Monday, October 17, 2011

Badfinger 1: Magic Christian Music

Every now and then we wish VH-1 would repeat some of their original Behind The Music episodes. Surely if they can show that hideous four-hour Jackson family dramatization (starring Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington as Papa Joe) twice a month, can’t we at least relive the Leif Garrett story at 3am?
One of the better installments was the one they did for Badfinger. This was far and away one of the best and truly saddest stories they tackled. While every other profile at least suggested that there was hope after the big crash, the Badfinger story started about elbow high, then sank steadily. There was no big career arc here, outside of getting discovered by the Beatles, which probably did as much work against them as for them. They sported a truly great songwriter in Pete Ham, a guy who loved nothing more than writing songs and making records. And when the music business took that away from him, he hung himself.
It really is a shame, since they started with such promise. They also started with a different lineup and sound. Signed to Apple under the name The Iveys, they recorded a pleasant pop album with more than a little Beatle influence, and several nods to British music hall. Due to record company shenanigans, Maybe Tomorrow was released only in Germany and Italy, but not in the UK or the US.
Within a year bass player Ron Griffiths left the band, and the others were given the assignment of replicating a Paul McCartney demo for the soundtrack of a movie Ringo was in. Despite its lyrical brevity, “Come And Get It” was a catchy hit, and the band (now called Badfinger) were allowed to contribute a couple more songs to the film. The resulting Magic Christian Music album included those songs, plus seven tracks from Maybe Tomorrow, some of which were remixed for the better.
Pete hadn’t quite emerged as a songwriter yet, though “Carry On Till Tomorrow” and “Rock Of All Ages” (with McCartney bashing away on piano and adding occasional whoops) show the two sides of Tom Evans. From Ron’s extra sweet “Dear Angie” through Tom’s lilting “Fisherman” and “Maybe Tomorrow”, it’s the sound of a group finding its own pop sound in a time when that was becoming passé for a rock band. “Crimson Ship” sports a great chorus and guitar to match, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
Despite the respect and royalties the band and estates finally received over the years, their digital legacy is just as confusing as their vinyl catalog. Both Maybe Tomorrow and Magic Christian Music were included in the first CD versions of the Apple catalog, but only the latter album was featured in the 2010 rollout. As a further complication, the new CD offered different bonus tracks than the first time, with a further selection available only as either digital downloads or in a massive box set covering all the main Apple artists.

Iveys Maybe Tomorrow (1969)—3
1992 CD reissue: same as 1969, plus 4 extra tracks
Badfinger Magic Christian Music (1970)—3
1992 CD reissue: same as 1970, plus 4 extra tracks
2010 CD reissue: same as 1970, plus 7 extra tracks

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