Badfinger’s Straight Up album creates a sensation 50 years later
Despite struggles with their record label and crooked manager, power-pop pioneers Badfinger have shattered their landmark Directly album in December 1971.
Swansea in Wales remembers its cursed rockers. In 2013, the city unveiled a plaque for Badfinger frontman Pete Ham. The girl he never met was there.
The four Anglo-American hits of the Anglo-Welsh quartet were also staples of Australian AM radio. At the time, in 1972, these songs were brought together in a special Australasian EP. Two of them thanks Directly; Ham’s ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Baby Blue’.
Ham-Tom Evans’ best-known composition, “Without You”, has attracted nearly 200 recorded covers, including the 1993 Grand Ballad for Mariah Carey and the soft rock of Australian Air Supply.
There is also a sinister Down Under connection. The manager of the scammer who took on Badfinger – Ham and later Evans committed suicide – also defrauded racing champion Peter Brock.
The 2013 TV hit finale breaking Bad introduced ‘Baby Blue’, popularizing it for a new generation. Here is a band at the top of their game, unraveling three and a half minutes of power-pop euphoria, with Mike Gibbins blasting the drums.
And here’s a British guitarist today, with a serious tutorial on the hooks and harmonies that make him memorable.
“I guess I got what I deserved” Cham confesses, “I made you wait there too long my love.” The atmosphere on Directly is emotional, bittersweet. “I look out of my lonely room” as Ham also has, “day after day”.
Back-up tuner Joey Molland lights up and lights up the proceedings with ‘Sweet Tuesday Morning’.
It was Badfinger’s third album for the struggling Apple Records label The Beatles. The company returned them through three different producers. The one in the middle was the Beatle George Harrison. The Evans-Molland ‘Flying’ has a Beatles feel to it.
Another Beatle, John Lennon, imagined:
“… all people living in peace. You can tell I’m a dreamer. “
With his line “Perfection”, Ham pushes the social conscience of the time in another direction.
More aligned with today’s realpolitik:
“There is no such thing as a good revolution, just power that changes hands.
There is no real perfection, there will be no perfect man.
So listen to my song of life, you don’t need a gun or a knife.
Pop music is full of weird coincidences. A rare cover of ‘Perfection’ comes from another great evil composer – American folkie Tim Hardin (If I Were A Carpenter).
While Ham’s epic ballad, ‘Name of the Game,’ finds him in an ominous confessional mode:
“Oh comfort me dear brother won’t you tell me what you know
Because somewhere in this painful world is a place I can go.
Oh, don’t refuse me, if you choose me, you will follow my shame.
The passionate opening of the album is “Take It All” by Ham. But Evans ends with “It’s over”: “thank you people, but it’s too much to stay”. Yet they persevered.
Directly was a hit from the 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 disappointment. They turned to the American label Warner Records. British producer Chris Thomas brought them back to their best, during the Wish You Were Here sessions in 1974. All four members contributed original songs.
Although initial sales were promising, Warner abruptly withdrew this album, following a lawsuit. As a result, the group’s contractual and financial frustrations worsened. In early 1975, Ham committed suicide, directly blaming the group’s manager. The group collapsed.
We will never know how Ham would have reacted to the unleashed punk-rock music the following year. We know that power-pop groups resonated in the 1970s, and their echoes still carry today. For example, check out this Spotify list or the new version of Melbourne Perennial Even.
After 1975, Badfinger regrouped intermittently. 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 reviewer for the Canberra Times.
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