The band that would evolve into Badfinger began in the early 1960s as The Panthers in Swansea, Wales. The Panthers consisted of Pete Ham (lead guitar), Ron Griffiths (bass guitar), David ‘Dai’ Jenkins (guitar) and Roy Anderson (drums). By the mid ’60s, the band had changed their name to The Iveys; coined from a street in Swansea named Ivey Place as well as a nod to The Hollies. Not long after the name change, Mike Gibbins became the band’s permanent drummer. In 1966, Bill Collins began managing the band and they all relocated to a house in London at 7 Park Avenue, Golders Green. Although not savvy in business matters, Collins was instrumental in encouraging the band to write their own material and hone their craft. Collins insisted that the key to success in music was songwriting. In 1967, guitarist Dai Jenkins was replaced by Liverpudlian Tommy Evans and The Iveys lineup was complete.
In 1968 Beatles roadie Mal Evans brought them to the attention of Lennon and McCartney and they wasted no time signing them to the freshly minted Apple. The debut single “Maybe Tomorrow” (an apt title considering their eventual travails) made some noise in Europe and Japan but not surprisingly in the UK or US. Tony Visconti produced most of the album bearing the same name (this before he went on to great things with T. Rex, David Bowie et al) while Mal Evans added his bit to the band’s ideas.
Oddly the album wasn’t released in the UK or America and it transpired that demos sent to Apple were being rejected either by The Beatles (this seems unlikely) or by the label executives (far more likely given the organizsd chaos at HQ). Sensing their disappointment McCartney offered them songs he was writing for a movie soundtrack to the in-production film The Magic Christian, starring Ringo and Peter Sellers. “Come And Get It” was the Macca gem while Ivey’s offered “Carry On Till Tomorrow” and “Rock Of All Ages”.
During this period Griffiths was replaced by Liverpudlian guitarist Joey Molland, and they also changed their name. Lennon’s acerbic suggestion that they call themselves The Prix was probably none too serious and Macca’s Home was also rejected. They settled on Badfinger, a reference to the working title of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends”, aka “Bad Finger Boogie”: apparently Lennon had hurt his finger playing the piano on that track, hence his bad finger….
“Come And Get It” was an immediate hit and a worldwide delight. It reached #7 in the US and #4 in Britain. Now they had the reason to record an album they went to work on The Magic Christian, remixing tracks from The Ivey’s Maybe Tomorrow, including Macca’s earlier productions for the movie and some newer compositions. Badfinger were up and running.
Given their confusing routine the second album No Dice can really be viewed as Badfinger’s proper debut. It contains the classic “No Matter What” - where their delicious harmonies and superb musicianship power the track along. Here you’ll also find the original of “Without You” and wonder why they didn’t release that as a single themselves? Still, Harry Nilsson did the honours and so the Ham and Evans partnership was rewarded with the Ivor Novello Song of the Year accolade in 1972. Mariah Carey covered it again in 1994 - and the song is obviously now a standard. Better late than never….
The No Dice era was when Badfinger were peaking. Ham and Evans sang backing vocals on Ringo’s hit “It Don’t Come Easy” on the Ringo LP sessions (also featuring the other Fabs as well as Nilsson, The Band, Marc Bolan, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner and Klaus Voorman).
Evans and Molland played acoustic guitars on Lennon’s Imagine album, contributing to “Jealous Guy” and “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”. Once again they came into contact with the biggest names in the business, Phil Spector for one.
Back in Abbey Road Badfinger began new sessions with George Harrison and Geoff Emerick, but when the Beatles’ guitarist left to finalise his Bangladesh project the Philly pop genius Todd Rundgren was drafted in to re-record some of the material and also oversee several brand new songs. The resulting album Straight Up spawned their biggest hit, since “Day After Day” made #4 in the US and 310 in the UK, and turned Gold in 1972. Harrison’s electric slide guitar is the prominent instrument but Ham’s accompanying rhythm guitar is equally spectacular. Other guests are Leon Russell on piano and guitar and Voorman on electric piano. George also played guitar on “I’d Die Babe” making Straight Up an essential discovery for Badfinger fans and Beatles obsessives.
Rundgren began the production work for Ass but his methods didn’t always delight the group. In 1974 Pete ham recalled how,
“We tried to produce Ass ourselves, initially. And we needed someone to save the day, because we weren’t all that experienced, you know? Everybody’s idea of a good production is different. That was one of the problems. Because we had four different opinions. So we had to get somebody from the outside with that ear to say, ‘Hold it. You’ve gone a bit nuts there.'”
Enter Chris Thomas, engineer and part producer of the so-called “White Album”. Further legal complications held up the release of Ass where you’ll find the track “Apple of My Eye”, Ham’s bittersweet kiss off to the label and also, poignantly, the last single release on Apple Records.
Now all these albums are available with extras. The Iveys’ Maybe Tomorrow adds four bonus songs, including the wonderful Ham/Evans trade-off “And Her Daddy’s A Millionaire”. The Magic Christian Music by Badfinger disc adds an alternative version of that track and other remixes and mono mixes. The Digital bonus 2010 is a remaster with The Iveys song “Arthur” as a standout. The original album is also notable for McCartney’s piano on “Rock of All Ages” and his percussion on “Come and Get It.”
1970’s No Dice must be heard for the CD bonus tracks/2010 remaster of “No Matter What” in mono studio demo form and the demo of “Without You” which is the early attempt that Nilsson used as his guideline/template. That song really made Nilsson.
1971’s Straight Up is often considered to be Badfinger’s most fully-realised power pop masterpiece, and the remaster is a thing of wonder for sure with earlier versions of “Name of the Game”, the US single mix of “Baby Blue” and the unreleased before “No Good at All” and “Sing for the Song”. The digital-download adds miraculously rediscovered work in progress attempts at “Money”, Molland’s epic “Mean, Mean Jemima” and Ham’s “Perfection”. Listen to this: it is fantastic.
Original producer Harrison wanted to introduce a mature concept that could echo The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. That was how he envisaged Straight Up. A sterling idea that was scuppered by George’s urgent departure to stage the Concert for Bangladesh show in New York City. But at least Ham, Evans and Molland and their acoustic guitars got to participate there while Gibbins played percussion. Those reading the small print on George’s All Things Must Pass would already have seen that the Badfinger boys were all over that triple bonanza, credited as “Badfinger” for their “Rhythm Guitars and Percussion”. You can hear them on “My Sweet Lord”, “Wah-Wah”, “The Art of Dying”, “Awaiting On You All”, “Isn’t It A Pity” and “Beware of Darkness” – only some of the greatest songs ever recorded, then!
On Bangladesh Pete Ham played alongside Harrison for an acoustic duo of “Here Comes The Sun” and one can now see Badfinger’s presence on the 2005 DVD release of the historic documentary film with bonus ‘Extra’ sections.
The final Apple release Ass is often ignored but contains much of merit. Tom Evans’ wah wah solo on “Blind Owl” is worth the price of entry and the usual 2010 remaster/digital download versions are packed with great alternates, early mixes and the unreleased “Piano Red”. Apple Records fanatics note the “Apple of My Eye” b/w “Blind Owl” single release from December 1973 was the last single on the label (Apple 49), one that wasn’t performed by an ex-Beatle, and it remains a nice collectable with the band’s name appearing four times on the label – arranged by, produced by, written by, and as the group BADFINGFER in bold caps. Some kind of record!
A new contract with Warner Bros. gave us the self-titled Badfinger (1974), Wish You Were Here (1974), Airwaves (1979), Say No More (1981). Day After Day: Live is an archival treasure from 1974 while the BBC in Concert 1972-1973 is as close as we’ll get to the band in their pomp today.
Of great interest is Head First, an unreleased album from 1974, recorded at Apple Studios but without Molland who had temporarily departed. Packed with songs about the music business and management in general this is a snapshot in time.
Joey Molland still keeps the Badfinger name alive and old fans still swear by the excellence of the original group. They’re not wrong either. Set aside some time to discover some Badfinger. If you want it, here it is, come and get it.
Words: Max Bell
If Badfinger's debut album Magic Christian Music sounds patchy, there's a reason why: It was assembled from three different sources. Although the title suggests that the record is a soundtrack to The Magic Christian it isn't. It's a hodgepodge, containing the group's three contributions to the film, six highlights from the band's pre-Badfinger album Maybe Tomorrow (released when they were known as the Iveys), an alternate take from Maybe Tomorrow, and four new songs. It's little wonder that it doesn't hold together, winding up as a document of Badfinger's unharnessed potential. Since their breakthrough hit "Come and Get It" was written by Paul McCartney, Badfinger was dogged by comparisons to the Beatles but they were hardly copyists. Elements of the Hollies, the Kinks, and very mild psychedelia are discernable throughout Magic Christian Music, all part of the band's search for their own voice. Apart from the lovely pop tune "Dear Angie" and Tom Evans' stately, yearning "Maybe Tomorrow," the Iveys numbers aren't particularly distinguished pop but they are, by and large, pleasant period pieces. On the newer material, Badfinger sounds stronger and their craftsmanship surfaces. Pete Ham emerges as a fine songsmith, with the convincing rocker "Midnight Sun" and the gentle "Walk Out in the Rain." Still, the true standouts among the newer songs are "Crimson Ship" and "Carry on Till Tomorrow," both co-written by Ham and Evans. They're two sides of the same coin - dreamy post-psych pop tunes driven by strong hooks and harmonies. They might not always deliver on that promise on Magic Christian Music, but with its appealing melodies, lite psychedelic flourishes and, yes, Beatlesque harmonies, it's an enjoyable artifact of its time.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Badfinger's second album No Dice kicks off with "I Can't Take It," a rocker that signaled even if Badfinger still played pop and sang ballads, they considered themselves a rock band. What gave Badfinger character is they blended their desire to rock with their sensitive side instead of compartmentalizing. Even when they rock on No Dice, it's never earthy, like, say, the Stones. Badfinger's very sensibility and sound is modeled after the early British Invasion, where bands sang catchy, concise love songs. Yet there's a worldliness to their music absent from that of their forefathers, partially because Badfinger styled themselves as classicists, adapting the sound of their idols and striving to create a similar body of work. No Dice bears this out, boasting old-fashioned rockers, catchy pop tunes, and acoustic ballads. On the surface, there's nothing special about such a well-crafted, sharply produced, straight-ahead pop record, but the pleasure of a power pop album is in the craft. No Dice is not without flaws -- a byproduct of an all-writing, all-singing band is that some songs don't measure up -- but it does achieve the right balance of craft, fun, and emotion, due in no small part to Pete Ham's songwriting. Ham dominates the record, providing note-perfect openers and closers, along with the centerpiece singles "No Matter What" and "Without You," the latter a yearning, painful ballad co-written with Tom Evans. Collaborating with new guitarist Joey Molland, Evans wrote two other excellent songs ("I Don't Mind," "Better Days"), while Molland's own "Love Me Do" chugs along with nice momentum. Still, the heart of the album lies in Ham's work.. He proves that songcraft is what separates great power-pop from good, and it's what makes No Dice a superb pop record.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Badfinger produced the sessions for the Straight Up sequel themselves, abandoning its lush production for a live, hard-rocking sound. Apple wasn't keen on the record, insisting that it be remixed, then, once it was remixed, refusing to release it, so the band jumped ship to Warner Bros. in the fall of 1973. Just after Badfinger released their debut single for the label and were prepping a new album, Apple sprung Ass on the world. As it happened, it would be the last record Apple would release, so it was barely given any support by the label and made little impression on the sales charts. Still, it certainly hurt the band, since its heavier rock alienated some pop fans and its chart belly-flop tainted plans for a triumphant return on Warner. Truth is, Ass probably should have remained on Apple's shelves. Their eponymous Warner debut, which appeared just months after Ass, feels more like the sequel to Straight Up than this. Where that album is an unabashed pop record, Ass is the sound of a pop band rocking out rather clumsily. That's not to say it's without its moments, since Pete Ham's "Timeless" and "Apple of My Eye" (a hurt but lovely kiss-off to their label) are pretty good. But, by and large, Ass is a misguided effort, heavy on stumbling rockers and mediocre songs. It may be tempting to lay some of the blame at Joey Molland's feet, since he wrote half of the album, but that's too easy. Badfinger was in a transitional phase and chances are, Ass would have stiffed if Ham had written half of the record. It wasn't fated to be a great album, and it wound up being the weakest thing the original band cut.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Badfinger had signed to Warner Brothers around 72/73 before the release of their final Apple-album "Ass". The recordings for the first album for their new company began in June 73, with Chris Thomas as the producer. The title for the new album changed twice during its creation. Originally it was to be called "Wish You Were Here"; that title was later changed to "For Love Or Money" and finally the album ended up just as "Badfinger". The album has often been critizised for being rushed and inconsistant; and is often considered one of the band's weakest , which doesn't neccessarily mean that is a weak album - in fact none of their albums are.
Most of the music on this album comes as a logical continuation of "Ass". This doesn't mean that no new grounds are explored - on the contrary. On Pete's "Matted Spam" the band experiments with funky/jazzy rhythms and Tom's "Why Don't We Talk" doesn't sound like anything they'd done before; the song is quite Lennon like and features a short but great guitar solo from Pete. This is one thing characterising the album: some very inspired leadguitar parts by Pete Ham ( he played almost all lead on it). Pete is also the main contributor of songs, and among them is the majestic "Lonely You" would have been a logical choice for a single. Unfortunately Warner chose Molland's "Love is Easy", which although it had a good guitar-riff, suffered from strained vocals and a production that sounded unfinished; the song also lacks variation in rhytm and melody. The second single "I Miss You" was an almost equally poor choice. The song doesn't have a hit-potential at all, but it's certainly a fine album-track. Its B-side "Shine On"; similar to "I'll Be The One" in style and sound; would have been a much better choice. Mike Gibbins wrote "My Heart Goes Out" for the album and for the first time Mike really shows his songwriting abilities, the song was easily his strongest contribution to Badfinger so far. All in all the album Badfinger is really a very good album; much better than its reputation. It contains several very strong tracks, some good tracks and - admitted a few weak/unfinished tracks (Andy Norris / Love is Easy ).
My favourites: Lonely You, Shine On, Song For A Lost Friend, Where Do We Go From Here and My Heart Goes Out
Words: Morten Vindbergon
Released in 1989 when the post-Apple albums were hard to come by, Rhino's The Best of Badfinger, Vol. 2 does an excellent job of summarizing the last three Pete Ham albums (Badfinger, Wish You Were Here, and the unreleased [until 2000] Head First), adding a couple of selections from Airwaves for good measure. Fanatics can complain about missing tracks (and, at a certain stage, most Badfinger fans were fanatics by their very nature), yet this hits most of the high points, offering proof that the group remained viable -- in some ways getting better -- until the end. Wish You Were Here remains essential, and Capitol's 2000 The Very Best of Badfinger is the best overall compilation, yet as a sampler of the group's latter days, this is hard to beat.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine