Badfinger: A Musical Tragedy

So let’s look first at the song that got my attention when I was a tiny little kid.  While I’m a big alt-grunge-hard rock guy, the truth is I have a huge spot in my heart for the passionate (some would say overwrought) arena-rock ballads of the cheap mlb jerseys 70’s, and this really is one of the best ever.  I give you:  “Day After Day

The song not only features George Harrison playing an impromptu slide guitar “duet” (actually an in-studio overdub; the two never played live simultaneously on the track) with Pete Ham that has become one of the most recognizable riffs of the “classic rock” era, but also some incredibly tasteful and precise drumming from Gibbins and the huge, flowing backing vocals that were a key component of the Beatles comparisons.  Maybe it’s not your style, and that’s fine, but for me…boy, I’d give about anything to have ever written just one song this good.

Note:  Many BF tracks were re-recorded decades later with Joey Molland on vocals.  These are immediately recognizable as Ham’s rich, throaty, deep vocal is replaced with higher and more nasal voice.  Unfortunately, because of Apple Corps, Ltd’s ineptitude in managing their back catalog while simultaneously trying to profit from it, the re-recorded versions are currently the only available by legal digital download through services like Spotify.

And the thing is, it wasn’t just this song.  Unbeknownst to probably anyone whose exposure to the song from the Harry Nilsson hit of 1971, the Mariah Carey 1994 hit, or – like mine – the Air Supply version that was hugely popular around 1980 or 81, this is also the band who wrote and recorded what is almost certainly one of the most-covered songs least associated with its original artist ever, once described by Paul McCartney as “the killer song of all time”:  Without You.  Yes, that “Without You.”  The “Ken Lee” song that some girl in Asia slaughtered to much hilarity in a viral YouTube video a few years back.

In true rock cliché style, a series of challenges including interpersonal bickering and gross misappropriation of funds by the band’s “soulless bastard” manager Stan Polley led to internal squabbling that saw Gibbins leave the band briefly in 1974, and the following year singer and guitarist Pete Ham, three days before his 28th birthday (the unsung member of the “27 club” for you musical numerologists) and sporting a blood alcohol level of nearly .3%, killed himself by hanging.  He left behind a girlfriend who was eight months pregnant; his daughter was born a month after his death. Badfinger enjoyed a string of hits in 1970-71 that helped bring back melodicism and upbeat pop to rock music, cited as an influence on later bands including Alex Chilton’s Big Star.  In one of those hits often actually mistaken for a fahren Beatles song, you can really hear why they were so often compared to that band.  This is No Matter What.

Ham’s suicide in 1975 was, unfortunately, not the end of the band’s tragedy.  The band broke up and reformed in various incarnations after Ham’s suicide – including one incarnation that cheap mlb jerseys had Tony Kaye from Yes and Peter Clarke from Stealers Wheel on keyboards and drums, and a period in which two different bands, one led by guitarist Tom Evans and the other by singer/drummer Joey Molland (who was not part of the original band) toured more or less simultaneously under cheap jerseys the Badfinger moniker.  Sad On November 18, 1983, Mise Evans and Molland had a heated telephone argument that some sources say was chiefly concerned with the royalties from “Without You.”  Evans, who had been plagued with depression since Ham’s 1975 death and once told his wife “I want to be where Pete is,” hung himself late that night or early the next morning.

The tragedy of this group of artists cannot be overstated.  From their early days as The Iveys when they first attracted the attention of the Kinks’ Ray Davies (who produced a 4-track demo for them prior to their being noticed by Beatles’ road manager Mal Evans and API signed to Apple) to their own robust cheap nfl jerseys and influential, if short-lived, body of work under Diabetic the Badfinger banner, and various guest appearances by members including tracks, albums, and performances by George Harrison (the “All Things Must Pass” and The Concert for Bangladesh), John Lennon (the “Imagine” album; some sources say their tracks weren’t used), and Evans and Ham contributing background vocals to Ringo Starr’s hit single “It Don’t Come Easy,” as well as touching various parts of musical history spanning three decades (starting with Davies’ early involvement and extending even to such odd trivia as Gibbons’ session work on Bonnie Tyler’s breakout hit “It’s A Heartache,” or the sale of their two-room rehearsal space by their manager Bill Collins for use by another manager, Malcom McLaren for use by his new act, a little group of ne’er-do-wells called “The Sex Pistols”), Badfinger’s influence and impact both large and small across the music industry is huge, obscure, wide-ranging, and mostly forgotten in the traffic and noise of music history.

Certainly the attention brought to the acts who have covered “Without You,” by itself, is a greater contribution than many bands or artists have ever been able to make. However, in many decades when the rise and fall of twentieth-century rock is written with a detached pen, it will be this story along with other tales of perfidy for money by people like Saul Zantz (who screwed Creedence Clearwater Revival so hard that John Fogerty got sued for performing songs he had written and recorded) and others that tells the real truth behind what may eventually prove to have killed rock and roll:  not mp3’s and file-sharing, but the gluttonous, greedy, and mutinous mismanagement of talented human beings by greedy, avaricious managers who weren’t even smart enough to avoid cooking the goose that laid their golden eggs.

Pete Ham – writer of a song that has been recorded by nearly two hundred different artists and sold over twenty million copies – killed himself believing that he was destitute.  Further arguments over that same money ended up costing his bandmate Tom Evans his life as well, and the surviving band members lived and continue to live the rest of their lives under the weight of that loss.  Perhaps the breaking of the record company & manager business model in music by the rise of independent distribution enabled by the digital age will prove a blessing in disguise.

Addendum, 08-Aug-2014:  BF enjoyed a brief renaissance when their fourth major hit, “Baby Blue,” was used as the fade-out track for the last scene of the last show of the last season of the popular US television drama “Breaking Bad.”

  • Badfinger Truth

    Just to correct some things here. The band did see money during their tenure and money was freed up to surviving members and their estates in 1986 that had been left behind in escrow. Though Iveys member Ron Griffiths did not receive any money – due to deceptions made to the court and lawyers involved. Also, these parties have received all their royalties since then. Pete Ham’s suicide was mostly in that he depressed – as his faith in people had been damaged “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better” was in his suicide note. In anger he left a damning ‘I will take you with me” to the manager who was handling their business. Lots of times suicide decision is sparked by an intense moment of anger. He had been writing songs about his depression. You can find them on YouTube. “Ringside” and “No More”.