BADFINGER: MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC (1970)
1) Come And Get It; 2) Crimson Ship; 3) Dear Angie; 4) Fisherman; 5) Midnight Sun; 6) Beautiful And Blue; 7) Rock Of All Ages; 8) Carry On Till Tomorrow; 9) I'm In Love; 10) Walk Out In The Rain; 11) Angelique; 12) Knocking Down Our Home; 13) Give It A Try; 14) Maybe Tomorrow; 15*) Storm In A Teacup; 16*) Arthur.
A bizarre title. This is pretty good music, here on Badfinger's debut album, but it could hardly be called «magic», and it's certainly not very Christian, either. So perhaps it is really the soundtrack to The Magic Christian, an eccentric black comedy from 1969 featuring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr? Not really, since only three songs out of fourteen were actually used in the movie: ʽCarry On Till Tomorrowʼ, ʽRock Of All Agesʼ, and ʽCome And Get Itʼ — all three songs produced by Paul McCartney, and the latter one actually written by McCartney, and, as the now-available demo version on the Beatles' Anthology 3 clearly shows, recorded following McCartney's original arrangement and instructions to a tee.
Of the remaining 11 songs, 7 were taken by Apple Records directly off the poorly promoted LP Maybe Tomorrow, which Badfinger released in 1969 when they were still going around as The Iveys; and only 4 were newly written by the band members. Still, the results are not really as chaotic as they could seem — in the early years at least, Badfinger had a pretty steady style of pop songwriting, and as for production values, there is relatively small difference here between the styles of Paul McCartney or Tony Visconti, who produced the early Iveys material: maybe because both of them were still relatively inexperienced in the tricky art of production, and for the most part, let the dogs run free wherever they wanted to.
Anyway, it is best to forget about any phantom «soundtrack» connections (there actually was an entirely different, much more obscure «proper» soundtrack to The Magic Christian) and just treat this as a standard debut album, especially since it's a very good debut album. Guitarist Pete Ham and guitar / bass player Tom Evans emerge as chief songwriters (although early member and bass player Ron Griffiths' sole contribution, ʽDear Angieʼ, is among the catchiest tunes here as well), and they already try their hands at different varieties of the pop sound.
ʽCome And Get Itʼ, typically of any McCartney-colored song of the era, became a big hit for the boys, although Paul had a very good reason for not leaving the tune for himself — it very clearly sounds underwritten and unfinished, and he probably just could not find the proper way to turn it into something truly Beatles-worthy, so he just decided to leave it at a «Badfinger-worthy» stage. It's basically just one verse and a «semi-chorus» (you sort of expect a second half after the "...will you walk away from a fool and his money?" line, but it never comes), repeated several times — with a melodic hook strong enough to trigger a mild attack of beatlemania and guarantee sales, but not strong enough to bring a sense of completion to the song, so that I cannot even state that ʽCome And Get Itʼ is the best song on the record.
Although, granted, it is pretty hard to single out any highlights. Both Ham and Evans were sympathetic, innocent, romantic boys with a deep love for «pop beauty» and a good understanding of rock'n'roll, even if they were always much too «clean» and «pretty» to be able to rock out along with the best of 'em. There is exactly one bona fide «rock'n'roll» number on the album — ʽRock Of All Agesʼ, which sounds almost exactly like classic Slade, right down to the throat-bursting vocals (the likes of which are usually expected to come from Scotland), and it kicks plenty of ass, but its barroom boogie atmosphere feels quite out of place on the album (although, as an undercover admirer of the barroom boogie atmosphere, boy am I glad it's there!). Every other track where you hear heavy distorted riffage — ʽMidnight Sunʼ and ʽGive It A Tryʼ, in particular — is in the «power-pop» vein: although Badfinger did not necessarily pioneer the synthesis of Britpoppy hooks with heavy guitar sound, it is also true that ʽMidnight Sunʼ, almost gloating over that synthesis, sounds like nothing else from 1970, when most people were concerned about making an ultimate choice between the «hard» and «soft» camps.
On the other hand, without displaying any aversion towards distorted guitars, Badfinger's preferred means of expression is still a folkish vibe, best served with a mild touch of psychedelia, as on ʽBeautiful And Blueʼ, the album's finest, most delicate ballad, built on a complex contrast between at least three different guitar tones (one hard-rocking, one psychedelic, one country-rockish) and a strings arrangement on top. Songs like these derail the stereotype of Badfinger as «Beatles-lite» (as well as it could be supported by the likes of ʽCome And Get Itʼ) — unlike the Beatles, Badfinger were never as experimental and unpredictable in the studio, but their arrangements, even though always sticking to time-approved instruments, could be equally complex and variegated if they really wanted to.
At the other end of the anything-but-monotonous spectrum is ʽCarry On Till Tomorrowʼ, starting out nice, quiet, acoustic, lightly sprayed with high-pitched harmonies, but eventually building up towards a set of orchestral crescendos and powerful electric solos that almost presage the emergence of ʽStairway To Heavenʼ (except that Badfinger, at this point at least, preferred to stay on the optimistic side and not share the burden of all the griefs and sorrows of humanity).
And in between these mini-epic, homebrewn-grand highlights, we get pretty ditties a-plenty — unless the concept of a «pop song» as such annoys you, ʽDear Angieʼ, ʽI'm In Loveʼ, and ʽGive It A Tryʼ are all charming little catchy trifles, and the boys' slightly parodic attempt at writing something in the musical genre (ʽKnocking Down Our Homeʼ) is a bit kitschy, but works due to their «angelic» harmonization.
In short, do not be fooled by the title of the album or its patchy reputation: assembled as it is from several various sources, it already shows all the strengths of Badfinger, even though some of the craft still remained to be perfected, and some extra seriousness and depth still had to be attained. It simply happened to become very quickly overshadowed by No Dice, seen as the «proper» debut for the band — a little unjust, I'd say, considering that there is not a single genuine misstep on Magic Christian. So we will decisively disregard the gesture on the album sleeve and raise our thumbs up instead.
Check "Magic Christian Music" (MP3) on Amazon