The Original Bad Company Anthology

Bad Company

Elektra, 1999

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Bad Company isn’t quite a guilty pleasure for me—they’re bigger and better than that—but they were always one of those bands I’d listen to when their singles came on the radio, without ever buying the albums.  The appeal was simple: a memorably gritty voice fronting a muscular, guitar-heavy power trio sound, very much in the Led Zeppelin vein (which helps explain why they were the first group signed to Zep’s label, Swan Song). 

The band itself was something of a supergroup, with singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke coming from Free (“All Right Now”), bassist Boz Burrell moving over from King Crimson, and guitarist Mick Ralphs arriving from original British hooligans Mott The Hoople and dialing it up a notch in terms of the volume and pure impact of his playing.

This anthology came together around the 1998-99 reunion of the band’s original lineup, the first time the founding quartet had raised the flag since 1982, though Ralphs and Kirke had persisted through the ’80s and ’90s, achieving moderate success with a series of quickly forgotten vocalists taking Rodgers’ place.  The reunion itself was a major success, with a sold-out tour and the four all in good health and playing well, and good on them for having seized the moment, as Burrell has since passed away.

The anthology itself is a solid package of passionate hard rock music, delivered with gusto.  That’s almost a foregone conclusion with Rodgers’ exaggerated, at times over-the-top delivery, but the band’s support is dead on for most of the original eight-year run chronicled here, matching their frontman swagger for swagger. 

The thing about Bad Company is that they established a sound on their debut and more or less stuck to it for the original quartet’s entire run.  It’s a good sound, a powerful sound, and at times it’s terrifically entertaining, but as becomes apparent on a large collection like this, it doesn’t vary much.  You’ve got a fat guitar line, a thundering rhythm section behind it, and Paul Rodgers wailing his iconic blues-rock vocals over the top—wash, rinse and repeat.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ah, but that’s all that’s required to fuel immortal if by now rather hoary FM radio staples like “Can’t Get Enough,” “Rock Steady,” “Ready For Love,” “Bad Company,” “Movin’ On,” “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” all taken from the band’s first two barn-burning albums, 1974’s self-titled debut and 1975’s Straight Shooter.  These are songs that you already know well if you ever turned on the radio in the 1970s—or classic rock radio since the 1990s, for that matter.

What’s always interesting about a collection like this—a double-disc set from a group that only stayed together for six albums—is that they delve deeper into the group’s catalog, picking up plenty of secondary tunes that didn’t get flogged to death by radio back in the day.  And there are some excellent ones here: second-tier singles, album cuts, and a few unreleased tracks.

“Seagull” is a tremendous ballad, one that people have talked about a lot over the years as a potential single that got away—but at that stage in their career they simply weren’t releasing ballads as singles.  “Shooting Star” is a great song that should have charted higher than it did, as is “Run With The Pack” (even if the latter is simply a rewrite of “Bad Company”).  “Burnin’ Sky” is in fact quite fiery, an exorcism of the jealousy Rodgers is feeling since his woman has moved on to someone new.  From the same 1977 Burnin’ Sky album, “Too Bad" is a sparkling nugget full of sass and muscle. 

After that the pickings get slimmer, as the band searches for new sounds by adding keyboards and strings and comes up with their rather lukewarm 1979 album Desolation Angels, featuring the ho-hum single “Rock And Roll Fantasy,” as well as the one notable song that’s missing from this collection, the sinuous, singalong-worthy “Gone, Gone, Gone.” In its place, the steady-on “Evil Wind” features an outro solo with more swing to it than anything they’ve ever done, with Ralphs sounding almost like Carlos Santana.

You can definitely sense the enthusiasm and vigor fading by this time, though, as the band runs out of steam.  In particular, “Untie The Knot” and “Downhill Ryder” from the original lineup’s 1982 swan song Rough Diamonds verge on unlistenable; they’re limp, ineffectual shadows of what went before, with awful ’80s synthesizers polluting tracks by a band that more or less defined the raw, organic blues-rock sound in the ’70s.

Fortunately, as you move into the four new songs that were recorded for this collection, two penned by Rodgers and two by Ralphs (who typically split the main songwriting duties), the old magic reasserts itself.  It’s just the four guys with no synthesizers or strings, the original power trio with Rodgers out front.  The new material feels a little more mature, as one would expect, but “Hammer Of Love” has that old snap and thunder, and “Hey Hey” sounds like the middle-aged man’s version of “Can’t Get Enough”—“Hey, hey, I’m in love again,” delivered with fire and conviction.

Unlike many of its peers, this anthology actually delivers almost every track that a casual fan could ever want from the band.  I might never have bought a single studio album by the group, but The Original Bad Company Anthology has found a happy home in my CD collection.

Rating: B+

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