Badfinger were masters of the pop song, from soulful ballads to country-style bouncers to out-and-out rockers. So adept were they that they were touted as the successors to the Beatles when they first appeared on the scene in the late 1960s. Indeed they had much in common with the Fab Four. They recorded their most popular albums for the Beatles label, Apple. At one time or another, the band worked on projects with all four individual Beatles. And like the Beatles, Badfinger’s career ended in a flurry of financial mismanagement, greed, and personal recriminations that last to this day.
Badfinger got its start in 1964 when apprentice electrician and guitarist Pete Ham formed the Lveys in Swansea, Wales. The line-up consisted of Ham, drummer Mike Gibbins, bassist Ron Griffiths, and guitarist Dai Jenkins. Bill Collins, a band manager from Liverpool, heard the Iveys playing the bar circuit around Wales. With the promise of a gig backing-up a popular singer, Collins persuaded the band to pack up and move to London. There they shared a house in Golders Green with Collins’ other band, the Mojos. When Jenkins left the band, Collins replaced him with a guitarist from Liverpool, Tom Evans.
In London, The Iveys struggled. They were perennially short of money and Collins kept them on a short leash. They were backing up singer David Garrick who would have been a one hit wonder except his single “Dear Mrs. Applebee” was never really a hit. But Ham, Evans and Griffiths had all begun to write for the band. Their sound and songs awoke interest in Swingin’ London. Ray Davies of the Kinks expressed interest in working with them. Collins, unfortunately, tended to interpret such interest as a threat to his power over the group and most offers came to naught.
One offer Collins could hardly refuse came from Mal Evans. Evans, an old Liverpool buddy of the Beatles, took to the Iveys from the first and decided to make them his pet project at Apple, the label the Beatles had just founded. In 1968, he played an Iveys tape for Paul McCartney who was so impressed he asked to hear more. On July 23, 1968, the Iveys signed with Apple. “The ultimate goal was to get was to get a recording contract,” Ron Griffiths recalled in Mojo. “Butto get one from Apple was really exciting. Yet we were still living at Galders Green, getting eight pounds a week each.”
The Iveys’ first single was a bright pop ditty by Tom Evans entitled “Maybe Tomorrow.” An LP of the same name followed. But for reasons never explained, it was never released in Britain or the United States. As they prepared to start their second album, Apple decided they needed a new name, one that wasn’t so old-fashioned
Members include Tom Evans, (born c. 1948 Liverpool, England; died November 18, 1983, Weybridge, Surrey, England), bass, guitar, vocals; Mike Gibbins, (born 1949, Wales, has three children,), drums, vocals; Pete Ham, (born April 27, 1947, Wales; died April 23, 1975, Weybridge, Surrey, England, daughter named Petera), guitar, piano, vocals; Joey Molland, (born 1947, Liverpool, England, married, Kathie, two children, Joey and Shaun), guitar, vocals.
Pete Ham forms Iveys around 1966; signed with Apple Records, 1968; debut album Maybe Tomorrow, 1968 while still the Iveys; change name to Badfinger 1969. Molland joins band 1979.
Awards Gold record for “Day Afater Day”, 1972.
Addresses: Record company —Capital Records, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 300, Los Angeles, CA 90036; Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress Street, Salem, MA 01970 Manager —Randy Erwin, Entertainment Services International, 6400 Pleasant Park Drive, Chanhassen, MN 55317. Website— www.badfinger.com.
and corny. The Beatles bounced a few around but Neil Aspinal, another Liverpool crony, suggested Badfinger, from “Badfinger Boogie,” which had been John Len-non’s original working title for “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
By 1969, the Beatles were being torn apart by personal tensions while Apple was self-destructing from bad—or nonexistent—management. After the Maybe Tomorrow fiasco, everyone seemed to lose interest in Badfinger—at least until Ron Griffiths complained about the Beatles apathy in a British music magazine. Shortly afterwards, Paul McCartney visited Golders Green and brought Badfinger a song. He had written “Come And Get It” for the film, The Magic Christian, that featured Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. McCartney offered the song to Badfinger. One proviso was that Badfinger record the song exactly as McCartney had arranged it on his demo. “This is the hit sound. Do it like this and we’re all right, we’ve got a hit,” McCartney is quoted in Dan Matovina’s Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger. Matovina also relates how McCartney produced the single and persuaded the producers to use two additional Badfinger songs in the film. Badfinger’s single—virtually a note for note copy of McCartney’s version included on the Beatles Anthology 3—eventually cracked the Top Ten in both the United States and Britain.
Badfinger was suddenly world famous. But for bassist Ron Griffith the fame was short Ijved. His marriage to his pregnant girlfriend had created conflict at Golders Green. On the eve of the band’s first great success, Griffith was out. To simplify the search for a replacement Tom Evans agreed to switch to bass. Collins brought in another Liverpool guitarist, Joey Molland, smoothing out the switch..
Magic Christian Music, released at the beginning of 1970, was a potpourri of different styles, from driving rock to doleful ballads to melodramatic music hall tunes. Griffiths played bass on the record but his name did not appear on the record jacket; Molland’s name was listed although, as Matovina. Some songs had been recycled from Maybe Tomorrow, others were new Badfinger. The band’s second album, No Dice, was released in November 1970. A bracing mix of rock, pop, country and ballads, the record reached number 28 on the Billboard charts and its single, “No Matter What,” hit number 8.
But it was another song on No Dice that made the biggest impact. While Badfinger was recording their third album, Harry Nilsson invited them down to the studio where he was working and played the version of Ham and Evans “Without You” he had just finished. Badfinger’s version was a bare bones guitar-organbass-drums arrangement, Nilsson’s had a lush string arrangement and top-of-the-line production values. “They were stunned!” Nilsson later told Dan Matovina. According to Matovina, Pete Ham said afterwards “As soon as we heard it, we knew that was the way we wanted to do it, but never had the nerve.” Nilsson’s version reached number one in 1972 and became one of the most successful singles of all times. Mariah Carey, relying heavily on Nilsson’s arrangement, took the song to the top of the charts again in 1994.
Bill Collins, meanwhile, had brought in an American, Stan Polley, who before long had gained complete control of Badfinger’s finances. Under Polley, the band began touring the States incessantly, an attempt to get Badfinger better established there and finally seize the big success that was eluding the band although it seemed constantly to be within their grasp. They had two top ten hits after all, and written a number one hit; they had played on John Lennon’s Imagine, on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and on Ringo Starr’s single “It Don’t Come Easy.” But tastes were changing. The two-minute pop songs on AM radio had evolved into longer FM-oriented styles like heavy metal and progressive rock. Badfinger’s crisp, well-crafted music was passé. They missed the wave that crested in the middle sixties and were too early for the next pop wave, typified by bands like the Cars and Squeeze, that hit in the late seventies.
The band recorded their third Apple LP in the midst of their grueling tour schedule only to have the record, produced by Geoff Emerick, rejected by the label. It looked like the project was going to die on the vine until Beatle George Harrison stepped in spring 1971 and offered to produce the album from scratch. During the sessions Harrison asked the band if he could play the lead guitar part on the song “Day After Day.” To get the sound Harrison wanted he and Ham played the part in unison, live in the studio. The song went on to be Badfinger’s third Top Ten single, reaching number four in the USA.
Halfway through the second attempt, sessions were interrupted when Harrison left to organize the concert for Bangla Desh. Badfinger was one of the groups that played the concert on August 1, 1971; Pete Ham accompanied Harrison on “HereComes the Sun.” Afterwards Harrison was busy producing the album Concert for Bangla Desh and had to bow out of any further work with Badfinger. A third producer, Todd Rundgren, was brought in to finish up the work. Opinion on Rundgren was mixed. One unnamed band member, quoted in Mojo, called Rundgren “very domineering, very egotistical,” Mike Gibbins told Dennis Dalcin of Audities “I think Todd was the best producer.” The album Rundgren-produced, Straight UP —with four tracks credited to Harrison—was one of Badfinger’s finest LPs. It included classics like “Day After Day,” “Baby Blue,” “Suitcase,” and “Name of the Game.” The record also went one to be a sought-after collector’s item. In the mid-1980s, the record collector’s magazine, Goldmine polled its readers on which LPs they would most like to see released on CD and Straight Up topped the list, beating out even Sgt Pepper which had not yet been released on compact disk.
Despite their growing popularity, Badfinger were not living the easy life of the stereotypical rock star. Stan Polley had them touring constantly. All band income went through his accounts and group members had to settle for a meager salary. “They had two hits on the charts and ‘Baby Blue’ on the way,” Joey Molland’s wife Kathie told Parke Puterbugh of Rolling Stone, “and we were living on packaged soup.” Tom Evans admitted in Mojo “We were treated like kids when it came to money.” Adding to the dissatisfaction was the unreliable old equipment Polley refused to let them replace. When Polley started looking for a more lucrative deal and started getting nibbles from Warner Brothers, Badfinger’s days with Apple were numbered. They recorded one last Apple album, the critically-underrated Ass, that included later concert favorites like “Blind Owl” and “Timeless.” The record was the last Apple recording by an artist other than one of the Beatles.
Polley meanwhile had signed the band with Warners, a contract that required the band crank out albums at the backbreaking pace of two albums a year for three years. It was the beginning of two years of grinding touring and recording. Their first Warners release, Badfinger, was released to the sound of resounding critical and popular silence. At the same time internal personal and financial disagreements—many of the same sort that helped destroy the Beatles—began tearing away at the band, same dissatisfaction was simmering in the band over Polley’s handling of finances. Mike Gibbins walked out for a short time. Pete Ham left only to return when Warners said they would drop Badfinger if he were not in the band. And after the completion of Wish You Were Here, considered the band’s masterpiece, Joey Molland quit and was replaced with keyboard player, Bob Jackson.
Wish You Were Here was released in 1974 to good reviews and was selling 25,000 copies a week when matters took an abrupt turn for the worse. Charging Polley’s company, Badfinger Enterprises, with improper use of some hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance money, Warners pulled all copies of the record from stores. The label also rejected another nearly completed LP, tentatively entitled Head First. It has acquired the reputation of the great lost Badfinger album. Selections appeared for the first time on Rhino’s 1992 Best of Badfinger Vol. II.
By 1975 the band was in dire straits. They were broke. No money was coming from Polley; Apple, nervous at the likelihood of getting pulled into the legal maelstrom, started paying the band’s royalties into an escrow account. All but Pete Ham had grown increasingly mistrustful of Polley and wanted to get rid of him. Pete Ham felt himself in an untenable position: his bandmates resented him for his trust toward Stan Polley, his band’s career was completely stalled, he was £2000 in debt, he had a mortgage to pay off, and his girlfriend was seven-months pregnant. On April 23rd, after a night of drinking with Tom Evans, he scribbled out a brief suicide note blaming everything on Stan Polley, and hanged himself in his garage.
The road seemed to be at an end for Badfinger. Polley and Warners eventually came to an agreement, but the band was left out in the cold. The remaining members went their separate ways. Gibbins returned to Wales, eventually playing drums on Bonnie Tyler’s megahit “It’s a Heartache.”. Molland and Evans were back where they had started in the sixties, working day jobs as carpet layers or pipe insulators and playing music when they could. Molland formed a group called Natural Gas in Los Angeles; Evans joined The Dodgers in England. In 1978, Molland and Evans reformed Badfinger. They asked Gibbins to play with them, but the producer of their first LP refused to work with him. Evans and Molland recorded two albums together, Airwaves on Elektra in 1978 and their final original Badfinger LP, the aptly-titled Say No Moreon Radio Records in 1981. Both labels dropped the band unceremoniously. Molland toured as Badfinger for a short time, then Evans and Gibbins put together their own touring Badfinger which was well received but plagued by lack of money, crooked managers and bad planning. On November 18, 1983, lightening struck for the second time. Estranged from Molland and Gibbins by disputes over “Without You” royalties, and beset by his own money problems and ongoing depression over Pete Ham’s death, Tom Evans hanged himself.
Interest in Badfinger continued through the 1980s despite the fact that their albums were only available in cutout bins or second-hand. In 1989, Rolling Stone estimated that the group had sold some 14 million records worldwide. The 1990s saw a resurgence in fandom, stimulated by the release of a couple of greatest hits packages and most of the Apple catalog on CD. Molland continues to perform with a trio called Joey Molland’s Badfinger. He occasionally releases an album under his own name. Chances of a Molland-Gibbins Badfinger reunion are slim. They toured together in the late 1980s but as a result of disputes over money and the band’s recording legacy, the two have not spoken in nearly a decade. Each promotes his own view of the band’s history. Gibbins cooperated with Dan Matovina in the writing of Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, an encyclopedic history of the band. Molland has denounced the book and cooperated instead with Greg Katz’ in the making of Badfinger: The Documentary Both Gibbins and Molland are said to be writing their own histories of the group.
Magic Christian Music, Apple, December 16, 1970, reissued 1991.
No Dice, Apple, November 9, 1970, reissued 1992.
Straight Up, Apple, December 13, 1971, reissued 1993.
Ass, Apple, November 26, 1973, reissued 1996 (Great Britian).
Badfinger, Warner Brothers, February 1974, reissued 1991 (Germany/Japan).
Wish You Were Here, Warner Brothers, October 1974, reissued 1991 (Germany/Japan).
Airwaves, Elektra Records, March 1979.
Say No More, Radio Records, 1981.
The Best Of Badfinger, Vol II, Rhino Records, 1990.
The Best Of Badfinger, Apple/Capitol, May 1995.
After The Pearl (Joey Molland), Earthtone Records, 1983.
7 Park Avenue (Pete Ham), Rykodisc, 1997.
A Place In Time (Mike Gibbins), Forbidden Records, 1998.
“Come And Get It,” Apple, 1970.
“No Matter What,” Apple, 1971.
“Day After Day,” Apple, 1972.
Matovina, Dan, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, San Mateo, CA: Frances Glover Books, 1994 (available from 7 West 4 1 st. Ave. #229, San Mateo, CA 94403-5105, USA. Phone and Fax: 650-508-9585.
Rolling Stone, August 10, 1989.
Mojo, April 1998.
Dennis Dalcin, “Mike Gibbins Interview, ailable at http://audities/mag/interview/int_mgib.htm.
“Day After Day,” available at http://www.scuzz.com/star-dust/badfinger.html.
Straight Up, Capital, CDP 7 81403 2.
Day After Day, Rykodisc 10189.
Badfinger BBC In Concert, Strange Fruit SFRSCD 031.
Best of Badfinger, Capital.
Additional materials provided by Capital Records and Entertainment Services International.
—Gerald E. Brennan
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