You might assume, without learning the rest of the story, that Badfinger was a band hung with horseshoes. After all, they were gifted just about the mightiest leg up in pop music history when the Beatles took a shine to them, got them a recording contract with Apple, maneuvered them into the hallowed confines of Abbey Road Studios to lay down their tracks, gave them something eminently catchy to get the ball rolling (their first hit was McCartney’s pop gem Come and Get It ), showed up as session men when needed (that’s Harrison on slide guitar in Day After Day, one of their signature songs) and even pitched in as producers (Harrison manned the board for Day After Day, and incredibly, the sterling, ultra-crisp Abbey Road sound of No Matter What was helmed by none other than faithful Mal Evans, the Beatles’ ex-roadie, who’d apparently absorbed the tricks of the trade by osmosis). Even their name had a Beatles association, Bad Finger Boogie having been the working title for McCartney’s With a Little Help From My Friends (something about Lennon having an injured hand at an early recording session). It certainly seemed for a while there like the baton was being passed, with lead singer Pete Ham, who wrote No Matter What, demonstrating serious songwriting chops, and the group sounding gloriously Beatlesque in the best possible way. Today’s selection, with its clean, unfussy studio polish, impeccable musicianship, soaring melody, and powerful electric guitar lines, is now regarded as the seminal, and still quintessential example of the genre that came to be called “power pop”, and was a hit all over the world in 1971, creating the sense that even though the Fab Four were no more, things were still going to be all right. On the strength of this and a number of other standout tunes, Badfinger was red hot. In just a couple of years they sold something like 14 million records.
Yet they never made any money, a story as old as the pop music business. Apple was in utter organizational and financial chaos, as everything degenerated into lawsuits and acrimony, and somehow they barely saw a dime for their efforts. Finally they jumped to Warner, where they were shafted again, partly because their own business manager seems to have misappropriated some funds, giving their new label an excuse to withhold payments, pull their albums, and sue them into oblivion. By 1975 they were flat broke and blackballed, and Pete Ham, depressed and desperate, took his own life. Bandmate Tom Evans did the same in 1983, sadly, while the Warners lawsuit dragged on interminably, as lawsuits always do.
Damn, that’s grim. There can’t be a lot of bands that suffered 50% attrition to suicide.
Left behind is the sheer, life-affirming joy of a song that urged us to break down the grey walls in our heads and join life’s raucous party, captivating, timeless, and utterly incongruous with the ugly reality of what became of its composer, and the band that once seemed destined to pick up where the Beatles left off.