After the initial run of the British Invasion, rock music began a natural progression from pop-based rock to a more experimental, and some might say “bloated,” sound that expanded upon the blues, incorporated classical music, stretched out folk and R&B into directions thus unheard. Yet, as the Sixties began to turn into the Seventies, a small coterie of musicians on both sides of the Atlantic wanted to try to bring back the exciting sounds from their youth. What these artists were doing, unbeknownst to each other was to update the sound of the British Invasion by making more muscular versions of those sweet sounds.
In the States, we had the Raspberries doing this up in Cleveland, while Big Star, who seemed to not really get discovered until the Eighties, were doing this in Memphis. Yet, before these bands released their respective, now-classic, debut albums, an English band appeared destined to bring this sound to the masses. The band was Badfinger, and although history conspired to keep this band from fulfilling their apparent destiny, their musical legacy remains intact.
Back in the earlier days of rock and roll, artists were used up and thrown off quickly as snakes gorged themselves off the talents of these talented men and women. This is what stymied Badfinger. In the band’s defense, when musically talented kids just out of their twenties start to be courted by labels, unscrupulous managers often try to swoop in to take advantage of these naive kids. And, even though Badfinger had been discovered by The Beatles, signed to Apple Records and mentored by all involved, the band still was not strongly advised as to their management. And, that was the Badfinger’s fatal mistake, with the cost being high.
Right off the bat, Badfinger was ripped for sounding like The Beatles. What the critics of the day missed was that The Beatles were the jumping off point for Badfinger. Now, we all acknowledge that power pop artists are expanding upon the blueprint of the British Invasion. But, in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies, Badfinger was getting generally ripped for this. But, their first couple of singles were hits. First, they struck Top Ten with the Paul McCartney-penned “Come and Get It.” Then, a couple more hits followed with “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue.”
But, what followed is a conspiracy of mismanagement that totally screwed this band from ever reaching the potential first thrust upon these four young Englishmen. First, The Beatles imploded, along with Apple Records. So, at the top of Badfinger’s commercial appeal, they became free agents, signing with Warner Bros. But, instead of reaching new heights, the band’s Warners debut was released at the very same time as the band’s last album from Apple. This fiasco left the record-buying public confused, and both albums ended up dying quickly on the charts.
And, if this were not bad enough, the band’s manager had taken all of Badfinger’s money for his own profit, even though millions of dollars had been made by record sales of albums and singles. Essentially, the band was broke. And, to top things off, that manager had run off with the Warner Bros cash advance for the band to make their next album. In a stupid move by the label, they pulled Badfinger’s fifth album from the shelves within a couple of weeks of its release, even though the band was receiving some of the best reviews of their career of their ironically-titled album Wish You Were Here. The band pulled the album due to the missing money.
The saddest part of the whole ordeal is that lead singer and primary songwriter Pete Ham ended up committing suicide after becoming distraught over the financial mess. In the early Eighties, still depressed from the loss of his friend and songwriting partner and the financial mess, Tom Evans also committed suicide. To top things off, the remaining original members, drummer Mike Gibbins and guitarist Joey Molland argued over the legacy of the band and which member could use the name Badfinger for touring. Even when the band was honored for their song “Without You” as one of rock’s most covered songs ever, the ceremony was drenched in controversy when ASCAP honored all the members and not the songwriters Ham and Evans.
To me, the whole Badfinger saga might just be one of the saddest story ever. From the heights of Apple Records, working on George Harrison’s solo debut All Things Must Pass, playing at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, having a number one hit with Harry Nilsson’s cover of “Without You” and their own hits to the depths of the financial mess caused by their manager and the deaths of their creative minds, Badfinger was snake-bit. Still, the quality of their songs remain and seem to be rediscovered by young musicians to this band. That is why Badfinger should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What these young men created is eternal, their music.
So, today I present my 20 favorite Badfinger songs. Enjoy!
20. “Love Time” (Wish You Were Here, 1974)
19. “We’re Here for the Dark” (No Dice, 1970)
18. “Rock of All Ages” (Magic Christian Music, 1970)
17. “When I Say” (Ass, 1973)
16. “It’s Over” (Straight Up, 1971)
15. “I’d Die Babe” (Straight Up, 1971)
14. “Dennis” (Wish You Were Here, 1974)
13. “I’ll Be the One” (Straight Up reissue, 2010)
12. “Name of the Game” (Straight Up, 1971)
11. “Lonely You” (Badfinger, 1974)
10. “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke” (Wish You Were Here, 1974). What a great album cut that only underscores the similarities between McCartney’s solo sound and Ham’s songwriting.
9. “Apple of My Eye” (Ass, 1973). I love it when an artist takes a simple, common phrase and turns it into something so much deeper and richer when you understand the whole story of that person. This was a heartfelt letter to The Beatles.
8. “Hold On” (Say No More, 1981). If Badfinger seemed like a natural for any time during rock history, it was during the new wave/power pop days of the late-Seventies and early-Eighties. And, the band responded with a song that should have been a huge hit, if fate could have just been kinder to these guys.
7. “Love Is Gonna Come at Last” (Airwaves, 1979). Once again, see my previous comments.
6. “Come and Get It” (Magic Christian Music, 1970). McCartney may have written it, but Badfinger provided the magic.
5. “Baby Blue” (Straight Up, 1971). Wasn’t it great when this song was used during the Breaking Bad series finale and Millennials downloaded the heck out of it so it reappear in the Top Twenty? Was it too much to ask for a Badfinger revival at the time? I guess so!
4. “Maybe Tomorrow” (Magic Christian Music, 1970). To me, this is THE song on the band’s debut album!
3. “Without You” (No Dice, 1970). This song was a monster in its original version, but Harry Nilsson made it a classic. Why, Mariah, why did you have to cover it?
2. “Day After Day” (Straight Up, 1971). This song is just transcendent of the stupid Beatles-soundalike comments. If anyone else had done this song, they would have been praised and knighted.
1. “No Matter What” (No Dice, 1970). This remains my favorite Badfinger song to this day. It reminds me of first grade and the joy of youth. What’s better than that?