to be less sugary sweet and more basic, meat-and-potatoes rock n’ roll.
The public wouldn’t get much of a glimpse of the changed band dynamic on Magic Christian Music, however, as half of the album’s songs were simply remixed versions of tracks that previously appeared on Maybe Tomorrow. The rest were new songs recorded prior to the arrival of Joey Molland, with Beatles confidante Mal Evans producing. The U.S., the U.K., and most of the rest of the world hadn’t heard Maybe Tomorrow, so this was a chance to get some of the better material from that album, including the title track, out in the marketplace.
The album’s title was also a bit confusing. It refers to the Peter Sellers film The Magic Christian, in which Ringo Starr had a lead role and for which Paul McCartney wrote the theme song, “Come And Get It.” Badfinger’s carbon copy of McCartney’s original demo of “Come And Get It” became the band’s first hit, peaking at #7 in the U.S. (McCartney’s demo can be heard on the Beatles’ Anthology 3).
In spite of the album’s mixed pedigree, Magic Christian Music turned out to be a far stronger LP than the aborted Iveys effort. The remix was flattering to the old material, the three songs from the movie (the others being the folky “Carry On Till Tomorrow” and the raucous Little Richard styled rave-up “Rock of All Ages” [download]) were all very strong, as were new songs like Pete Ham’s melancholy “Walk Out in the Rain” (download). The silly trappings of the band’s previous incarnation were gone, but still, Magic Christian Music was a ‘transitional’ album. The best was yet to come.
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“Come And Get It,” 1970
The classic Badfinger lineup was firmly in place for No Dice, the band’s second album release of 1970. With another Beatles associate, engineer Geoff Emerick, taking his turn as Badfinger’s producer, Ham offered up more fine examples of his brilliant melodic skills and lyrical sensitivity with “Midnight Caller” (download) (about a friend of the band’s who became a prostitute), “It Had to Be” and “We’re for the Dark.” Evans, too, contributed memorable tunes like “Believe Me,” which showcased the band’s three-part harmonies. Yet strangely, only one single was pulled from the album — but what a single it was: “No Matter What” (one of two tracks produced by Mal Evans before Emerick finished the album) was that defining moment for what became known as “power pop.” It was also the band’s second big hit, reaching #8 in the U.S.
Had the band been more confident, they would have dressed up side one’s closing tune a bit more. But as it turned out, the song’s co-writers Á¢€” Ham and Evans Á¢€” were thrilled that Harry Nilsson eventually took“Without You” to number one with his string-laden rendition in 1972.
Joey Molland’s presence in the band not only added some bluesy grit, it added some attitude to counter Evans’ dramatic trills and Ham’s sweet melancholy. Case in point Á¢€” he took the piss out of his label’s bosses by writing and singing a punchy rocker called “Love Me Do” (download) that shared only a title in common with the Beatles’ first hit single. But he could wrap himself around a slow number too, blending his vocals with Evans on their collaborative effort “I Don’t Mind.”
Badfinger now had plenty of reason to feel confident Á¢€” they had another top ten single, a hit album, and the album they produced was a consistently good listen from beginning to end, showing off their rockin’, mellow and in-between sides, and capturing their live sound more effectively than previous records.
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“No Matter What,” 1971
Badfinger had been somewhat annoyed by the constant comparisons to the Beatles in the press, in spite of the fact that a) they were probably the only band for which such comparisons could be justified, b) it was a compliment of the highest order, and c) the band idolized the Beatles just like everybody else. Still, they bit their collective tongue when George Harrison stepped in to produce Straight Up after its first run-through with Geoff Emerick was rejected by Apple.
Harrison’s work on the album, particularly the slide guitar he added to “Day After Day,” was key to its success. “Day After Day” became the band’s third top 5 hit in a row (#4 on Billboard). However, when George was whisked away by Ravi Shankar’s call for help to organize the Concert for Bangla Desh, Todd Rundgren was brought in to complete work on the album. He was behind the boards for the album’s second single, “Baby Blue,” which missed the top ten at a still-respectable #14.
Molland’s contributions outpaced Evans’ this time, as would be the case for the next three albums. With Kathie Molland pushing Joey to step up and ticking off the others in the process, she became the Yoko Ono of the band. And while rockers like “I’d Die Babe” and “Sometimes” (download) definitely added weight to the album, Ham still dominated with songs like “Take It All” (download) and the aborted single “Name of the Game.”
Straight Up did not chart as high as No Dice (#31 to No Dice‘s #28), but the chart position didn’t reflect the fact that it was, and still is, Badfinger’s most popular album. Its reputation Á¢€” due in no small part to the production chops of Harrison and Rundgren Á¢€” grew over time to the point where it became the band’s most sought-after LP throughout the ’80s, before its debut on CD in 1992. How much was this LP in demand? Put it this way Á¢€” used LP dealers will rarely bother selling a record that is scratched beyond listenability, but Straight Up could still sell for a couple bucks in the 1980s in beat-up shape.
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“Day After Day,” 1972
By this time, Badfinger should have been rolling in some serious dough — but, as has been documented elsewhere (such as in VH-1’s Behind the Music special and Dan Matovina’s excellent biography Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger), the band had a bum contract with a manager for whom the term “shady” hardly does justice. They toured with a bare-bones setup, even though they had gold singles and hit albums, and Ham and Evans weren’t seeing their publishing income from “Without You.” Compounding the situation was the fact that, they were allegedly offered less to re-sign with Apple than they were already making, which prompted their manager to negotiate a deal with Warner Bros. that called for two albums per year Á¢€” still somewhat common in the 1970s, but Badfinger didn’t even get a break between labels to catch their breath. And add to that the disastrous decision that was made by the band to attempt to self-produce their final Apple album after negotiations with Rundgren broke down, and the band’s descent was already in place.
Chris Thomas ended up stepping in to produce Ass when the band found they were getting nowhere fast. The results can be described as a bland sandwich. The biggest fault of Ass is that half the songs are Molland’s, with little of the band harmonies that typified their best work, while Ham only has two. Not surprisingly, the Ham tunes that bookend Ass are its two biggest selling points.
“Apple of My Eye” (download) is Ham’s fond farewell to their label and the album’s sole single (which failed to chart), while “Timeless” (download) asks “are we the future?” and gives way to an extended jam that shamelessly echoes “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and drags on for about as long. Gibbins’ first song on a Badfinger album, “Cowboy,” is a silly embarrassment, but Evans’ rocker “Blind Owl” proved one of his best, and was a highlight of their live sets as it gave way to some heavy jamming. It was their closest indication on their studio albums of their desire to rock like Eric Clapton and Grand Funk, while their live shows of the day often featured covers of Dave Mason tunes like “Feelin’ Alright” and “Only You Know and I Know.” The band’s musical identity was fracturing at this point, and Ass bears it out all too well.
While the new deal Badfinger signed with Warner Bros. was technically more lucrative than what they were offered at Apple, they would still have to work harder to line the pockets of their crooked manager. And while Badfinger the album (whose original title was For Love or Money) is a more balanced effort than Ass in terms of spreading the songwriting around, it’s just as haphazard in terms of overall quality.
Chris Thomas was back on board as producer, and fortunately Pete Ham ended up with a higher ratio of contributions than he did on Ass. Single-worthy entries like “Lonely You” (download) and “Shine On” stood out among the album’s twelve tracks. However, while his attempt at R&B on “Matted Spam” is certainly fun, it’s hardly first-rate Pete Ham.
Joey Molland contributed one of his best ever songs with the unusually downcast “Give It Up” (download). Joey was hardly the depressed guy in the band, yet he captured Badfinger’s tensions even better than his more sensitive counterparts Ham and Evans with “Give It Up.” Its quiet verses contrast with blaring, fuzzed-out choruses and an extended jam at the end, while its opening line is evocative of the hamster wheel existence the band had been living: “We live in hope of love and wait to die.” It’s one of the great ironies of this band that those words came from Molland who, in part because of his wife, had the strongest fighting spirit in the band.
Evans, meanwhile, was slipping, turning in two of the least memorable songs of the album. But drummer Gibbins’ “My Heart Goes Out” (download), is a surprising highlight with its layered acoustic guitars and Á¢€” ironically Á¢€” no drums. He sounds a little nervous singing it, and the band was feeling that way as a whole, as 1974 saw their new label’s publishing division questioning the suspicious moving of escrowed funds while their manager threw up smoke and mirrors, sending the band off on tour as they watched their two most current albums fail to crack the top 100 in America, and their most recent singles (in America it was “I Miss You” b/w “Shine On” while in the UK it was “Love Is Easy” b/w “My Heart Goes Out”) fail to chart at all, with no follow-ups forthcoming in spite of a couple of strong contenders.
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“Shine On” rehearsal, 1974
The band was short on finished songs, but it mattered not Á¢€” another album was due. Chris Thomas returned and, arguably, coaxed out of Badfinger the best album of their career with Wish You Were Here.
Ham’s power pop chops were at their peak with the loud opener “Just a Chance” and the simple yet towering “Know One Knows” (download). He spun incredible melodies on the alternately dramatic and joyous “Dennis,” a song about his then-girlfriend’s young son. But when it came to finishing “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch,” Thomas’ direction to combine some unfinished pieces from individual band members resulted in a chugging, rocking medley with Molland’s “Should I Smoke.” Along with the album’s other medley Á¢€” Mike’s and Joey’s, respectively, “In the Meantime/Some Other Time” (download) Á¢€” side two of the album became the band’s approximation of Abbey Road. And yet, at this point they were sounding less like the Beatles than ever, in part because they were growing more confident in their abilities, and also because of Evans’ unfortunate bout of writer’s block. His sole contribution, “King of the Load,” is an affectionate ode to their roadies, and while its melody is up to Evans’ standards, he comes off sounding a bit down as he sings it to a mellow electric piano accompaniment. It’s the one song that sounds out of place, but if it wasn’t there, the album would hardly sound complete.
Though the band was on an artistic high in ’74, personally and financially they were in turmoil. Pete Ham briefly quit, but then rejoined not long after keyboardist Bob Jackson was recruited for an upcoming tour as a replacement, making Badfinger a quintet for a short time. And Molland, whose song “Got to Get Out of Here” was no idle threat, quit at the end of the tour in frustration over the band’s inability to come to a consensus on how to address their management situation.
Meanwhile, the band’s management kept stalling on the issue of the missing escrow funds, much to Warner Music’s annoyance (it would be revealed in Dan Matovina’s biography that Badfinger’s manager was spreading the advance money over a series of accounts, against the terms of the contract). Just weeks after Wish You Were Here was released to positive reviews and healthy sales for an album that had little promotion and no singles (aside from the Japanese release of “Know One Knows”), and just as management had scurried Badfinger back to the studio, Warner Bros. ceased the distribution and promotion of Wish You Were Here in conjunction with a lawsuit filed by the label’s publishing division against the band.
As if things couldn’t get any stranger, Badfinger were completely unaware of what was happening (or not happening, as it were) when they were whisked back into the studio towards the end of ’74 to record a third album for Warner Bros. The band Á¢€” now with Ham playing all guitars, and with Jackson playing keys and supplying some vocals in addition to a few songs Á¢€” was given only three weeks to finish a new album.
Logistically, there was no way Head First could be finished as well as any of its predecessors. But, given the circumstances, producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise Á¢€” fresh off producing the first two Kiss albums Á¢€” managed to wrangle a solid record out of the band without much cajoling. And without Molland’s input, a stronger pop flavor was pervasive. Pete Ham wrote an affectionate send-off to Molland, “Keep Believing,” but it was “Lay Me Down” (download) that stood tall as the big potential hit single. “Moonshine,” a collaborative effort between Gibbins, Evans and Jackson, also showed a lot of potential as a ballad, with Evans and Jackson sharing the vocals. Evans returned in a big way beyond this one song, laying out his feelings regarding the band’s dismal management situation with “Rock N’ Roll Contract” (download) (“man told me not to worry ’bout the business / just keep on poppin’ those hits”) and “Hey, Mr. Manager” (as in, “Hey, Mr. Manager / You’re messin’ up my life”), and singing with more fire than he had since the not-too-distant Apple days. Jackson’s “Turn Around” added a harder element to the band’s sound, bringing a Winwood-Clapton kind of vibe that the band was always eager to explore on stage. And Gibbins had a couple of other contributions, two inconsequential but pleasant (“Back Again”) and fun (“Rockin’ Machine”) acoustic tunes that added some levity.
Head First may have been a stronger record than Wish You Were Here‘s two predecessors, but it was of no consequence to Warner Bros. The lawsuit was still unresolved, and consequently they would not release the album. The last three albums were all poor sellers, and the lawsuit effectively killed any chance of the band regaining momentum. Pete Ham was expecting a child with his girlfriend, had just bought a house, and money was drying up. As his worries continued to pile high, he took his own life in April of ’75 by hanging himself in his garage. For all intents and purposes, Badfinger was over.
Head First remained unreleased until 2000, though the version that the Snapper label released was an earlier mix and different track sequence from what was prepared and rejected in early 1975. Those mixes are reportedly lost, though generations-removed bootlegs have circulated over the years.
The “correct” running order for Head First is as follows, and is far preferable to the track sequence on the Snapper CD:
Lay Me Down
Rock N’ Roll Contract
Hey, Mr. Manager
The band that recorded Airwaves was not originally intended to be called Badfinger, but when Joey Molland invited Tom Evans to join a new band he was putting together in L.A. with Joe Tansin and Ken Harck, the resurrection of the old band name slowly became inevitable when Elektra Records showed interest. Were it not for producer David Malloy’s inability to work with a drummer like Mike Gibbins, who was not a metronome kind of guy, the band would have been three-fourths constituted, and somewhat more legitimate for it. But in the end, the drum duties were split between Harck and session pro Andy Newmark.
With a great pianist like Nicky Hopkins brought in for some session work, one would think Airwaves would have turned out better than it did. Part of the problem, beyond Ham being gone, was simply a lack of material, let alone strong material. At eight full songs plus the half-minute acoustic title track, Airwaves barely surpasses the half-hour mark. Molland’s “Love Is Gonna Come At Last” (download) scraped the bottom end of the Billboard Hot 100, but Evans’ “Lost Inside Your Love,” which didn’t chart at all, was the more memorable single and one of his best ballads since “Maybe Tomorrow.” And while Tansin’s “The Winner” (not to be confused with Joey Molland’s “The Winner,” from the Ass album) was an optimistic rocker that was contemporary yet still distinctly Badfinger, Evans’ “Sympathy” employed a disco beat to annoying effect, and the song itself didn’t really go anywhere. Evans’ “Sail Away” (download) concluded the record, and while a pretty tune, it leaves the album feeling limp in the end, thanks in no small part to Malloy, who basically sucked the raw rock out of the band.
By the time the record was finished, Tansin and Harck were gone; Peter Clarke had taken over the drum chair, and keys were in the hands of Tony Kaye, formerly of (and soon to be reunited with) Yes. And as Tom Evans sang hopefully about getting “back on the airwaves” in “Look Out California,” The tour failed to push either the album or its two singles to a significant level of success, and Badfinger sputtered all over again. They were dropped by Elektra, and it wouldn’t be long before Airwaves went out of print along with the rest of Badfinger’s catalog.
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“Lost Inside Your Love,” 1979
It wasn’t planned this way, but Say No More did prove to be the final Badfinger album, perhaps in a case of self-fulfilling prophecy, or doomed mojo as a result of the choice to re-record the bitter “Rock N’ Roll Contract” for the album.
Evans and Molland assembled a new band, with Tony Kaye returning for keyboard duty. Guitarist Glen Sherba and drummer Richard Bryans rounded out the group, making this final go-round with producer Jack Richardson a conscious effort at recording a stronger, more rockin’ record that ultimately suffered the same fate as its predecessor.
Released by Radio Records, which was distributed by Atlantic and saw its biggest success with a nostalgic medley of ’60s hits by a Swedish band called “Stars On,” Say No More spun off three singles, two of which (Molland’s boogie-throwback “I Got You” and a fine exercise in power pop called “Because I Love You” [download]) did not chart. However, Evans’ “Hold On” (download) did make it to #56, and probably would have climbed higher had the band decided to go out on tour. Radio Records was frustrated with the band’s decision, pulled their promotion, and like Elektra before them, passed on their option for a second album.
Further infighting split the band up, resulting in two competing Badfingers. The one led by Molland featured a bunch of unknowns, while Evans recruited former members from the Pete Ham era Á¢€” drummer Mike Gibbins and keyboardist Bob Jackson. They may have had one up on Joey in the legitimacy department, but they did not escape the embarrassment of playing on a bad local Milwaukee TV program called Shock Theater in 1982.
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“Look Out California,” “Hold On” and “Baby Blue,” 1982
By 1983, Tom Evans had not found a way to keep his life and career together. He finally gave up, following Pete Ham to the grave in the same manner, only outside in his backyard rather than in his garage. Badfinger was really over this time, whether Joey used the name on the road or not.
As Joey Molland continued to tour using the Badfinger name, the band’s catalog remained out of print all through the 1980s. The first Badfinger CDs emerged in 1990, when Molland released a live recording of the original band from 1974 via Rykodisc. It did little for the band’s reputation, however, due to poor recording quality that was made even worse with obnoxious effects added to the snare drum sound.
Rhino Records, anticipating an eventual ‘Best Of’ collection by Apple, released The Best of Badfinger, Volume II in 1990, which covered the Warner Bros. years (including four previously unreleased songs from the Head First album) and the two singles from Airwaves. Apple finally started to reissue its non-Beatles releases in 1991, though that Best Of Badfinger Volume I compilation didn’t appear till ’95.
By 1996, all of Badfinger’s Pete Ham-era albums Á¢€” including the Iveys’ Maybe Tomorrow Á¢€” had been issued on CD, though Ass was never issued in the U.S. The two released Warner Bros. albums were only available on CD in Japan and Europe until 2007, when Collectors’ Choice finally released them stateside. A genuine, quality live album, BBC In Concert, was released in 1997.
Also in ’97, Rykodisc released an album of Pete Ham demos, 7 Park Avenue. A second volume, Golders Green, followed in ’99.
Both Gibbins and Molland released their share of solo albums over the years, none of which had much appeal outside of die-hard Badfinger fans. Molland still tours occasionally (sometimes as ‘Badfinger’).
Gibbins died in 2005 of natural causes.
Mike Fortes and Mike Gibbins, January 2001
Bonus live tracks and demos:
“We’re For The Dark” (download) (with drums; Philadelphia, 1970)
“Only You Know And I Know” (download) (Dave Mason cover, London, 1972, from BBC In Concert)
“Blind Owl” (download) (London, 1973, from BBC In Concert)
“Island” (download) (Pete Ham demo, 1968, from 7 Park Avenue)
“John Forgot To Sing” (download) (Pete Ham demo, 1970)