BADFINGER - 'Baby Blue' & Other Matters

In the final episode of Breaking Bad last year, Badfinger’s song ‘Baby Blue’ suddenly formed the backdrop to a key moment in the story. What great taste, I thought, as it’s one of my all-time favourite songs. In the weeks that followed it created a welcome buzz around the group and their song, and I did a Facebook post about it which attracted plenty of likes. I always thought there was a great deal of affection out there for Badfinger, so I’ve revisited that post and will follow this up with the three stories I wrote about the group for Melody Maker in the early seventies. Firstly, though, I need to set the scene…

There is no more tragic story in the history of rock than that of Badfinger, the Welsh group signed to Apple; protégés of The Beatles, fleeced by an unscrupulous American manager/conman and hung out to dry, bringing such poverty and depression that chief songwriter Pete Ham and bassist Tom Evans took their own lives. These two wrote ‘Without You’, the massive hit, first in 1972 for Harry Nilsson and then in 1994 for Maria Carey, and covered by dozens of others, which should have guaranteed their financial security for life.
         ‘Without You’ is a superb ballad but ‘Baby Blue’ is more rhythmic, bristling with pop magic, and one of many songs Pete Ham wrote for the love of his life, name of Dixie. Its cascading, arpeggio-style guitar riffs, all garnished with just the right amount of distortion, fabulous vocal harmonies and all-round melodic bounce grab me every time I hear it; a minor US hit in 1972, no chart action at all in the UK, criminal really as it’s such a wonderful record. A bit Beatlesy, especially the Harrison-like guitar solo and flourish at the end, this was perhaps the monkey on Badfinger’s back, the constant comparison with their patrons who, sadly, turned their backs on them when civil war broke out in the Beatles’ camp in 1970. I interviewed Badfinger for MM three times, the first time at their communal house in Hampstead in 1971, and saw them at Carnegie Hall in 1972 on my second ever visit to New York; a great little band and nice guys too.
         You can probably buy ‘Baby Blue’ for less than a quid from iTunes nowadays and I can’t recommend it enough, but beware – there’s a ‘best of’ album out there recorded solely by Joey Molland, now the only surviving member of the original band, and session men, which purports to be a Badfinger album and it’s well dodgy. Without realising this, I bought it from HMV a few years ago and took it back the next day demanding a refund from a surprised assistant to whom I explained that despite what it said on the front it wasn’t a Badfinger album at all and ought to be removed from sale. She didn’t argue but must have thought I was some kind of nutcase, banging on as I was about some group she’d probably never heard of.
         In 1997 Omnibus Press distributed Without You – The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Matovina, the only decent book on the band, which now goes for silly money on Amazon. Although we didn’t publish it I was happy to help Dan editorially and I understand he’s working on a new edition.

         The Badfinger legacy ought to be about the brilliance of their music but unfortunately the undercurrents of disharmony that plagued them during their active life continue to this day. The estates of Pete Ham and Tom Evans are at odds with Joey Molland who owns the trademark of the name Badfinger. The issues between them are many and varied but in the main involve Molland making misleading statements about the construction of songs that were composed entirely by Ham and Evans, not least ‘Without You’, as well as perpetuating the name Badfinger in groups that fail to live up the standard set by the original which, of course, didn’t include Molland in its early days anyway. For the record, drummer Mike Gibbins who had at times allied himself with Molland, died in 2005. Managers Bill Collins and, especially, Stan Polley, who must share the blame for the misfortunes that befell the group, died in 2002 and 2009 respectively.
         Fans are therefore advised to avoid the ‘official’ Badfinger site (just as they’d be advised to avoid recent recordings attributed to the group) and visit instead the Badfinger Library site - http://www.badfingerlibrary.com – and, on Facebook, the Badfinger/The Iveys page and the Badfinger (open group) page
         Tomorrow, the first my MM stories about this great but tragic band.  


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