Badfinger were one the best Beatles ripoffs to harmonize in the early '70s; though naturally the imitation pales in comparison to the original, Badfinger released some quite enjoyable pop during their ill-fated career, and left behind a handful of classic singles. Anyone who doesn't get excited by the ringing guitar hooks of "No Matter What" or sighs along with the gushiness of "Day After Day" has practically no ear for pop music (of course I mean 'pop' in the limited, Beatlesque sense). The Beatles connection was more than a matter of Badfinger sounding like the masters; Badfinger were also the first group signed to the Beatles' vanity label, Apple, and even benefited a few times from a helping hand from their mentors -- their first single was a gift from Paul McCartney, "Come and Get It". The irony is that "Come and Get It" was better than almost anything on McCartney's first solo album, but Badfinger had a tough time stepping out of the shadow cast by the Fab Four. This wasn't entirely fair, as Badfinger had their own distinct identity that weighed more towards melancholy than the bright Beatles.

To say that Badfinger suffered a tragic history is a bit of an understatement. They were innocent country lads suckered into the big shitty by the lure of fame and fortune, and found themselves screwed over cynically by greedy record companies and unscrupulous managers. Though they scored several big hits in the early '70s and shifted many units, none of the members of the band saw hardly any of the money they were rightfully owed, due to their naivette in signing their contracts. Eventually, the frustration grew to be too much for guitarist Pete Ham. With his wife pregnant and worried about how he would make ends meet, Ham decided that there was a simple, easy way out of all his problems, and hung himself in his garage in 1975. Ham's suicide shattered the band, but in the late '70s bassist Tom Evans and guitarist Joey Molland decided to give Badfinger another go. Badfinger's comeback wasn't very successful, and in 1983, Evans also took in his life in a manner eerily similar to Ham's suicide -- again over unpaid royalties. The two surviving members of Badfinger, Molland and drummer Mike Gibbins, refuse to speak to each other, having suffered a falling out over legal and financial quarrels. Badfinger's story is a cautionary tale of how young musicians should be careful to not get screwed over by the music business, and see their friendship destroyed by squabbling over money.

Magic Christian Music (1970)

The soundtrack to a film financed by the Beatles' company, Apple. Paul McCartney generously donated "Come and Get It," which became a hit single.

No Dice (1971) ***

This contains the single of the year, "No Matter What," as perfect an updating of Beatles '65 as anyone has ever writ: a chunky guitar riff hooks you in, leading into the "Knock down the old grey wall," chorus that soars straight into bliss. If Oasis ever came up with a song that rocks like "No Matter What," then maybe they'd warrant their hype -- but Oasis won't. Close your eyes and don't think of Mariah Carey (or Harry Nilsson) when "Without You" comes on -- the Ham/Evans original may sound like a demo in comparison to the overblown remakes, and that's why the original is so much better: there's a whole lot to be said for understatement when it comes to heart-wrenching, sappy power-ballads. The rest of the album doesn't come close to those highlights. Some of it's enjoyable: "I Can't Take It," rocks; "Believe Me," has its Lennon-y tongue slightly in cheek; "Midnight Caller," is a fine McCartney pastiche. Most of the tracks are slight, pleasant but forgettable; the bonus tracks on the reissue are as expendable as the rest. Not bad, but everything you need is on the greatest hits compilation.

Straight Up (1972) ***1/2

I suspect the reason this album is better than the others is the producer, Todd Rundgren -- a suspiscion based on the fact that the George Harrison produced reissue bonus tracks are far, far inferior to their more polished Rundgren counterparts; Harrison's productions sound like a lifeless demos. Of course the credit has to go the band itself above all, and for once they manage to come up with enough good material for a halfway consistent longplayer. The smash staple of classic and soft rock stations, "Day After Day," is perfection: sweet McCartneyesque vocals and melody, and a soaring Harrison slide guitar solo gushing till you're just another love-struck simpleton like the chap singing the song. My favorite song, though, would probably be "Name of the Game," a lovely, meditative Pete Ham ballad that doesn't make literal sense, but I hardly care because it's majestic and moving anyway. "Baby Blue" sounds like an outtake from Revolver. "Perfection," is the fourth and final genuine classic, a slightly folkish number that contains the lines, "There's no good revolution/Just power changing hands". The rest of the tracks are, with an exception or two, high quality pop. The bitter sentiments of "Money" have an added poignancy considering what happened to the band, and it seamlessly flows into its adjoining track, "Flying," a charming Magical Mystery Tour pastiche. Once again, nearly everything you need is on a greatest hits compilation, but this album is a highlight of early '70s pop.

Ass (1973) ***

Joey Molland's best composition, "Icicles," deserved to be a hit, but it wasn't, and this album initiated Badfinger's commercial downfall. It's also an artistic disappointment, as Badfinger decide that being professional power-poppers isn't enough -- no, they want to be heavy arena rockers, too. It's a mistake, because Badfinger aren't that good or convincing as hard rockers (though the only truly embarrassing track is the Deep Purplish "Constitution") -- and didn't the early '70s have more than enough heavy blues bands? Didn't they realize that at the time the world desperately needed more solid, Beatlesque pop bands, in tragically short supply? Don't worry, though, about half of the album is still old-fashioned Badfinger pop, with the farewell to their label, "Apple of My Eye," a nice gesture. Still, except for "Icicles," none of the songs here have any real magic to them -- and magic's what separates great pop from good pop, which any idiot who knows a bit about hooks and song structure can write easily. Around this time, Apple folded and Badfinger had to shop for a new label, thus severing the Beatles umbilical cord.

Badfinger (1974)

Their debut for Warner Bros.; it contained no hits and was a commercial flop, as was the rest of their subsequent work.

Wish You Were Here (1974) ***1/2

The final album released by the original lineup ends on a career high point with their most consistently listenable album. Produced by Chris Thomas, who beefs up and modernizes the sound for the mid-'70s, sonically Badfinger have never sounded better, rocking harder than ever before (and actually convincingly in spots), if occasionally overdoing the layered vocal harmonics a bit. Musically the Welsh lads sound so sparkling and confident that it's an unsettling incongruity that Pete Ham hung himself shortly after this release; however, on closer examination, the magnificent opener, "Just a Chance," with its massed rush of hard-rocking Byrdsy jangle and crushing harmonies, is nothing more than a nakedly desperate plea for a shot at mainstream radio airplay (disguised as a plea to a girl for a date, naturally). Too bad nothing from this excellent album, which may be the band's masterpiece (very hard to choose between this and Straight Up), came anywhere near the charts or AOR. Then there's Joey Molland's despondent cry for escape, "Got To Get Out Of Here," which would be the most emotionally affecting spot on the album if not for Ham's twin odes to his young son, "Know One Knows," and the epic centerpiece, "Dennis." More good news is that Mike Gibbins and Joey Molland have both finally grown into their own as songwriters, which means that unlike all the other Badfinger albums, this disc actually possesses no filler (which was always the biggest problem I've had with Badfinger). Tom Evans only makes one contribution, the mellow "King of the Load," which is a little disappointing, but at least it's a good one. The Gibbins/Molland song-splicing "In the Meantime / Some Other Time" sounds a bit too generically mid-'70s AOR rockin' to my ears, but the album ends on another two separate band member songs spliced together into one lengthy epic, Ham/Molland's "Meanwhile Back At the Ranch / Should I Smoke," that ends everything with a pleasant bang.

Reader Comments


If you can find a copy of Wish You Were Here jump on it. This album is another lost classic ala Beach Boys masterpiece Smile. If this group hadn't been screwed by their management they could have been one of the all time greats.

Paul Lovett,

It's more than a rumor- 1974's Wish You Were Here is one of the greatest records ever made. Thats rather high praise from a Beatles fan 1964 on who has heard most of the "Beatleish" records from Badfinger, the Raspberries, and Big Star. One of popular music's tragedies is the utter lack of respect it has earned due to Badfinger's business/managerial problems from the era. It should be re-released and promoted- if you can find a copy, grab it!

Airwaves (1979)

An attempted comeback by Molland and Evans; predictably, it flopped.

Say No More (1981)

The second Molland/Evans Badfinger album, another commercial dud.

The Best of Badfinger, Vol. 2 (1989)

Don't ask me why this was released six years before Vol. 1; it covers Badfinger's post-Apple career, and I haven't heard any of it.

Come and Get It: The Best of Badfinger (1995) ****

A solid collection of good '70s pop by the world's best Beatles knockoffs, this set covers Badfinger's four Apple albums - Magic Christian Music, No Dice, Straight Up, and Ass. At 21 tracks, it's less a greatest hits than a well-chosen digest of the four albums, and as such contains everything you need to hear and more from Badfinger. The only inexplicable omission is "Perfection." Since the original albums were rife with filler, then I'd advise the curious to begin and end right here.

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