Monday, November 19, 2018

BADFINGER Expanded editions reviewed!

Stephen SPAZ Schnee reviews Real Gone Music's 
expanded reissues of 

There’s no story in Rock ‘n’ Roll more tragic than the story of Badfinger. What started out as a dream-come-true for all four members – Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Mike Gibbins and Joey Molland – ended up a clusterfuck of bad luck and tragedy. If you want to know more about Badfinger, author Dan Matovina wrote a fantastic biography entitled WITHOUT YOU: THE TRAGIC STORY OF BADFINGER so you should try to track down a copy of that. For this review, I’ll summarize the band’s career leading up to the release of their two albums on Warner Brothers:

British rock quartet The Iveys signed a deal with The Beatles’ Apple Records label. They recorded an album, but it received limited release to little fanfare. They changed their name to Badfinger (replacing Iveys member Ron Griffiths with Molland) and Paul McCartney wrote and produced their first hit single “Come And Get It.” Badfinger achieved more success with their singles “No Matter What,” “Day After Day.” and “Baby Blue”. Harry Nilsson recorded a massively successful version of the Ham/Evans-penned “Without You.” By 1972, the band was having issues with their management and Apple Records, which was experiencing problems of its own. When ASS, their long-awaited follow-up to the 1971 hit album STRAIGHT UP was constantly delayed, they left Apple Records and signed with Warner Bros. in 1973.

OK, now you’re caught up…

When signed to Apple, Badfinger were constantly in The Beatles’ shadow. While they were proud of their affiliation with the Fab Four, the press would focus on The Beatles and constantly ask the members of Badfinger questions about them rather than focusing on whatever Badfinger release they were promoting. Switching from Apple to Warners was a creative and emotional break with the past, allowing the band to shake off those Beatles chains and spread their musical wings. ASS producer Chris Thomas stuck with the band, producing their self-titled debut for Warners. BADFINGER - released in February 1974 - was most certainly a stylistic change from anything the band had recorded up to that point. From the Country Rock flavored “Shine On” to the Average White Band-influenced “Matted Spam,” nothing was off limits, stylistically, for the band.


Showcasing their skills as musicians and songwriters, BADFINGER was a bold attempt to move away from their ‘mentors’ and assume their own musical identity. However, the album’s broad musical palette might have been too much of a change for the record buying audience. Side One begins with the whimsical Ham ballad “I Miss You,” which was paired as a single with the album’s next track, “Shine On.” Molland’s restrained rocker “Love Is Easy” has a slight Glam influence and was an odd choice for a single, but perhaps this was a decision to prove that they were more than just a vehicle for Pete Ham’s Pop hits. Tommy’s “Why Don’t We Talk” is a great slice of Pop from Evans while “Island” is another fine Molland rocker. Side Two is especially eclectic. Beginning with the aforementioned AWB/Doobie Brothers-esque “Matted Spam,” the album takes a lot of creatively successful twists and turns. The Caribbean vibes of Evans’ “Where Do We Go From Here?” is followed by the gentle finger-picked Folk of Gibbins’ “My Heart Goes Out,” which then leads into Ham’s McCartney-esque ballad, “Lonely You.” Molland’s moody and emotionally powerful “Give It Up” and his rocking “Andy Norris” close the album. Though stylistically divergent, the tracks do fit together well, showcasing their individual talents. Fans who consider Badfinger a Power Pop fan may not find much on the album that fit that genre’s description but there is still so much to love on BADFINGER. Sadly, the album was greeted by a genuinely confused fanbase who had just gone out and bought ASS, which was finally released by Apple just two short months earlier. Record buyers had been waiting two years for new Badfinger music and were suddenly greeted with a pair of stylistically different albums in such a short amount of time. Needless to say, neither ASS nor BADFINGER made a big dent in the charts. (For the record, if “Lonely You” had been released shortly after “Day After Day,” it could have been a massive hit.)

Real Gone Music’s Expanded Edition of BADFINGER features a remaster of the original album, a previously unreleased song penned by Evans and ‘work in progress’ mixes of nine tracks from the album. These mixes are early versions of recordings that made the album in various early stages of mixing. To hear “Matted Spam” without the horn section and “Lonely You” without the lead guitar is quite fascinating. Every ‘work in progress’ mix is a must-hear for Badfinger lovers… which probably means YOU, the reader, since you’ve come this far!


With two commercially unsuccessful albums under their belts, the band needed to rectify the situation and headed straight into the studio to record their second album for Warners. It has been said that the band were totally unprepared when they began recording WISH YOU WERE HERE, but you’d never know it by listening to the end results. Produced again by Chris Thomas, WISH YOU WERE HERE finds Badfinger refocused and at the peak of their Pop powers. Every single note on WYWH has a purpose. Every melody sounds like it floated down from Heaven. While the band may have spent the previous few years trying to escape the specter of The Beatles, WISH YOU WERE HERE, for all intents and purposes, is their ABBEY ROAD. Thomas’ lush and warm production manages to take the band’s excellent batch of songs to the next level. Recorded in 1974 under a lot of pressure, this is an album that sounds… timeless (Badfinger pun intended).

On previous Badfinger albums, Joey Molland had been the meat-and-potatoes Rock ‘n’ Roll glue that acted as a bridge between the Pop leanings of Ham and Evans. While he certainly proved he had a way with a melody on past albums (particularly on STRAIGHT UP), WYWH is when he really stepped up to the plate and offered up some absolute Power Pop classics. The album also focused on Joey’s harmonies with Pete, who would normally be paired up with Tommy in the past. For the first time, it was as if the ‘new kid’ was finally getting his time to shine.

Album opener “Just A Chance” (by Ham) has become an acknowledged Power Pop classic but hardly reveals the depth of the album. Gibbins’ “Your (sic) So Fine” is dominated by great Molland/Ham harmonies and a jaunty, Country Rock flavored vibe. Molland’s “Got To Get Out Of Here” is dark and brooding, as powerful as it is lovely. “Know One Knows” is another Ham gem (and was released as a single in some territories). Pete’s emotional “Dennis” closes out Side One. While everyone mentions the two medleys on Side Two, “Dennis” is essentially a medley of three Ham songs linked together by a similar lyrical theme. The final third of the song is stunningly beautiful. Side Two opens with “In The Meantime/Some Other Time,” a jaw-dropping medley of songs composed separately by Gibbins and Molland. The arrangement of the track combines Power Pop with just a hint of Prog. Molland’s tender “Love Time” follows, buoyed by some great harmonies and pretty melody. Evans makes his only songwriting and lead vocal appearance with the delicious Soft Pop of “King Of The Load (T).” The album’s closer, “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke” is another remarkable medley featuring a song by Pete joined at the hip with one by Joey. The melodic hooks of the track are carried along by a Rock ‘n’ Roll boogie groove that feels like it points towards the band’s future. STRAIGHT UP may be their most beloved album but WISH YOU WERE HERE is their masterpiece. The band’s internal issues, problems with their management and financial worries could have added tension that explains the muscular sound of the album, but Thomas must receive a lot of credit for the end results. He and the members of Badfinger created not only one of the greatest Power Pop albums of all time – it is #11 (out of 200) in John M. Borack’s SHAKE SOME ACTION 2.0 book – they also created one of the greatest albums of our generation. WISH YOU WERE HERE is an astonishing album from start to finish.

Unfortunately, Warner Bros. discovered that Badfinger’s manager had siphoned money from an account and they pulled the album from the shelves roughly two months after it was released. The band were forced to record yet another album but Pete Ham, devastated by the band’s financial issues, committed suicide in April 1975. That final album - HEAD FIRST - remained unreleased for over two decades.

Real Gone Music’s Expanded Edition of WISH YOU WERE HERE features a digital remaster of the album, a previously unreleased band demo of a song by Tom Evans, and 2018 mixes of eight of the album’s tracks. These modern mixes turn down some of the familiar elements of the released versions and focuses on vocals and instruments that were mixed down on – or out of - the final mix. The horn fanfare on “Got To Get Out Of Here” is stunning, making it sound like it was influenced by SGT. PEPPER. There are additional strings and unheard Molland vocal harmonies on “In The Meantime/Some Other Time.” There are some great horn blasts on “Just A Chance.” There’s a harmonica running loose on “Your So Fine.” And the list goes on. While these mixes will not necessarily replace the original mixes in fans hearts, it is a fascinating and often stunning new ‘look’ at this sorely underrated album.

Both of these releases were overseen by Badfinger biographer Dan Matovina. He definitely deserves a warm round of applause! 

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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