Saturday, January 16, 2010

Badfinger: Straight Up

As every Saturday, I feature an album that had some significance to me over the years. Some of these are well known, while others are not. Today’s post is in that former category. Badfinger’s “Straight Up,” their third album under the Bandfinger brand, produced two hits: “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.”

Today’s feature cut is a Pete Ham composition that was slated to be the album’s initial single release; however, producer George Harrison pulled the plug on “Name of the Game” from being a single.



While this song is an excellent number and shows the lyrical prowess of the late Pete Ham, Harrison was correct in vetoing this particular song as the first single from “Straight Up.” In my estimation, the decision to release “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue” was calculated and proved to be an accurate assessment of the recording. “Day After Day” peaked on the Billboard charts at #4 and was Badfinger’s highest charting single of their career.

Had the second single, “Baby Blue” performed somewhat better than #14, a third single would have been in order and “Name of the Game” was probably the next best candidate for a single release. With that said, there are other excellent songs on this album such as “Suitcase” and “Sweet Tuesday Morning” that I also particularly liked.

Before purchasing this album, I had already secured both American singles. “Baby Blue” was my particular favorite of the two. In late spring ’72 while shopping with family, I bought “Straight Up” at the now defunct East Hills Shopping Center on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. I couldn’t wait to get home to play the album.

Recording Issues


It was years later that I learned of the production problems that led to the final mix and release of this LP. It was hard for me to believe that Badfinger, who had so much talent and who were obviously under the wings of their mentors the Beatles, would have had so much trouble recording and releasing this album – which I consider their best. Charting on Billboard’s album charts at #31, it was, however, not their highest charting album. That distinction belonged to their second LP “No Dice,” which did slightly better at #28.

I had always been curious as to why both George Harrison and Todd Rundgren were both enlisted as producers. No satisfactory explanation as to why the duo shared production credits was given at the time, but this would be part of the turmoil that plagued this album that took nearly a year from recording the first tracks to its eventual release.

The initial recordings were originally produced by Geoff Emerick, an audio engineer at EMI who learned his craft under the tutelage of Norman “Hurricane” Smith. Emerick had produced Badfinger’s previous album “No Dice,” which included the top ten hit, “No Matter What.” With the success of “No Dice,” it proved to be reason enough to bring Emerick back for this chore.

Before the album could be pressed, George Harrison worried that it lacked the quality needed for an Apple Records' release. (It makes me wonder what he was thinking with his own "Electronic Sounds" LP).  As a principle partner in Apple Corps, Harrison decided that he needed to take control of the production duties and began redoing the tracks with the band. Harrison completed four of the songs for the LP: “Day After Day,” “I’d Day Babe,” “Name of the Game” and “Suitcase.”

On “Day After Day,” Harrison and guitarist Pete Ham both play slide guitar and Leon Russell was enlisted to play piano on the same track. On “Suitcase,” Russell played guitar and Klaus Voorman added the electric piano parts. A rerecording of the strings on “Name of the Game” was planned using a Phil Spector arrangement; however, this never came to fruition. During the Harrison production phase, Badfinger began to resent Harrison’s use of studio musicians on their album.



While other songs were in various stages of completion, Harrison dropped out of the project during mid 1971 to concentrate on his “Concert for Bangladesh. ” Badfinger were also included as part of this show. To finish the LP, Apple enlisted Todd Rundgren to produce the remainder of the album. Although Harrison is credited as sole producer on the four songs he finished, Rundgren insists that he should have also been given coproduction credits on these cuts as he worked on the final mixes of those four songs as well.

On the eight remaining cuts, Rundgren only used the band as musicians. This included their manager, Bill Collins, who was enlisted to play accordion on “Sweet Tuesday Morning.” Although not a performing member of the band, legally Collins was the fifth member of Badfinger.

”Baby Blue” – Single Mix


When “Baby Blue” was released in the US, Al Steckler, the president of Apple US, felt that song needed to be stronger for airplay on American radio. Stickler remixed the drum tracks adding reverb on snare for the song’s first verse and the bridge. While “Baby Blue” was my favorite song on the album, there was one thing that bothered me about the tune.

There is a Doppler Effect that appears on the guitar part that is especially prominent during the intro. It appears to shift pitch making the song decelerate and then accelerate at about every revolution of the 45. When I bought the single, I was ready to take it back to the store as I thought the record was out of round – with the hole drilled off center.

While this was an unusual occurrence, I had already purchased two other Capitol pressed singles where this was the case. When I began noticing the Doppler Effect on the radio plays of the same single, I deemed it intentional and didn’t take the record back to the store. The album release of “Baby Blue” also presented this anomaly, while no other cuts appeared to be out of round.



My only explanation is that Joey Molland must have been using a Leslie Rotating Speaker Cabinet set to the slowest setting. I have not seen anything to corroborate this hunch, but it seems likely and the Leslie Cabinet would produce the Doppler Effect heard on the song.

Problems on the Horizon


With exception of a very poor review in Rolling Stone, “Straight Up” was praised by music critics everywhere. With these reviews, there was the inevitable comparison to the Beatles that the band had been subjected to since signing to Apple as the Iveys in 1968. In fact, they began hating the comparisons, as it seemed to deny the fact that they were excellent writers and musicians in their own right.

The problems surrounding the recording of “Straight Up” mirrored greater problems that Badfinger was experiencing with management and money. Their American tours were disasters with the band scheduled for gigs that were impossible to make due to a lack additional travel time between cities that resulted in cancelled and late concerts. Their American manager, Stan Polley was taking a lion’s share of the profits and band members were constantly broke while record sales and tour receipts were adequate.

One other contractual arrangement that plagued the band was that songwriters shared their royalties with the other members of Badfinger and this included band manager Bill Collins. The arrangement had the actual song’s composer receiving the initial 50% of the writing royalties; and the remaining 50% was then split among all five members including Bill Collins.

A single author could only receive only as much as 60% of the writing royalties for a song that he had authored 100%. This is significant, as song royalties tend to be a greater source of revenue for musicians. In most circumstances, royalties constitute a greater percentage of a musician’s revenue than record sales, concert receipts, and merchandising – which are generally shared with a number of other concerns.

The band began having personality conflicts as well. Guitarist Pete Ham was the first to leave the group. When Ham quit, he was replaced by Bob Jackson who remained in the band when Pete rejoined. Molland left the band in 1974 and was not replaced. When Pete Ham hanged himself in his garage on April 24, 1975, the band officially disbanded. Ham’s suicide note indicated that manager Stan Polley was source of his despair. His death occurred three days before his 32nd birthday and one month before the birth of his only child, Petera.

In 1978, Joey Molland and Tom Evans resurrected the band, and within months Mike Gibbins rejoined as well. Gibbins would leave in 1979 and Molland and Evans held the band together until mounting personality clashes occurred between the two principle members. Molland continued touring as Badfinger. In 1982, Evans and Mike Gibbins began competing with Molland’s Badfinger by also touring under the Badfinger name. Bob Jackson would also join this lineup.

Following a heated phone conversation between Molland and Evans over royalties, Tom Evans followed Pete Ham’s example and hanged himself the next day in his garden on November 19, 1983. No note was left; he was 36.

The next year, Molland, Gibbins, and Jackson joined forces for yet another version of the Badfinger lineup. Badfinger disbanded for good in 1984. Molland is currently the only surviving member of the “No Dice” & “Straight Up” line-up of Badfinger. Drummer Mike Gibbins died in his sleep at the age of 56 on October 4, 2005.

When you listen to “Straight Up,” one would have never known the turmoil that the band was experiencing in and out of the studio. For years, this album was out of print and both original copies and bootleg versions as well as a limited edition remastered CD from 1993 have reportedly fetched high prices from fans and collectors alike.

By 1995, a permanent release of “Straight Up” was issued and included five Emerick produced cuts and the single mix of “Baby Blue.” Unfortunately, I cannot feature the entire LP on this blog as most of it is not available on YouTube. I have most of the Badfinger catalog of recordings, and will arguably state that “Straight Up” is their finest. Get it if you can.


2 comments:

  1. George was called away for the Concert For Bangladesh, after a sincere called from Ravi. He produced two tracks and the rest Todd Rundgren did a fine job with

    ReplyDelete
  2. George was called away for the Concert For Bangladesh, after a sincere called from Ravi. He produced two tracks and the rest Todd Rundgren did a fine job with

    ReplyDelete