Friday, November 18, 2011

Badfinger 3: Straight Up

Perhaps it’s because he didn’t live long enough for people to say otherwise, but the general consensus is that Pete Ham was a pretty nice guy. Maybe too nice, since history has shown that you’ve pretty much gotta be something of a prick to make it in the music business.

His image has always been that of an extremely talented man who loved making music, and loyal to a fault. These qualities are best exhibited by the opening track on Straight Up, “Take It All”. The song came about after the Concert for Bangla Desh; Badfinger was part of the onstage band, strumming along on acoustics and percussion. Then, when George Harrison stepped forward to play “Here Comes The Sun”, he asked Pete to play the song alongside him. Apparently Tom and Joey (incidentally, both Liverpudlians) were extremely jealous that Pete got his own moment in the spotlight, and gave him crap for it. Pete’s response was “Take It All”, an absolutely gracious statement, free of ego. It’s a wonderful song, and just another moment that makes his story so heartbreaking.

It’s also a great opener for a fantastic album. Straight Up had a difficult birth, starting with a pile of scrapped sessions, continuing with George Harrison as producer. When the Concert for Bangla Desh took up his time, the album was completed with Todd Rundgren. There’s not a clunker in the set. It goes right from “Take It All” to the power pop classic “Baby Blue” and its wonderful interlocking guitars. A mini-suite of “Money” and “Flying” displays their talent for piecing together fragments into a cohesive production. “I’d Die Babe” is sneakily Beatlesque, and the majestic “Name Of The Game” gets a big sound out of only a few instruments, with Pete’s simple piano solo buried in the mix before the fade.

Joey dominates the credits on side two with three excellent songs, depicting life on the road in “Suitcase”, fingerpicking folk on “Sweet Tuesday Morning” and straight up (sorry) rock on “Sometimes”. Pete’s “Perfection” and Tommy’s “It’s Over” show off the band’s versatility, but the real centerpiece is “Day After Day”, another Pete Ham masterpiece, right down to the angelic harmonies, twin slide leads and nice piano touches from Leon Russell.

Reviews of Straight Up were mixed at the time, which is astounding considering that the same album led several wish lists until its eventual CD release in the ‘90s. The new power pop generation could finally hear the roots of Teenage Fanclub and Jellyfish in pristine quality, and the band gained even more overdue praise. Even the requisite bonus tracks were interesting, including some early alternate takes and the shimmering single mix of “Baby Blue”. Some of those bonuses were carried over to the next CD, while others were relegated to download-only status in favor of other outtakes. Taken all together, it’s now possible to compile the earlier version of the album, and it’s clear that redoing it was the smart move. Straight Up was a four-star album when we began typing this, but has since been upgraded. Justifiably.

Badfinger Straight Up (1972)—
1993 CD reissue: same as 1972, plus 6 extra tracks
2010 CD reissue: same as 1972, plus 6 extra tracks

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