Badfinger - Biography
The story of Badfinger is one filled with tantalizing promise, modest success, and crushing tragedy. Initially viewed as something of an heir apparent to the Beatles' legacy, a combination of naivete, emotional fragility and misplaced trust served to rob this quartet of greater fame; their brief time in the limelight (1970-1974) ended with the suicide of their primary songwriter, effectively spelling the end for this talented group. Despite the band's tumultuous history, Badfinger has earned its place among the top tier of power pop groups.
The Swansea, Wales-based group that would later be rechristened Badfinger got its start in the mid-1960s as The Iveys; by the late 60s the lineup included Pete Ham (guitar, lead vocals, songwriting), Tom Evans (bass, vocals, songwriting), Mike Gibbins (drums, vocals, songwriting in later years) and Ron Griffiths (bass, vocals). Managed by former Mojos roadie, Bill Collins, the group came to the attention of Mal Evans, the Beatles' roadie. The Iveys were eventually signed to The Beatles' new Apple label; there they were featured on a November 1968 single ("Maybe Tomorrow" b/w “And Her Daddy's a Millionaire”). The single did not chart. The group's next release was on July 1969 limited-edition "Wall's Ice Cream" EP designed to promote the new label. The disc included their "Storm in a Teacup" (eventually reissued as a bonus track on Badfinger's Magic Christian Music CD) alongside other Apple artists Jackie Lomax, James Taylor and Mary Hopkin.
Paul McCartney counted himself among a fan of the group, and felt they deserved more success. (This was not the first time he championed little-known groups: in 1967 he suggested that the pop group Fire should remix their failed single "Father's Name Was Dad." They took his advice, though the new version fared little better on the charts.) McCartney went into EMI's studio in Abbey Road, London—home to most of the Beatles' recordings—and single-handedly recorded a demo of an original song, "Come and Get It." McCartney then presented this demo to the group with instructions to re-record it, following his arrangement exactly. He also suggested changing their name to Badfinger. The group did as told and were rewarded with their first hit (Billboard #7).
By this time, Griffiths had been edged out by management, replaced by Tom Evans’ fellow Liverpudlian, Joey Molland (guitar, vocals, songwriting), formerly of Gary Walker & the Rain. Molland brought a harder edge to the group, whose songs—as shown on their debut Magic Christian Music—were solid but a bit on the twee, lightweight side.
That debut album—essentially a compilation built of songs from the soundtrack of the film The Magic Christian, plus tracks produced by Tony Visconti and (ostensibly) Mal Evans—did include a number of worthy tracks, including the Simon and Garfunkel pastiche "Carry On Till Tomorrow," "Walk Out in the Rain," and "Maybe Tomorrow" (Billboard #67). Molland was listed on the sleeve as a member, although he joined just prior to the album's February 1970 release.
Later in 1970 the quartet released their first proper album, No Dice. A more cohesive effort, it boasted a number of hits including "No Matter What" (Billboard #8) and the original version of "Without You," later to become a standard and receive cover treatment from Harry Nilsson (Billboard #1, 1973 Grammy for Best Pop Vocal) and Mariah Carey (Billboard #3). Now, at the height of their popularity and as Apple's second-most successful act, they toured extensively, with dates throughout the UK and USA.
The sessions for the group's 1971 follow-up, Straight Up, were to be produced by George Harrison, but he bowed out mid-project to organize the Concert for Bangladesh (Badfinger would appear onstage as backup at that event, adding to the "wall of sound" approach favored by the concert's audio co-producer Phil Spector). Todd Rundgren was brought in to finish the sessions. His seemingly rushed approach did not endear him to the band, but the resulting album was another hit (Billboard #31). The album included the hits "Day After Day” (Billboard #4) and "Baby Blue" (Billboard #14).
Around this time the band became involved with business figure Stan Polley. As Apple began its descent into disarray in the wake of The Beatles' ongoing litigation, Polley took more of the reins of the group's finances, assuming a role not unlike Allen Klein’s for The Beatles. 1973 saw no new releases for the group, but Polley began negotiations for a new Badfinger contract with Warner Brothers. The result was the near-simultaneous release of two Badfinger albums in 1974, Ass (Apple) and the self-titled Badfinger (Warner).
The band-produced Ass bore no hits, although it featured standout tracks "Apple of My Eye" (a romantic farewell to their label) and the epic "Timeless." Ass reached the lower rungs of the album charts (Billboard #122). The group's touring schedule continued largely unabated, but the live set did not mirror the group's studio output, relying instead more on harder rocking material such as Molland’s Straight Up number "Suitcase" and a cover of Delaney and Bonnie's "Only You Know and I Know." A live date from this era was recorded and released in 1990 (laden with controversial post-production work by guitarist Joey Molland) as Day After Day.
The first Warner Bros. album fared even worse on the charts (Billboard #161) though it included several worthy tracks. Two singles were issued (“Love is Easy” and “I Miss You”) but neither charted.
Wish You Were Here (no relation to the album of the same name released by Pink Floyd ten months later) marked the artistic high water mark for the band. On one level, everything was going right for Badfinger. The Chris Thomas-led sessions marked the first time Badfinger recorded an entire album with one producer. The pressures seemed to spur the band toward creativity: even though the session was mere weeks after the Badfinger sessions, all four members turned in strong compositions, highlighted by two medleys ("In The Meantime” / “Some Other Time" and "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch" / "Should I Smoke") that called to mind The Beatles' work on Abbey Road.
Yet the album (Billboard #148) was stillborn in the marketplace. Citing financial irregularities centered around Polley’s alleged making off with the band’s huge advance, Warner Brothers pulled Wish You Were Here from record store shelves within days of its release. The pressures on the band were mounting. Pete Ham quit, and was replaced by Bob Jackson on keyboards, guitar and vocals. Told that Warner Bros. would drop the group without his contribution, Ham rejoined, and Jackson stayed on. The group continued performing, embarking on a UK tour supporting Welsh jam band Man. At the end of the tour, Joey Molland left the band.
Allegedly as a gambit to extract further advances from Warner Bros., Polley rushed the band (now Ham, Jackson, Evans and Gibbins) into the studios yet again to record a follow-up to Wish You Were Here. Production duties were handled by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise (known primarily for their work with Gladys Knight and on the first KISS album). In light of the financial irregularities, Warner Bros. declined to accept the tapes, and the album was shelved. A rough mix was finally released on Snapper in 2000 as Head First. The album showed a continuation of the style showcased on Wish You Were Here, but the songwriting was slightly less remarkable.
In the wake of mounting financial, business, creative and personal pressures, leader Pete Ham committed suicide by hanging on April 24, 1975. While the financial messes (involving Apple, Warners, Polley and the band) would continue for years, the classic lineup of the band was finished.
Over the next decade, various members of Badfinger would repeatedly try to resuscitate the Badfinger brand. In the early 1980s, Molland and Evans (with others, sometimes including Jackson and/or Gibbins) would reform as Badfinger, releasing two albums (Airwaves and Say No More) but neither captured the classic sound of the old group’s heyday (nor did these set the charts on fire, for that matter). Amidst personal and ongoing financial battles, the band split and reformed numerous times. At one point in the 1980s, two bands (one led by Molland, one by Evans) simultaneously toured as Badfinger. Amidst this turbulent backdrop, Tom Evans became the second member of Badfinger to take his own life; he died—like Ham, by hanging—on November 19, 1983.
Almost by default, Joey Molland subsequently ended up with rights to the Badfinger name. He would continue to tour with an assortment of musicians (billed variously as Badfinger, Joey Molland, and "Joey Molland of Badfinger") into the 21st century. In 1996 the song “Without You” received an award at the annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards ceremony. The event was not without controversy, since it erroneously credited the Ham-Evans-composed song to the rest of the band plus manager Bill Collins.
In 1979, Stan Polley had been ordered by the courts to repay Warner Bros. a portion of the advance. In 1985, most of Badfinger’s financial litigation with Apple was concluded. Collins died in 2002. Former Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins died in October 2005.
Despite the tumult and tragedy that followed the band, their legacy of first-rate rock/pop remains. A strong clutch of hits and high-quality album tracks exerted influence on a number of bands (especially in the powerpop subgenre), and the belated availability of the group’s catalog on CD (beginning in the 1990s) helped spur new interest in the band. A few albums of demo recordings by Pete Ham (and one by Tom Evans) were released, building on this interest, and two documentary films (one by VH1) and a well-researched book also saw release around the turn of the century.