Wednesday, November 23, 2011
FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-BADFINGER
Badfinger's history is best described by that famous quote about there being no happy ending when you tell the rest of the story.
Prior to contractual problems, crooked management and the loss of two gifted songwriters to suicide, there was a band that created timeless music. Released at the tail end of 1971, Straight Up is their high water mark, though it had a difficult gestation period. Legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick was in the producer's chair first and they completed a full album, which Apple Records rejected. Joey Molland picks up the story from here.
We had already recorded a version of the album which Apple had turned down because they thought it was a bit crude sounding, and it kind of sounded like the No Dice record. They [Apple] were looking at doing something a bit more sophisticated for our second album. We had gone into the Manor which was Richard Branson’s studio in Oxford, by ourselves and had recorded a bunch of songs such as Blind Owl, Get Away, Timeless, and some of it was later used on the Ass  album. We gave that entire album we had recorded to Apple as the next Badfinger album but they knocked it back.
Enter George Harrison, who offered to run the sessions if they started the process from scratch. He produced four tracks; two were re-recordings of "Name of the Game" and "Suitcase" plus two new songs, "I'd Die Babe" and "Day After Day".
Working with George was a great experience, he was a master in the studio and he brought all his Beatles experience into the mix. George was very encouraging and co-operative. He would bring in his guitar and plug in and work on songs with you. He was only too willing to play a bit of rhythm guitar or some lead guitar and advise us on singing vocal parts. He did make us work around the microphone and made us sing all the backing vocals all at once. He wouldn’t let us overdub them one track at a time. So it was all the three part harmony done live. He also played the slide part with Pete on Day After Day. It took them about six hours to do that. He and Pete did that part together, overdubbed live, which is difficult, getting it right and getting the pitch right. George also played the acoustic rhythm on I’d Die Babe and that off-beat lead line in it too. That’s the only bits he actually played on the album.
Harrison had to then turn his attention to organizing the Bangladesh concerts and did not return to the project.
Todd Rundgren came in to finish the record. Todd was really hard to work with, a real egomaniac and it was insufferable. Baby Blue was recorded live except we overdubbed an acoustic, then Todd took the tapes off and did what he did to it. It was not an enjoyable experience working with him, but Straight Up was our best selling album.
Rundgren salvaged a bit from the Emerick recordings, kept Harrison's work and proceeded to tape some new tunes. He also did the final overall mix, for which he was not credited. Despite the number of cooks, the finished album is sequenced beautifully and has a uniform sound. Pete Ham and Tom Evans wrote great material, as did Joey Molland. Melodic with fantastic harmony structure, their tunes rarely strayed beyond the five minute mark. "Day After Day" is a perfect example, with verses every bit as memorable as the chorus. They were so much more than a sugary pop act though, capable of delivering harder edged performances and were a tight unit on stage.
Strength in arrangement, especially in the vocal department, puts their work in the category of another legendary British group to which they were closely tied. This connection would serve to both help and hinder the band throughout their short existence.
Ghostly backing vocals and fuzzed guitar arpeggios over piano are key drivers of their sound, coloring much of the material. "Take It All" even drops in a Garth Hudson-esque organ toward the fade. Power pop just was another dumb tag assigned to these guys. Ignore the labels and you'll find a wealth of clever transitions ("Money" gracefully coasting into "Flying"), hooks galore and epic sounding pieces (the stabbing horns and strings in "Name of the Game).
"Day After Day", "Baby Blue" and "It's Over" stand out, though there is not one bad song or wasted note to be found here. One of the best rock recordings of the early 70s, bar none.
So with such a winning combination, why would it linger in the "forgotten" files?
Money stole my lady
When Apple Records fell into financial chaos, legal machinations prevented the further pressing and distribution of this classic work. Badfinger's Apple albums became instant collectors items. Truly heartbreaking, considering the combined talents of this star-crossed group. Without proper distribution, their shot at getting a commercial foothold was finished before they even properly started. How rare was it to find this recording? I found Straight Up on vinyl in the mid- 80's. The asking price exceeded 100 dollars!
Rolling Stone's review at the time was negative, as well, which didn't help from a PR perspective. Further proof that if you base your buying habits solely on recommendations from Rolling Stone, you have a shitty music collection.
When years of legal wrangling were finally resolved, "Straight Up" was remastered and released on CD in 1993 with bonus tracks. Interesting it is for the audiophiles out there, as the bonus stuff is primarily the Geoff Emerick productions (His versions of "Name of the Game" and "Suitcase" are awesome). Well worth looking for. Sadly, Badfinger is known primarily for the series of tragic events that ripped them apart, rather than the transcendent music that they created. This is a "must have" LP.