Badfinger So Talented, So Cursed

Badfinger, was a very talented 4 piece rock band led by Pete Ham (guitar, piano, vocals),  Tom Evans (bass, vocals), Mike Gibbins (drums), and Joey Molland (guitar, vocals.)  Badfinger was the first band signed by the Beatles new record label, Apple. (Yes the Beatles had that name before Steve Jobs.) When the band was signed by Apple in 1968, they still had their original bassist, Ron Griffiths, (Evans was rhythm guitar and Molland had not yet joined the band) they also had their original name “The Ivey’s”, which would soon be changed to the name we’ve all known them as, Badfinger.  

After signing with Apple, things didn’t exactly hit the ground running.  There were some dubious people in the Apple chain of command that were acting a lot like typical executives at other record companies. John Lennon so famously intimated at the press confrence announcing Apple’s formation, that this company would be different. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.  Badfinger was getting no input from any executives, nor any direction from the Beatles themselves.  Badfinger was recording songs on Apple’s dime and working with great people like Mal Evans (who was responsible for getting them signed to Apple), Geoff Emerick, Tony Visconti, Todd Rundgren (who they apparently hated working with, and Todd hated them even more), and the great, Chris Thomas.  The only problem was that nothing was being released.  The band would record a song and submit it to Apple.  In turn,  Apple would summarily reject it, with very little explanation as to why.  Badfinger felt somewhat abandoned and said so in a magazine interview, it was actually Griffiths who made the comments.  Paul McCartney saw the interview of discontent and offered to get them involved with his project for the film, “The Magic Christian”.  McCartney was commissioned to produce three songs for the film.   He had finished writing “Come and Get It” and offered it to Badfinger to record.  McCartney also used two of the then, “Ivey’s” original songs to complete his obligation to the film.  The film was released in the theaters and  “Come and Get It” was a big hit for Badfinger and put them on the map.  Even though Apple had the release of the movies soundtrack in their back pocket, from the production company Commonwealth United Corporation, it somehow got screwed up.  Some contractual snafu with using Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In the Air” in the film, nullified Apple’s ability to release the soundtrack through their label.  With the success of “Come and Get It” so present and without the ability to release the actual soundtrack from the film, Apple released a Badfinger record titled, “Magic Christian Music”.  The record consisted of the three songs from the film and various other Badfinger songs that had previously been rejected for released by Apple.  McCartney had produced the three songs from the film “Come and Get It”, “Rock of Ages”, and “Carry On Til’ Tomorrow”.  All good songs, but it was the Ham/Evans tune “Crimson Ship” that gave a glimpse of what lay ahead for the band.  Cool little tune, a nice hook and a great sound with Ham on piano and electric guitar with Ham/Evans harmonizing nicely on the entire song.  Just before the release of the record, the band fired Griffiths and replaced him with Joey Molland and their name was changed from The Ivey’s to Badfinger.

Though Molland contributed some decent material throughout Badfinger’s run, I believe his real influence on the band was in his guitar playing.  Ham was a really good guitarist in his own right, but Molland had a smoothness in his playing and a knack for more catchy melodic riffs like in “Baby Blue” and “It’s Over”.  Evans, probably the second best songwriter in the band, contributed some nice songs such as “Money” and “It’s Over” (great song and great guitar riff by Molland).  As talented as they were, Pete Ham was the primary songwriter, with such hits as “Baby Blue”,  “Day After Day”,  “No Matter What”,  “We’re For The Dark”,  “Lonely You”  and of course the legendary “Without You” (Evans was credited with co-writing “Without You”.)   Though “Without You” was not a hit for Badfinger, it was a huge hit for Harry Nilsson, #1 on the charts in the U.S.  Years later, Mariah Carey also covered “Without You” and it went to #1 in the UK.  

Next, was their release of the album “No Dice” which yielded three Pete Ham songs.  “No Matter What”, was the big hit from this record.  “Without you”, soon became a huge hit for Nilsson, and “We’re For The Dark” an often overlooked song, but is one of their best.  “We’re For The Dark” is a really nice song with a great orchestral arrangement by  Harry Robinson, (Robinson also did the arrangement for the track “Name Of The Game”  from the “Straight Up” release.)  “We’re for the Dark” was a song that really showed just how good of a songwriter Ham really was, and what could have been going forward.  Evans “Believe Me” was also a good song from this record, but their records were only going to be as good as the Pete Hams songs…he was the hit-maker for the band.

It was the release of the album “Straight Up” that really made them legit in their own right, although they never really did get their proper due at the time…that has happened posthumously.  George Harrison started working with the band and was producing the record.  The “Straight Up” album really showcased their full musical range.  Starting with Ham’s soulful “Take It All” (Love this song), great Hammond organ part by Ham, followed by his rock anthem “Baby Blue” which thankfully found new life in the hit TV series “Breaking Bad.”  For me, those first two songs really embody what Badfinger was all about as a band.  A great Ham song, great Molland riffs, with Ham and Evans beautifully harmonizing vocals…classic!  “Baby Blue” is one of those epic tracks, it is a great song and a great performance.  Gibbons drumming is on full display, it starts with the half time opening and then goes to straight time on the first chorus.  He goes back to the snare just on beat 4 on the bridge but ever so slightly lays back a few times where it is perfect to do so, then slightly pushes the tempo going out…very musical, very nice.  Mollands guitar work is great.  The sound he has is perfect for the way he’s playing the chords, just the right amount of crunch and decay.  It’s one of those tracks where everything went right.  Evans and Molland’s, “Money” and “Flying” are solid contributions.  “Name of the Game” is a really nice Ham song that really shows his range, which is embellished nicely with a great orchestral arrangement by Harry Robinson.  Another great Pete Ham song, “Day After Day”, has been a huge song for the band that has stood the test of time.  This track really shows Harrison’s influence on the band, he played a patented George Harrison solo on the track and has his voice mixed in a bit here and there.  The almost omni-present (it seemed like he was everywhere back then) Leon Russell plays piano on the track.  The Band really loved working with Harrison in the studio, but he just did not have the time to work with them enough.  Harrison had other obligations and had to hand the project off to Todd Rundgren to finish.  Workiing with Rundgren was not an enjoyable process for the band.  Rundgren did not like them, and apparently had no problem letting them know.  It seems Rundgren did not think they were very good musicians…what an idiot.  They were great musicians, Todd Rundgren was an just ego maniac, but he did make decent records.  Having said that, the track “Perfection”, the acoustic guitars are so out of tune I can’t listen to it, which is a shame because it’s a nice song.  As great of a track as “Baby Blue” is, and it is a great track, it is a shame the drums were not tuned little better, you can really here that doingy sound on the toms coming out of the guitar solo.  What’s up with that Todd?  “It’s Over”, I think was Evans best song and a really nice finish to their best over-all record.  Nothing seemed to happen in a normal way with this band, so of course I have to point out a few things with this record.  For “Name of the Game”, you want to listen to the Geoff Emerick version which was recorded earlier and rejected by Apple for release, it is listed as “Name of the Game-the earlier version 2010 Remaster”.  Why Harrison thought there was a need to re-record this song is beyond me.  Harrison’s version, which was on the original release of the record, is almost laughable compared to the Emerick version with the Robison orchestration.  For “Baby Blue” you want to listen to the “Baby Blue 2010 Remaster” version, NOT the “Baby Blue U.S. single mix 2010 Remaster” version.

After “Straight Up” they had three very average releases.  “Ass” was the peculiar name of their next release.  It was a peculiar record all the way around, and not a very good follow-up to such a great record as “Straight Up.”  “Ass” yielded none of the big-hook hits that people were getting accustomed to with Badfinger.  Molland actually contributed most of the songs for the record, with Ham only contributing two average songs to the entire record.  Molland’s “When I Say” was the only real standout, though I also liked Hams “Timeless”.  It was probably Ham’s guitar playing on Molland’s song “Constitution” that was his real thumb print on the record.

Their next release was the self titled “Badfinger”, what a strange time for a self titled record.  This was another sub-par record compared to the standard they had previously set.  Molland’s song “Island” is nice and Ham’s “Matted Spam” is interesting, (it should’ve been used in the Blues Brothers movie).  Ham’s “Lonely You” is the lone standout on this record, and I love this song, it is a great song.

The album “Wish You Were Here” again was a record devoid of a real standout song.  Ham had a couple of decent songs, “Dennis” and “Meanwhile Back At the Ranch.”  Molland had two good songs “Got To Get Out Of Here”, though I wasn’t crazy about the recording and “Love Time” and that was about it for this record.  Unfortunately this was the last record the band, in it’s full compliment, would make together.

Let’s be clear about a few things, Apple was a disaster as a record label and a business.  The only thing that has kept it afloat at all these years was the music catalogue it had amassed along the way, the recording side of the company was over after just a few years.  I think the Beatles thought they could just hire people to run it and everything would be fine.  The Beatles started Apple Records with very lofty and altruistic ideals for artists, yet The Beatles themselves did very little to nurture this.  Not to mention, they did nothing to protect Badfinger or anyone else they signed, from the very scenario they wanted their haven to eliminate.  Why didn’t Apple have management and business services in place to take care of their artists?  You would think it would have been a top priority for the company, given the Beatles own experience of having their publishing rights swindled from them for their earlier songs.  I’m not saying that Badfinger should not have signed with Apple, I mean it was the Beatles at the apex of their fame, who wouldn’t have signed with them at that time?  Would an established label have yielded better results for them?  It may not have made any difference.  It is just a shame that The Beatles did not deliver the artistic utopia they bragged about.  Having said that, signing with Stan Polley as their business manager was by far the worst mistake Badfinger ever made.  Why their manager, Bill Collins, felt the need for Polly’s services is beyond me.  Collins is the one that really failed them.  Had someone reputable managed them, their fate may have been very different.  Polley was a parasite-scumbag, who pilfered the bands funds and absconded with them.  These poor guys were living like college students.  They all lived in a communal house with a modest allowance and never did get their hands on the money their music had generated.  With Apple in disarray and virtually bankrupt, Polly had signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records for Badfinger.  Without getting into the weeds too much, (and there’s a lot of weeds with this bands story) basically, Warner had set up an escrow account for the band, which Warner had deposited 200k into (that is the equivalent of about one million dollars today), and Polly immediately cleaned out the account and went into hiding.  Upon learning of this action, Warner dropped Badfinger from their label and started a lengthy legal battle against Polley.  After Ham realized the band was penniless, and without a record contract, he sadly made the choice of committing suicide.  An ironic point, is that the Band could not even book any gigs on their own because of the contracts they had signed with scumbag, Polley.  (Again Collins had really let them down, I mean good grief, hire a barrister and get an injunction against Polley.)  Another point to be clear about, is that suicide is never the answer to any problem.  Their was talk about Ham’s growing erratic behavior at the time of his suicide, but there is no way to know if he was suffering from a chemical imbalance or not.  Ham and Evans were drinking at a bar that night, commiserating about their circumstances.  After their bender at the local Pub, Evans dropped Ham off at his house, and Ham went out to his garage-studio and hung himself.  Obviously, suicide is not a rational decision in any situation.  Was he just hyper emotional and the mix of alcohol blurred that line of reality?  Or was he really having mental health issues?  It is impossible to say.  What is clear, is that a very talented songwriter and musician died far too early, he was just 27 years old.  

After Hams death, Gibbins became a session drummer in Wales playing on such things as Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s Heartache”.  Mike Gibbins was a great drummer.  I always liked his drumming a lot.  Not flashy, just very tasty.  The remaining band members pulled themselves together and made a go-of-it a couple of different times.  They even had Gibbons back in the line-up once or twice, but without their talented leader, Pete Ham, it was never the same and not very successful.   Eight years after Hams suicide, Evans committed suicide as well and Badfinger was over.  Evans left a note that he was joining his good friend Pete Ham.  In 2005, Gibbins died from a brain aneurysm.

Molland, the lone survivor, has kept an iteration of the band going through the years, but as the only original member left and it was a mere shell of what they had previously been.
Who knows what songs Pete Ham had left in him?  It is a such a shame we will never know.  The good news is, we will always have the recordings of Badfinger to remind us what they were, and what they maybe could have been



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