Monday, June 22, 2009

There is No Real Perfection

Someone in Badfinger must have done something awful in a past life.

When I was in High School and college, I was obsessed with the band Badfinger.

I might add that most of my college friends had musical obsessions, ranging from the fairly normal (Springsteen worshippers) to the obscure (Robyn Hitchcock aficionados) to the downright weird (Richard Harris, as a singer not as an actor). In that crowd, being a Badfinger freak didn't seem so strange.

Now, rarely in history has a band seemed as doomed as Badfinger. Yeah, they were discovered by the Beatles, signed to Apple Records, had a hit off a song Paul McCartney wrote for them, appeared on John Lennon's Imagine album, George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, and on Ringo's "It Don't Come Easy" single. In addition, they had a string of hits -- power-pop masterpieces with chiming guitars and great harmonies -- that remain classics to this day. But they also had a manager who ran off with all their money, multiple lawsuits, and a record company that pulled one of their greatest records a week after its release (and its rave review in Rolling Stone), then rejected their next record (again for financial impropriety, and again a minor masterpiece). Pete Ham, the group's leader and chief songwriter was so despondent that he hung himself, declaring in his suicide note that the group's manager was a "soulless bastard." Years later, Tom Evans, the group's other major songwriter would hang himself after being sued by a promoter.

And, although I seem to say this a lot in this blog, there's an alternate universe out there where Badfinger became huge stars, filling stadiums and selling millions of records well into the 1990s... and even if I can't live in that alternate universe, I'd give almost anything to be able to pick up their radio broadcasts.

But back in this universe, Badfinger's music was unavailable (except if you had enough patience and got lucky in used record shops). I haunted local used record stores for Badfinger albums and was thrilled when -- after at least six years of searching -- I was rewarded with my then-musical Holy Grail, a used copy (in very good condition) of Straight Up, their amazing 1971 album produced half by Todd Rundgren and half by George Harrison (who also plays the slide guitar solo on "Day After Day").

(Parenthetically, I should add that one day when my girlfriend at the time -- yes, the one who liked Michael Bolton -- called me and told me she'd found a copy of Straight Up exactly one month after learning that it existed. I very specifically recall thinking that she didn't deserve to own an album like that, that she hadn't sacrificed enough to find it, and probably wouldn't really be able to appreciate it.)

If the Badfinger saga sounds like something ripe for Behind the Music, it was (although, appropriately enough, Badfinger's Behind the Music seemed doomed -- it literally was years behind schedule and was scrapped three or four times before Paul McCartney agreed to appear in it and it was revived). Unfortunately, I didn't have cable when it first aired. It was rarely repeated (Behind the Music had mostly run its course by then) and has never been released on DVD. (And of course, VH-1 rarely shows anything other than dating shows these days, so I thought I'd never get to see it.)

I still believe in the magic of the internet. So check it out before they take it down.

And in the meantime, here's a little taste (and those of you who know me might recognize that, yes, the opening guitar riff is the ringtone on my phone):

And if you're interested, Dan Matovina's sadly out-of-print book Without You: The Tragic History of Badfinger is pretty great... and taught me something about Badfinger I never knew before: I saw the last concert Tom Evans performed (in Providence, Rhode Island) before he killed himself.


RoadSox said...

Thank you for this tragically informative posting. I will listen to my CD tomorrow and transport myself to the alternate universe.

Aaron said...

Another great record company kiss-off song: "Apple of My Eye" about Badfinger leaving Apple Records! :)

Anonymous said...

Dan Matovina's book is up on Google Books -- I think you can read the whole thing online. Or nearly all of it.

latebloomingmom said...

NO MATTER WHAT is just simply one of the best pop records ever. I never told you that, did I? But it makes me feel better every time I happen upon it.

Connie said...

I've been a (minor) Badfinger fan for years - I never knew their history. Thanks for this post.

Alex said...

For those interested, the new George Harrison greatest-hits collection Let it Roll includes the live version of "Here Comes the Sun" from the Concert for Bangladesh... which is an acoustic-guitar duet with Pete Ham from Badfinger.