The Very Best Of Badfinger

Badfinger

Capitol, 2000

http://www.badfingersite.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/02/2018

The story of Badfinger feels like Shakespearian tragedy set to a 4/4 backbeat. Seemingly fated for success, the first outside group signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968 was mentored by no less than Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who individually produced and played on a number of the British quartet’s early recordings. Given the band’s combination of native talent and a-list patronage, it shouldn’t surprise that they scored several substantial hits in the early going, before descending into a nightmarish netherworld of financial malfeasance, lawsuits and recriminations. The heart and soul of the band—principal songwriter, singer and guitarist Pete Ham—would commit suicide in 1975 with virtually nothing to show for a decade’s toil in the rock and roll trenches. Bassist, singer and songwriter Tom Evans would do the same eight years later.

Badfinger’s music, for all its upbeat, late-British Invasion power-pop trappings, and deep debts to the music of the band’s mentors McCartney and Harrison, is both sweeter and sadder than that description might suggest. Ham’s songs in particular lead with a heart-on-sleeve vulnerability—at times even fragility—that is pure and distinctive, a kind of epically bittersweet melancholy. The Very Best Of Badfinger collects their most well-known singles along with a solid collection of secondary tracks, a fine summation of the band’s brief but substantial flowering.

“No Matter What” kicks things off, an upbeat romantic devotional that’s rich with Beatle-isms, right down to handclaps and second guitarist Joey Molland’s use of George Harrison’s own slide guitar for the mid-song solo. More typical is the gentler, more explicitly melancholy “Day After Day,” which sounds like a McCartney cover even though it’s a Ham original produced by Harrison, who duets with Ham on the song’s solo.nbtc__dv_250

The wistful “Baby Blue” achieved a decades-later fresh measure of fame after Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan selected it to play over the 2008-13 series’ closing moments, a pitch-perfect placement for what had been the band’s fourth top 10 hit in the U.S. in 1972. “I lock my feelings in a jar until another day… Somewhere in this painful world is a place that I can go” sings Ham with characteristic pathos on “Name Of The Game,” produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, with a dynamic orchestral arrangement by Harrison.

This deep melancholy had been an essential part of the band’s character from the very start, as evidenced by early single “Maybe Tomorrow,” an Evans composition released in 1968, just before the band changed its name from The Iveys to Badfinger. “Listen to a lonely sound, grey and sadness all around,” sings Evans. “Maybe tomorrow I will love again.” Next up is the song McCartney gave the band to help them get launched in 1969, and it was the perfect choice; even the rather bouncy “Come And Get It” is passive and ribboned with self-doubt: “If you want it, here it is, come and get it.”

From there onward this collection—like the band whose rise and fall it chronicles—experiences diminishing returns. In terms of highlights, “Rock Of All Ages” has a nice retro feel, a rather Little Richard-influenced rave-up sung by Evans, with McCartney producing and playing keys. And “Without You” has lived multiple lives, a melodramatic Ham/Evans ballad memorably covered by both Harry Nilsson (a number one hit in both the US and UK) and Mariah Carey.

Other than those two standouts, though, the music grows less and less distinctive as this collection progresses, though it’s still fun to play spot-the-influence through the Beatles catalogue as Ham, Evans, Molland and drummer Mike Gibbons deliver tunes that sound like outtakes from A Hard Days’ Night (“I’ll Be The One”), The White Album (“I’d Die Babe”), and Abbey Road (“Meanwhile Back At The Ranch”).

It’s hard not to speculate about what McCartney and Harrison were thinking when The Iveys first came to their attention, e.g. “If we could do it all over again, and know then what we know now…” Unfortunately, instead of a trusted and trustworthy Brian Epstein to keep their affairs in order, Badfinger suffered through one of the most notorious cases of managerial malpractice in the history of rock and roll.

In the end, the biggest downside of this collection is that, for all its heart and sincerity, much of Badfinger’s catalogue feels derivative of the band’s patrons McCartney and Harrison. Beyond the several well-crafted hits collected here, the band never really succeeded in establishing an identity of its own, other than as the tragic heroes of a rock and roll fable gone wrong.

Rating: B

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