Politics

Badfinger’s Straight Up album rocks 50 years later

Despite difficulties with their record company and crooked manager, power-pop pioneers Badfinger broke out their landmark Straight Up album in December 1971.

Swansea in Wales remembers its star-crossed rockers. In 2013, the city unveiled a plaque for Badfinger leader Pete Ham. Attending was the daughter he never got to meet.

The four major UK-U.S. hits of the Anglo-Welsh foursome were also staples of Australian AM radio. At the time, in 1972, these songs were gathered into a special Australasian EP release. Two of them grace Straight Up; Ham’s ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Baby Blue’.

The best-known Ham-Tom Evans composition, ‘Without You’, has attracted nearly 200 recorded cover versions, including the big ballad of 1993 for Mariah Carey and the soft rock of Australia’s Air Supply.

There’s also a sinister Down Under connection. The grifter manager who preyed on Badfinger – Ham and later Evans suicided – also swindled motor-racing champ Peter Brock.

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The 2013 finale of TV hit Breaking Bad showcased ‘Baby Blue’, popularising it for a new generation. Here’s a band at the top of their game, unwinding three-minutes-thirty of power-pop exhilaration, with Mike Gibbins blitzing the drum kit.

And here’s a present-day British guitar-nerd, with a serious tutorial on the hooks and harmonies that make it memorable. 

“Guess I got what I deserved,” confesses Ham, “kept you waiting there too long my love”. The mood on Straight Up is emotional, bittersweet. “Looking out of my lonely room,” as Ham also has it, “day after day”.

Alternate tunesmith Joey Molland lightens and brightens the proceedings with ‘Sweet Tuesday Morning’. 

This was Badfinger’s third album for the Beatles’ troubled Apple Records label. The company had bounced them through three different producers. The middle one was Beatle George Harrison. The Evans-Molland ‘Flying’ has a Beatles feel.

Another Beatle, John Lennon, famously imagined:

“… all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer.”

With his rejoinder, ‘Perfection’, Ham prods the social conscience of the era in another direction.

More aligned with today’s realpolitik:

“There’s no good revolution, just power changing hands.

 

There is no real perfection, there’ll be no perfect man.

 

So listen to my song of life, you don’t need a gun or a knife.”

Pop music abounds with odd coincidences. A rare cover of ‘Perfection’ comes from another jinxed song-writing great – American folkie Tim Hardin (If I Were A Carpenter).

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While Ham’s epic ballad, ‘Name of the Game’, finds him in ominous confessional mode:

“Oh comfort me dear brother won’t you tell me what you know

 

For somewhere in this painful world is a place where I can go.

 

Oh, don’t refuse me, if you choose me you’ll follow my shame.”

The impassioned opener for the album is Ham’s ‘Take It All’. But Evans closes it off with ‘It’s Over’: “thank you people, but it’s too much to stay”. Yet persevere they did.

Straight Up was successful upon first release, including in Australia. Worldwide, it has attracted five dozen LP and CD reissues over the years.

Badfinger’s next and final Apple album was a letdown. Off they shunted to the U.S.’ Warner Records. British producer Chris Thomas coaxed them back to best form, in the 1974 Wish You Were Here sessions. All four members contributed original songs.

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Though initial sales were promising, Warner abruptly withdrew this album, over a lawsuit. Hence the band’s contractual and financial frustrations deepened. Early 1975, Ham took his life, directly blaming the band manager. The group fell apart. 

We’ll never know how Ham would have responded to the punk-rock music unleashed the following year. We do know that power-pop bands resounded through the 1970s, that their echoes carry down to this day. For example, check this Spotify list or the new release from Melbourne perennials Even.   

After 1975, Badfinger regrouped on and off. It wasn’t the same magic. The band’s 1970-74 albums capture their essential songs. 

Stephen Saunders is a former public servant, consultant and Canberra Times reviewer.

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