Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Badfinger - Straight Up

Badfinger were a fantastic rock/pop outfit whose hey-day was the late 60's through the mid-70's, during which they released several hit records including "Come and Get It", "No Matter What", "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue", as well as writing Nilsson's smash "Without You" (their version did not chart). Often compared to the Beatles - they were signed to Apple, "Come & Get It" was written by McCartney and Harrison produced and played on some of their recordings - some people even thought this was the Beatles incognito when they first appeared. But, Badfinger proved they had their own style and substance and while most of the records are terrific, this one is considered by many (including myself) to be the best.

While I have read that the group wanted to head into a more hard-rock sound, their songs were pop masterpieces and that is what comes across on this disc. Pete Ham was the undisputed leader of the band - at least until guitarist Joey Molland joined and his aggressiveness overpowered Ham, leading to friction between the members. But here, it seems, they were working together to create a fine sound.

Opening with one of Ham's organ-based gorgeous pop ballads, "Take It All", the record starts slow, but beautifully. One of their biggest hits follows, though, the amazing "Baby Blue' - pretty much pop perfection with big guitar chords, cool riffs, melancholy lyrics and wonderful melodies and harmonies. While Ham was probably the superior songwriter, he did let the others make their additions, such as bassist Tom Evans' "Money" & "Flying" (co-written by Molland). These are slow-to-mid-tempo numbers filled with harmonies and some more cool guitar work.

Molland provides a rocker in "I'd Rather Die", and this is probably the direction the band was talking about when they've said that they wanted to be harder, but Todd Rundgren's production, while sounding great, does not give this much of an edge. Pretty damn cool, regardless. Ham returns with another painfully lovely, piano-based tune, "Name of the Game", exquisitely crafted, tugging at your heart as it builds to the sad chorus. Joey replies with a funky rock number, "Suitcase", that has nice slide guitar riffage throughout, which he follows with a quite Beatles-esque "Sweet Tuesday Morning" (with hints of a more serious "Rocky Racoon").

One of their biggest hits is another gut-wreching tale of love from Ham, "Day After Day", complete with dual slide guitars from Ham & George Harrison and very Beatles-esque backing harmonies. Short and incredibly sweet, another wonderful piece of pop majesty. It's funny that I never really noticed the difference in the writing styles of Ham and Molland - Joey's "Sometimes" is another rocker with pop overtones, while Pete's tunes are beautiful pop tunes with a rock band backing. Another example of this is "Perfection" - mostly acoustic guitars and well-placed percussion, this again is one that pulls at the heart-strings - his passion is always apparent, while Molland seems like he just wanted to rock (which is fine in its own right). As simple as this is, though, it is an incredible song of pacifism  and a highlight of the record. Bassist Tom gets to close the official album with the appropriately title "It's Over".

This CD has no less than 6 bonus tracks - original versions (before Rundgren stepped in) of "Money", "Flying", "Name of the Game", "Suitcase", "Perfection" as well as the single version of "Baby Blue", with loud, reverbed snare drum giving it some AM Radio punch. The first three have added orchestration from George Martin along with somewhat different vocals and harmonies. "Name of the Game" does not sound as heartfelt here - in fact, while I dig hearing the differences, I think the official releases are all better. "Suitcase" is more of a rocker with more prominent guitar and "Perfection" lacks the cool percussion and adds a synthesizer.

This is not power-pop as it is described today, but it is an amazing pop/rock album with tons of harmonies and Beatles influences. A criminally under-rated band and record.