Badfinger ‘Wish You Were Here’

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#793 in the Series) is Badfinger, Wish You Were Here.

Badfinger, the poster band for the “Behind the Music” type of Rock & Roll excess cautionary tale, could have been, and really should have been the next big thing in the post Beatles rock era. Starting with their first record, Magic Christian Record, released by Apple Records, and personally endorsed by Paul McCartney himself, who also wrote the band’s first hit “Come and Get It,” a song that was considered by many to be the next great pop song.  This musical blend of Hollies, Kinks, and Beach Boys, along with a pinch of psychedelic mojo seemed to be the perfect recipe to bridge that gap between The Beatles and The Who.

At first glance, one would think that this pairing of up and coming rock band with the boutique label for the biggest band on the planet, along with a personal endorsement by one of the greatest songwriters of the era, would be a perfect launching pad for the classic Badfinger line-up of Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland, and Mike Gibbins, and for a short while it was.  In short succession the band named after the song “Badfinger Boogie”, the working title for the Beatles song “With a Little Help From My Friends,” released “Come and Get It,” “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue,” that became classic rock radio staples, and with the release of the stellar albums No Dice, Straight Up, Ass, and Badfinger in rapid succession, the stars it seemed, were perfectly aligned for super-stardom, and Wish You Were Here was to be their Abbey Road.

The album, a shimmering and regal display of power pop at its finest, is truly a band effort with each member demonstrating their own inspired songwriting skill and melodic sensibilities. The opener “Take a Chance” takes Beatles-type harmonies to a new level  by combining them with Who-inspired “won’t get fooled again” guitar riffs to create an anthem with a definite edge leaning towards the “power” in the power pop equation. Peter Ham, the main songwriting force in the band, demonstrates his seductive touch around a pop song that should have placed him on the podium right there with Alex Chilton, with “Dennis,” a beautiful and melodic song that sounds like it could have been a Freddie Mercury Queen ballad, and “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,” an epic Abbey Road –esque closer that with a side order of George Harrison guitar thrown in for your musical pleasure.  Nowhere more so than on “Know One Knows” is the Who/Beatles comparison more dead-on accurate.  Lyrically, the song does not hold up to The Beatles songwriting standards, but holistically this is by far the best song on the album, and may be at worst the greatest under the radar power pop song ever, and at best, complete with a beautiful Brian Wilson production worthy bridge performed by a Japanese female singer mid-song, cements Badfinger on the medal stand of Power Pop song right alongside works by The Raspberries and Big Star.

Wish You Were Here, an album that pre-dates the Pink Floyd record of the same name by almost a year, should have been one of those “bring things to that new level” type of records much the same as Born to Run did for Stadium rock, Automatic For the People did for Alternative Rock, and Ziggy Stardust did for Glam Rock, except for one not so un-important detail. Nobody heard it.

Often times, it is better to be right in the middle of the eye of a hurricane, than to fall victim to the damage that can be done when you find yourself living on the outer bands of a storm that features sustained high winds, immense amounts of rainfall, and flood inducing high waters.  Such was the case for Badfinger, with the breakup of the Beatles ripple affecting the already dysfunctional and less than stable management contractual agreements at Apple Records, and tragically impacted past, present, and future royalties for the band. In other words, the band found them-selves broke, and to make matters worse the album that was already receiving the best reviews of any single effort in their career, and a masterpiece that was to have been coming out party for the band, was unceremoniously pulled from record store shelves two weeks after its initial release.  To add insult to financial and artistic injury, it was around this time that the band members discovered that monies amounting to several million dollars that had been set aside in an escrow account earned from their first couple of albums had vanished.

Finding them-selves in a financial and professional desperate situation from which there was seemingly no escape, each member of the band found themselves at a personal crossroads. Broke, and unable to effectively process the fate that had be-fallen one of the biggest buzz bands of the day, any hope of the band making any sort of spectacular come-back was found hanging in the rafters of Pete Ham’s garage in April of 1975. Still financially unstable and unable to come to grips with the machinations of the legal disputes that were still going strong and were becoming even more personal with songwriting credits and royalty rights coming into question, Tom Evans subsequently took his own life in 1983.

Wish You Were Here is a classic example of the dark and seamy side of the music business where the stars that seemed so whimsically aligned in the beginning, become tragigally and irrevocably crossed in the final chapter, leaving nothing but a brilliant legacy behind.

Walt Falconer, Houston, Texas, USA

Track listing

Side one

  1. “Just a Chance” (Ham) – 2:58
  2. “You’re So Fine” (Gibbins) – 3:03
  3. “Got to Get Out of Here” (Molland) – 3:31
  4. “Know One Knows” (Ham) – 3:17
  5. “Dennis” (Ham) – 5:15

Side two

  1. “In the Meantime” (Gibbins)/”Some Other Time” (Molland) – 6:46
  2. “Love Time” (Molland) – 2:20
  3. “King of the Load (T)” (Evans) – 3:32
  4. “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch” (Ham)/”Should I Smoke” (Molland) – 5:18

Personnel

Badfinger

  • Joey Molland – vocals, guitar
  • Pete Ham – vocals, guitar, keyboards
  • Mike Gibbins – drums, keyboards, lead vocals on “In The Meantime”
  • Tom Evans – vocals, bass

Additional Personnel

  • Average White Horns – horns on “Should I Smoke”
  • Mika Kato – Japanese spoken words on “Know One Knows”

Posted by Larry Carta


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