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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bad Company: Bad Company


1) Can't Get Enough; 2) Rock Steady; 3) Ready For Love; 4) Don't Let Me Down; 5) Bad Company; 6) The Way I Choose; 7) Movin' On; 8) Seagull.

«Beware of bad company», they would warn us all in Victorian times, «nothing like bad company to bring shame and disrepute to the respectable, intellectually stimulating type of music they call hard rock». But did we listen? Hell no! And instead of ejecting ex-Free vocalist Paul Rodgers, ex-Free drummer Simon Kirke, ex-Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, and ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell from the midst of our good company, we blessed them on their long road to­wards radio success, popularizing guitar distortion among truck drivers and competing with Frank Sinatra for the love of bored housewives. No longer would hard rock have to be associated with words like «scary» or «creepy». And while it would be unfair to put all the blame on Bad Com­pany, they share an impressive enough chunk of it to deserve this opening shot. It is extremely ironic, in retrospect, that the band was the first act to be signed by Led Zeppelin's new label Swan Song — considering that Bad Company stand for pretty much everything in hard rock that Led Zep usually stand against.

None of which should be interpreted as a flat-out condemnation of their self-titled debut, which is actually pretty good, as far as «soft hard rock» ever goes, and may be even better for those whose ears have not been punished in childhood through continuous exposure to mind-numbing «Clas­sic Rock Radio». The long-term fiasco of Bad Company could be predictable right from the start, but the start itself was respectable. All of the members came from vastly superior bands — Free were among the original pioneers of blues-based hard rock; Mott The Hoople were among the first outfits to blend hard rock with singer-songwriting and punk attitude; and King Crimson were... um, a band with a sitting guitarist — and even though the basic idea was to keep it simpler, stupider than their predecessors, their «supergroup» status at first helped minimize the trauma.

Of all the individual band members, in terms of sheer sonic contribution, nobody matters much here except for Rodgers. On a Free album, the man would always compete for attention with the guitar player and the bassist, both of whom were not only accomplished, but earnestly strived to flash and flaunt their accomplishments. On Bad Company, all of the musicians merely play — doing their best to simply keep a steady groove and lay down the basic chords. In his Crimson days, Boz Burrell was actually taught how to play bass by Fripp, and although they taught him well enough to lay down some fine playing on a few KC songs, by the time he ran away to Bad Company he'd already forgotten most of it. Mick Ralphs never was a guitar phenomenon even in his Mott days, much less here. Simon Kirke is a fine drummer, 'sall. All of which means — no competition for Paul: Bad Company belongs to him, fair and square.

The general policy of the album is announced immediately. A brief countdown, a gene­ric C po­wer chord, two more, off you go — and a greatest hit is born, a song that one could probably learn to play in five minutes, which is likely to constitute 0.0000001% of the total amount of time it has been played on radio stations around the world since 1974. I still cannot understand what it is about ʽCan't Get Enoughʼ that makes it stick, but somehow it does something for me that ten thousand similar songs, following in its wake, do not. Maybe it's just Rodgers' personal charm. It certainly cannot be any sort of «melodic impact».

That said, the only two songs from Bad Company that I would want to preserve for the perennial playlist are ʽRock Steadyʼ and ʽReady For Loveʼ, conveniently placed side-by-side. ʽRock Stea­dyʼ is like ʽFoxy Ladyʼ-lite, built around a similar chord sequence, but simplified, trimmed, lo­tioned, and meticulously integrated in The Establishment. Still, the guitar and bass retain some primal meanness which, when multiplied by Rogers' slightly threatening intonations, belies the band's nature as totally robotic and artificial. ʽReady For Loveʼ was brought by Ralphs over from his Mott days (it had already appeared two years earlier on All The Young Dudes), and even though the original was rougher and grittier, with a thick distorted rumble at the center of things, Rodgers is clearly the man to sing it, far more convincing than Ian Hunter with his lack of range and vocal power ever was. (Not that Hunter couldn't deliver a mean tune when one was available, but sizzly-steamy slowburners like ʽReady For Loveʼ honestly deserve a different fate).

Bad Company ballads are a whole lotta different story. I can handle the combination of «Paul Rod­gers + muscular hard rock groove», but «Paul Rodgers + wimpy country-rock mush» is a bit too much. Therefore, ʽDon't Let Me Downʼ (no relation to the Beatles song, fortunately), ʽThe Way I Chooseʼ (aren't they the exact same song, by the way?), and even the minimalistic acoustic ballad ʽSeagullʼ, which have nothing whatsoever to recommend them except for Rodgers' «ma­gic», may freely and without compensation vanish off the face of the planet for all I care. The only song that redeems the second side is the title track — a romantic outlaw painting tailor-made for Rodgers' persona, even distinctly echoing Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection in spots.

And still, a thumbs up. Bad Company is what we might call a ʽbad album gone goodʼ, to para­phrase one of the band's future titles: as lame as the basic idea behind the existence of Bad Com­pany may be in general, this particular realization of it exceeds expectations. The band's complete motto for 1974 actually read «keep it simple, but inspired». Over the next two years, with money, dope, and cheap fame rolling in, that motto would get short-circuited.

Check "Bad Company" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Bad Company" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. just a little correction - Mick Ralphs himself handled lead vocals on the Mott version of Ready for Love. and indeed did an inferior job to Rodgers.

  2. It seems to me sort of odd to accuse Bad Co. of standing "for" everything that Led Zep supposedly stood "against", when Bad Co. essentially stood for nothing at all. Bad Co. were a tightened up version of Free, minus the weed-addled hippie content. Rodgers and co. basically were playing pre-disco soul/R&B, "whitened up" a bit with extra guitar distortion. Take the guitars away and add horns, and you've basically got a set of generic Stax material, no better or worse than anything the actual Stax or Atlantic labels were putting out at the time. Bad Co. were nothing but a rock band: no politics, no philosophy, nothing but the groove. When all expectations are appropriately lowered (i.e., completely abandoned), Bad Co. succeeds at an elemental level. And yet, for all I've said here, I'd 2000 times rather Bad Co. than some modern no-frills "rawk" outfit like Nickelback. The difference is in the ingredients: Bad Co. were devotees of Otis Redding and other 60's soul greats. They aren't pretending to better their influences, but they aren't completely prostituting them, either. In the end, Bad Co. will never be any thinking man's favorite group, but if I had to choose between a completely unpretentious groove and a complex, ultimately meaningless, "artistic statement to the masses" a la Kansas/Styx, I know who I'm choosing.

    1. I don't think George is saying that Bad Company were intentionally touting a well-formulated political and cultural agenda with their music. But unless you're a fanatic (and fantastical) "entertainment isn't political!!" madman (as most people seem determined to be these days) you realise that everything a human person does, and especially the art he or she produces, has political implications.
      Now you can differ on how seriously you take this, on one hand, you can condemn just about everyone and everything, from Bach to Scorsese to Tom Waits, for being immoral or unetichal or propagating the patriarchal capitalistic oppresion of the working-class or what have you, or, you can take it slightly easier, recognise the political and philosophical implications of various artworks, without generally making too big a fuss about it.
      And within the somewhat narrow confines of 70's Hard Rock, yes, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company occupied opposite sides of the political and philosophical spectrum. And also, yes, IMO, Led Zeppelin was on the superior side.

      As for the album, it's okay, but even the best songs have such a sickly, oppressive, confident lazy-macho vibe to them that I never find myself listening to them, and when I do I come away with a feeling of slight nausea and a vauge embarrasment about my gender.

    2. Believe me, I understand that all art has social and political implications, and that this includes even the most nominally "non-political" art, such as Bad Co., or Robert E. Howard, for that matter. You're correct that Bad Co. certainly were "conformists" rather than "rebels", and that their very group name and macho, "outlaw" image pretty much underscore, rather than contradict, that fact.

      However, considering them the polar opposite of Led Zep counts more as a musical than philosophical argument. Without Page's production genius, you're essentially left with a pompous, long winded, blues band that (unlike Bad Co.) doesn't even bother to write a good 60% of its early material.

      Of course, there's more to Led Zep than this: their position at the head of the hard rock explosion pretty much guarantees their preeminence in this genre. Bad Co., on the other hand, are, as I've stated above, simply a rock band - not really even a "hard" rock band. I don't dispute your view (or George's) that Led Zep were the superior group.

      However, to me, the opposite of Zep would be something along the lines of Grand Funk - i.e., complete incompetence both musically and philosophically, rather than being meticulously contained within a single genre and playing completely inside the box as Bad Co. did.

      As for your reaction to Bad Co.'s "sickly oppressive" vibe, I'd wager this is due to their essentially conformist nature, and I see your point. But, then again, nearly every single soul and blues act that Bad Co. were modeled on were doing the same, and had for years (exceptions like Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and P-Funk notwithstanding). And, after all, that "lazy, macho" vibe comes straight from the blues.

      Where I agree with you is this: Bad Co. were a leading example of the sterilization and formulization of commercial rock and roll radio in the 1970's, which continues to this day. However, if I'm forced to listen to such tripe, I'd rather have Bad Co. on the radio than Nickelback (due, as stated in my last post, to Bad Co.'s absorption of soul and blues influences, as opposed to Nickelback's absorption of...Bad Co.!).

  3. Matx pretty much nails it. What's impressive in it's own way is that this album was meant to be simple, on the border of generic. Think about it and you'll realize that the goal of the band was pretty ambitious: strip the music of everything but the groove - especially don't rely on instrumental pyrotechnics and crunchy riffs - and still maintain quality.
    Frankly I don't see why any song stands out. It's all so even, just not yet boring. Still the songs have enough small features of their own to be distuingishable, at least as long I listen to them. Even Don't let me down and The Way I chose are different.
    I can't but admire the band for delivering.