Saturday, October 24, 2009

The CDs: Badfinger

Take a look at these guys: the carefully coiffed hair of the post-Beatles pop-rock band. Badfinger were under the wing of the former mop tops from the get-go. Their first hit was a McCartney composition: ‘Come and Get It.’ And they were signed to Apple Records. On the only album of theirs I own, 1972's Straight Up, George Harrison produces 4 of the 12 tracks and adds his trademark All Things Must Pass era slide to the hit single ‘Day After Day.’ Harrison was supposed to do the whole thing but had to split to help save Bangla Desh, so in the end early ‘70s hit-meister Todd Rundgren took the helm. On the re-mastered CD, six of the tracks are also presented in versions produced by The Beatles’ sound engineer Geoff Emerick.

So, yeah, the sound of Badfinger on Staight Up is as close to The Beatles as you can get at the time. At times, particularly with some of the vocals sporting the husky tone of McCartney’s singing in the later Beatles’ releases, and with the harmonies modelled on the Fab Four, you can almost believe you’re hearing demos of unreleased Beatles material.

Why demos? Because Badfinger never manages the full panoply of The Beatles sound; if you compare this record to Abbey Road, Straight Up is a bit thin. There’s none of the heaviness that The Beatles, largely due to Lennon, mustered for every album. The musical ideas here are serviceable, and what they did rather well, in 1972, is sound just reminiscent enough to give an extra poignancy to radio songs like ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Day After Day,’ 45s that were part of my transition to early ‘teens. The songs have a certain melancholy grandeur I always liked, and still do: ‘looking out of my lonely room / day after day.’ It’s in the ringing sound of the voices and bright guitars chiming so well together.

Hearing the hits in situ with the other tracks, when I first got this CD a few years back (in the beginning of my ‘relive the ‘70s period'), was a bit revelatory. The whole record is satisfyingly listenable, even if --- to sustain my listening -- I have to accept the CD as an album of the period, in a way I don’t for those albums of earlier eras that manage to convince of their intrinsic worth decade after decade. A song like ‘Name of the Game’ is an exceptionable track, standing out because of its anthemic tone. But too much of the stuff tends to blend into a vaguely Beatlesque sound that, one feels, the band simply congratulated themselves on attaining.

After all, this was the early period after The Beatles went their separate ways, and many were still pining for some type of musical reunion. Badfinger, of course, didn’t have the skills to be heir apparents, but they did have enough of the sound to make them, briefly, ‘the poor man’s version.’ At some of the stronger moments on this record, one might believe they could emerge from that founding shadow, but if they dropped the Beatleisms, what would they be? The Joey Molland tunes, as opposed to those by Beatlesque Pete Ham, suggest a kind of lighter Bad Company. And who needs that?

In any case, there they remain: remembrancers of that time when everyone wanted to be The Beatles, except The Beatles themselves.


Ricky H said...

Unlike most Badfinger fans, I've never thought Straight Up was their best album. You should check out their Wish You Were Here album.

Donald Brown said...

Thanks, I should indeed do that.