By Richie Unterberger

When Badfinger left the Apple label for Warner Brothers in the early 1970s, there were sky-high expectations for the band's financial and commercial future. It didn't work out as hoped; in fact, from both monetary and personal angles, it might have worked out worse than almost any deal of the era for a group of Badfinger's stature. It did, at least, leave fans with a couple of albums that, while not as renowned as the records they cut for Apple, showed the group maintaining the qualities that had made them one of the most beloved pop-rock acts of the period.

     The situation surrounding the group's switch from Apple to Warners is extraordinarily confusing in some respects, and is in need of some background explanation. Although Badfinger's stay with Apple, the company launched by the Beatles in the late 1960s, had resulted in several hit records and considerable critical acclaim, the band's contract was coming to its conclusion. Apple was itself in considerable difficulty by the early 1970s in the aftermath of the Beatles' split, and doing considerably less in the way of artist development than it had at its outset. Having scored four major hits ("Come and Get It," "No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue") in the past two years, as well as a couple of Top 40 albums (No Dice and Straight Up), Badfinger were a hot commercial property, and their management began to consider different options.

    "[Stan] Polley, our business manager, he was talking to Allen Klein about resigning the band," said Badfinger singer-guitarist Joey Molland in the Gary Katz-directed documentary Badfinger. "The deal we had with Apple, where they paid our recording costs and paid us a royalty, they were really good to us. They got involved with the band and all that stuff, put a lot of faith of us. Well, Klein, of course, is not like that at all. He's a strict businessman, and he thought it was absolute nonsense that they paid the recording costs. And he thought we were getting too much money in royalties, even though we were the biggest-selling act on the label bar anybody. Well, our businessman was a bit more hard-ass than Allen Klein, I guess, and he said, 'Well, hey, I'm going to Warners.' They gave us all solo deals...and a lot of money for publishing. So it was a great deal and we signed it."

    Added drummer Mike Gibbins in the same film, "When we met there to go over this contract, I was pretty bummed, 'cause I wanted to stay with Apple. Everybody was leaving Apple, but Stan Polley came up with this idea. 'You get producing rights, every one of you can be a producer, go talent scout, do this, whatever you wanna do,' right? And we were, 'Sounds good, doesn't it?' We said okay, we all signed [the contract]. And Stan's attorney, or whoever, said, 'Well done boys. You can whistle on your next album, you can fart. You're rich. You're gonna be millionaires.' I was 21 years old, right? I walked out of that place like I was walking on air. We just made a few million dollars, by signing a bit of paper."

    According to Dan Matovina's book Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, the Warner Brothers deal was indeed fairly lucrative. For six LPs spread over three years (with four more optional ones in the following two years), the band would be advanced $225,000 for each album delivered, and $100,000 advanced for each album set of copyrights delivered. The deal was signed on September 21, 1972, but was not to take effect until about a year later. Therein lay the first major complication of the transition: after signing to Warner Brothers, the band still had a year to run on their Apple contract. During that time they recorded their final Apple LP, Ass, which still hadn't been released by the time they officially switched to Warners. In fact, they began recording what would become their first Warner Brothers LP, Badfinger, not only before Ass had been issued, but before their Warners contract had even started.

    At Apple, Badfinger had been fortunate enough to work with a series of illustrious producers, including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, ex-Beatles road manager Mal Evans, Geoff Emerick (who engineered most of the Beatles recordings from 1966 onward), Tony Visconti (most famous for his work with David Bowie), Todd Rundgren, and, for Ass, Chris Thomas. Thomas had worked with the Beatles on The White Album and produced Procol Harum, and went on to help mix Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and produce the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music, and the Pretenders. Badfinger were able to continue working with Thomas when they were recording their first album for Warner Brothers, although in Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, the producer recalled, "They'd wanted to tour off the Apple album. They didn't want to record. They hadn't time to prepare. Everyone was kind of mentally exhausted going in."

    Nevertheless, Badfinger found the band retaining their knack for melodic pop-rock that was neither too hard nor too soft, and—perhaps inevitably, given their backgrounds at Apple and personal interaction with several Beatles and key Beatles associates—undeniably Beatlesque. Another Beatlesque aspect of the band was how the songwriting and vocal duties were spread among all of the members. Pete Ham was the most noted of the group's composers for having written all of the three originals that became big Badfinger hits ("No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue"), and is well represented on Badfinger with four songs, as well as one co-written with bassist Tom Evans (who wrote a couple other tracks on his own). Molland weighed in with three tunes, as well as one ("Andy Norris") co-written with his wife Kathie, while Gibbins contributed "My Heart Goes Out."

    Certainly the album had its share of songs that continued the Badfinger tradition of tuneful romantic pop songs that were more Paul McCartney than John Lennon in their flavor. These included Ham's "I Miss You," written for his first serious girlfriend, Beverley Ellis, back in 1968; "Song for a Lost Friend," also about their relationship (and originally titled "You Had a Dream"); "Lonely You," about a different girlfriend with whom he'd only recently broke off; and the folky Ham-Evans collaboration "Shine On," destined to become one of the most popular of their Warner Brothers tracks among Badfinger fans. Molland's "Give It Up" is often regarded as not only his best Badfinger original, but one of their best hard rockers; the track he co-wrote with his wife, "Andy Norris," is titled in honor of the tape operator at Olympic Studios in London, where the album was recorded.

    There were also some songs that varied from the usual Badfinger approach in both style and production. The guitars on Gibbins' folky "My Heart Goes Out" approximate a mandolin-like sound via the tape delays with which Thomas treated them, though Mike admitted to mixed feelings about the cut in Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger: "What Chris did sounds nice, but I thought it lost its soul. I originally finger-picked it and I was making noise with the strings. I kind of dug it, but he wouldn't have it." Thomas also experimented on Evans's "Where Do We Go from Here," with electric piano dominating the arrangement—an oddity in Badfinger's guitar-dominated catalog—and a steel drum taking the solo. Ham's "Matted Spam" is perhaps the album's most unusual track, leaning toward a funk-rock sound with beefy horns.

    The record didn't make nearly the commercial impact either Badfinger or Warner Brothers was anticipating, in part because of the rather screwy timing of its release. The first single off the LP, "Love Is Easy"/"My Heart Goes Out," was released in Britain before Ass had even been released anywhere. Ass came out in the US  in November 1973, almost exactly at the time Badfinger was completed; Badfinger came out just three months later, in February 1974. Both albums couldn't help but suffer from being released so close to each other, with Ass peaking at #122, Badfinger stalling at #161, and no hits generated by either LP. So close were they placed to each other on the release schedule, in fact, that some publications reviewed both records at once.

    In spite of the glut of Badfinger product on the marketplace, less than two months after the first Warner Brothers album was issued, the band were back in the studio working on a follow-up. That LP, Wish You Were Here—their last for Warner Brothers, and the last recorded with Pete Ham in the lineup—has also been reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger   

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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