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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Badfinger: Head First


BADFINGER: HEAD FIRST (1974; 2000)

1) Lay Me Down; 2) Hey, Mr. Manager; 3) Keep Believing; 4) Passed Fast; 5) Rock'n'Roll Contract; 6) Saville Row; 7) Moonshine; 8) Back Again; 9) Turn Around; 10) Rockin' Machine.

I really should be doing this in the «Addenda» section, but this album almost made it on the store shelves. Almost, that is, before Warner Bros. suspected that the band's manager Stan Polley was stealing funds (actually, Badfinger themselves suspected the same, but for whatever reason War­ners sued both Polley and Badfinger) and, over the course of the accident, rejected the completed album. The master tapes were subsequently left to rot, and were never recovered, so this particu­lar Head First, finally out with a twenty-five year retardation, has been reconstructed from rough mixes (so that one can only guess what the actual ʽSaville Rowʼ must have looked like: this track here is only thirty six seconds long, an atmospheric, artsy keyboard-based introduction that fades away before you can even try guessing where it might lead).

Head First was cut in two weeks over a focused work period in December 1974 — an admirable feat, actually, considering the heavy blow that befell the band with the withdrawal of Wish You Were Here, the subsequent resignation of Pete Ham (replaced by Bob Jackson), the subsequent return of Pete Ham (because Warners were not willing to work with the band without Pete), and the subsequent resignation of Molland. Under such circumstances, you'd normally expect either a disaster or a masterpiece — but Head First is neither. Maybe the master tapes, had they survived, could produce a different impression, yet I somehow doubt it.

Just like in the days of Ass, Pete is keeping his head down here. He gets the usual honor of open­ing the album, and ʽLay Me Downʼ is a respectable power-popper, but without a particularly me­morable or emotional riff to kick it up to the skies of ʽNo Matter Whatʼ or even ʽJust A Chanceʼ, and the nagging chorus of "need your loving, need your loving, need your loving, it's everything to me" sounds a bit perfunctory and repetitive. The rhythmic acoustic-and-slide ballad ʽKeep Belie­vingʼ is a little better if you like your Pete Ham in a subtle / tender / confessional mode bet­ter than you like him in «power» mode, but the hooks are nowhere near great.

Since Molland was already out, Evans, Gibbins, and new band member Bob Jackson had to take the burden of songwriting on their own shoulders. Jackson's solo contribution ʽTurn Aroundʼ is a rather lumpy hard rock anthem that, truth be told, is more Grand Funk than Badfinger, only with­out all the testosterone. Gibbins continues with his fairy-light folksy stuff with ʽBack Againʼ, a pleasant cowboy ditty without any cowboys, but with some curious harmonica vs. synthesizer interplay. And Evans is the one to serve as the band's personal spokesman here. He takes it out vi­ciously and vivaciously on their enemies with telling titles like ʽHey Mr. Managerʼ and ʽRock'n'Roll Contractʼ — the two best songs on the album, actually, suggesting that, before set­ting up an installment plan for sui­cide, it might have been a good idea to come up with a fully conceptual album on the evils of rock management.

Overall, I wish I could say that it doesn't show this whole thing was tossed off in two weeks time, but more often than not, it does. But if we look at this from a different side — yes, they really needed something out on the market quick, yes, they were in a complete mess, yes, none of them were genius songwriters, yes, these are rough mixes, and still it's a perfectly nice record that does not in the least pathetically wallow in self-pitying (even such a lyrically bitter tune as ʽHey, Mr. Managerʼ tries to be as upbeat as possible when castigating Mr. Manager for "messing up my life"). As a «swan song» for the original Badfinger, it does not work, but as a worthy addition to the hardcore canon, it isn't any worse than any of the band's second-tier albums. Thumbs up, but do not expect a revelation or anything.

The official edition, by the way, adds a whole extra CD of mostly acoustic demos saved up from the same sessions — some of which could have been nourished to full health, had they had the time and will, but by early 1975, they clearly had nothing left. Was it all really that desperate? Did Pete really have to hang himself, or was that just the hideous effect of a nerve wreck shatter­ing an already unstable mental system? Who the hell could tell? In a way, I've always thought that, perhaps, it wasn't all just a matter of bad luck and unfortunate accidents — maybe the eerie downfall of Badfinger has to be thought of in «Altamont terms», sort of one of those symbolic events that separate the idealistic 1960s from the grim 1970s. After all, Badfinger were an idea­listic 1960s band at heart — at a time when the whole thing was becoming cynically obsolete. They learned to sound different from the Beatles, but they did not want to learn to sound like the Bay City Rollers, either, and paid the symbolic price for that. In any case, there must have been more to the whole thing than just a treacherous manager and poor understanding from the record industry bosses. Mustn't there?

Check "Head First" (CD) on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. To answer your last question, we would like to think it was more than that. Bad management is like the common cold in rock n roll....and really any artistic/entertainment endeavor, so it's not like these guys experienced anything unique. However, it was a ruthlessly brutal tsunami of bad faith, poor bookkeeping, heavy-handed distribution and general disregard of the wellfare of the band members themselves that was the outrageous misfortune of this sad tale. Not knowing Pete Ham from Adam, and even in reading the recollections of those that did, the reasons why it happened lurk much deeper than merely a sensitive artist being the victim of fraudulent and greedy scheisters.

    Among the proposed answers, my feeling is that it was "the hideous effect of a nerve wreck shatter­ing an already unstable mental system." I won't conjecture as to what may have went wrong emotionally, but he had so much to lose by going through with it that you have to wonder if much thought at all preceded it, what with a young son and a baby girl. Desperation and deperession have a way of swirling the mind's ability to judge situations properly.

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  3. (Note -- I composed this shortly after your post, but was having weird cookie problems and couldn't post. I did save it, and really like this album, so here it is.)

    Dude.... "Passed Fast" and "Moonshine", the Yin and the Yang, are probably the two best songs here. "Passed Fast" is a dizzying, desperate howl: "nothing is impossible, you know what you must do / the flame of hope will see you through / are you through? / THROUGH! THROUGH!". Tom has a bit of a knack for pithy lyrics, and never more devastatingly than here. Try listening to this song right after the end of With You Were Here and see how the intensity carries over.

    "Moonshine"... the album's happiest and fully realized song, a nice multipart number by Mike, Tom and Bob (who also was in on "Passed Fast"). This would have been a good permutation of the band, and by all rights they all would have stayed on the planet, succeeded somehow, and done many a tour, making a lot of people happy playing this song out under the stars.

    Regarding the significance of the Badfinger tragedy, well, yeah, the answer's in the question. A personal tragedy in public, especially one that highlights an existing flaw or evil, cries out for meaning. It's pretty clear from listening to Badfinger's songs that they were sensitive guys (I concur with poster above), and probably especially at risk if subjected to getting royally, persistently screwed. I suspect Pete and Tom were moderately bipolar. It's the people who don't get crazy high, but rather go through cycles between kinda high and very low -- often involving remarkable creativity -- who tend to kill themselves. Personal tragedy happens, in public = a cautionary icon is born. Altamont on a personal level. I hate when that happens.

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