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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Badfinger: Straight Up


1) Take It All; 2) Baby Blue; 3) Money; 4) Flying; 5) I'd Die Babe; 6) Name Of The Game; 7) Suitcase; 8) Sweet Tuesday Morning; 9) Day After Day; 10) Sometimes; 11) Perfection; 12) It's Over.

There is clearly a certain distance that separates Straight Up from No Dice, but it is hard to ex­press it in words — with the solid, but not spectacular consistency of Badfinger through those five years during which the band members somehow managed not to hang themselves, it takes a little getting used to their style in order to spot the evolution.

It might have something to do with the experience that the band gained from playing on Harri­son's All Things Must Pass: Straight Up seems to aspire to bigger pop heights, sometimes even to «epic» heights, as if George and Phil Spector somehow showed these kids the light, and the light quickly led them away from the well-focused, but thin sound of No Dice. This is not neces­sarily a good thing.

On one hand, it does result in a more consistent listening experience — not only is there not a single utter embarrassment here, like ʽWatford Johnʼ, there are also fewer straightforward «Beat­lisms», with the band striving further and further towards their own identity. But on the other one — surprisingly, there's always that other one — this does come at the expense of some of the «pure fun» quotient. Here, Badfinger are getting more serious, more philosophical, more pensive and gloomy, and no matter how hard you try to tackle the «power pop» tag on Straight Up, it always seems to come off in a matter of minutes. ʽI Can't Take Itʼ and ʽNo Matter Whatʼ — there's your power-pop: happy crunchy riffs and life-asserting choruses. These songs are more like «epic folk-pop» or something.

The original Straight Up was rejected by Apple, allegedly at the instigation of Harrison himself, and for good reason: the recordings, some of which are now available as bonus tracks on the CD release, sound like demos — with the song structures, lyrics, and melodies fully worked out, but the production and playing leave quite a lot to be desired. Harrison volunteered to produce the new sessions himself, and even ended up playing on a few tracks (he is distinctly credited for a guitar duet with Pete Ham on ʽDay After Dayʼ), but eventually fell out of the project because of the Concert for Bangladesh — where Badfinger actually backed him to return the favor, earning some ambiguous onstage praise from George ("I don't know if they're coming through on the acoustic guitars", quoth George during the band introduction part).

So Todd Rundgren was brought in to complete the sessions, and a fine job he did, with a thick, heavy, and at the same time crisp / sharp production style — re-injecting as much basic pop rock ener­gy as possible into what began life as a somewhat limp folk-pop exercise. Whether this hel­ped the band commercially is hard to guess: both Straight Up and its singles did moderately well on the charts — ʽDay After Dayʼ even broke them into the US Top 5 — but, on the whole, sales and chart positions could hardly be called impressive. There was nothing «titillating» about this kind of music, be it from a T. Rex, Led Zep, or Jethro Tull point of view; and the lack of a gol­den-voiced singer prevented the band from hitting it with the housewives, either. (I do have to say that quite a few of these here songs could have used a different vocal approach — Pete Ham bra­vely, but pointlessly sacrificing his weak throat on ʽTake It Allʼ is hardly the most pleasant expe­rience of my life).

And yet, a careful listen to Straight Up reveals more individual character and maturity than No Dice. The place of ʽNo Matter Whatʼ, with its seriously clichéd lyrics and, what's worse, some­what exaggerated attitudes, is here taken by ʽBaby Blueʼ, an entirely different type of bombastic love anthem — with open slots for some personal insecurity and some credible tenderness, con­densed and then exploded with each chorus release of "my Baby Blue...". And instead of ʽWith­out Youʼ, written according to the strict rules of the sentimental love ballad canon, we now have ʽName Of The Gameʼ — a piano-driven proto-power ballad with philosophical aspirations, clearly inspired by all that extra time shared in George's company; its hooks may not be as well pronounced as on ʽWithout Youʼ, but, on the other hand, there is no danger of ever sniffing a whiff of cheese on this particular occasion.

I am not a huge fan of ʽDay After Dayʼ, if that means somehow singling out this song from the rest of the Badfinger catalog and putting it on some Top 10 pedestal or other. Its main vocal hook seems based on a cheap trick (extra loudness emphasis on the song title in the chorus) and its main instrumental hook seems based on a cheap flourish (don't those piano notes they hit at the end of each chorus sound a bit Carpenter-ish to you?). However, for many people the chief point of attraction here is the Harrison / Ham slide guitar duet (which allegedly took a very long time to work out correctly, and was the chief problem that prevented the band from including the song in their live setlist) — and here I'd have to agree: all the lovers of George's slide style circa 1970-73 will want to include this resplendent example in their collection (and Pete is certainly no slouch, either, when it comes to standing up to the master).

Meanwhile, Joey Molland emerges as the band's only true rocker-in-residence: ʽSometimesʼ and ʽSuitcaseʼ add a necessary pinch of kick-ass excitement (the latter actually rocks harder in its original version, with distorted rhythm guitar ex­changed for a slide guitar and electric piano arrangement under Rundgren's supervision), although the "..tell me why" at the end of the first verse ʽSometimesʼ brings on uncomfortable associations with the Beatles' ʽWhat Goes Onʼ. In ad­dition, Molland and Evans collaborate on ʽFlyingʼ, which also happens to share its title with a Beatles song and its attitude with colorful psychedelia — but actually sounds more like contem­porary solo McCartney than anything circa 1967.

By the time Straight Up finally hit the record shelves, the band was already being ripped off by its managers, but its problems had not yet struck full time; consequently, Straight Up is the last relatively «cloudless» Badfinger record — its «dense», «serious» sound has more to do with a sincere desire to grow up and plant themselves some relevance, rather than with drawing inspira­tion for their art from their personal problems. I am not sure they were quite up to the task, and, faced with an uneasy choice between the «early misguided blunders» of No Dice (ʽWatford Johnʼ) and the occasionally forced, not-too-natural «seriousness» of Straight Up (ʽPerfectionʼ — I have no love for this song at all; it just adds some stuffy bullshit philosophy to an acoustic riff that re-writes ʽNo Matter Whatʼ) — I'd rather choose No Dice, albeit by a very thin margin.

Still, any album with the forceful delicacy of ʽBaby Blueʼ, the slide gorgeousness of ʽDay After Dayʼ, the toe-tapping catchiness of ʽSuitcaseʼ, the sweet bitterness of ʽSweet Tuesday Morningʼ and so on — any such album is a respectable thumbs up by definition; and anyway, Badfinger were not really a band that would dare to, or be capable of significantly overstepping their limits. In fact, probably the only way they could have recorded a bad album would be to live and let live all the way up to the mid-1980s; fortunately for us and unfortunately for them, the silly people at Apple Records took all the necessary precautions so as not to let that happen.

Check "Straight Up" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Straight Up" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Ugh. Not only those pianotingles remind me of The Carpenters when listening to Day after Day. Change the arrangement, make sure the vocals are more silky and its tailor made for Richard and Karen. The slide guitars only add to its unbearable sappiness.
    Sometimes is one of the best early Beatles rip offs I have ever heard. She loves you being my favourite song of the Fab Four I cannot help like Sometimes either.
    On YouTube we can find a live performance of Suitcase, stretched to 7 minutes. It surprises me they manage to give it that much crunch. That's to say, as long as they sing, because it has a very boring jam. The jam obviously is inspired by Cream, but their play is less than 10% interesting than what Clapton and Baker used to pull off.
    Of course we would have to wait for Blackmore (the solo on Starstruck) to learn the full potential of the slide guitar. Badfinger were way too civilized for something like that.

    1. Sorry, I just don't get all this Carpenters business. I think the piano's the second-best thing on the song, next to the slide of course. It's pop music, power or otherwise. A certain level of gloss is to be expected.

    2. But I like The Carpenters... well, I'm nostalgic about a few songs anyway, and that silken voice of Karen's. Their cover of "Superstar", co-written by Leon Russell, always tugs at my heartstrings.

      Speaking of Leon, that's him on those piano flourishes. The story of how he did it is similar to All Kooper's organ part on "Like A Rolling Stone": he just came up with it on the spot. Russell had the band play the song through once, getting the vibe, and then came up with the whole thing.

      I used to hear "Day After Day" on the radio and wonder who could do such a tender, moving song that didn't tilt into sappiness. Later I heard "Baby Blue" on the radio and wondered which power-pop genius had come up with that. Then I found out it was the same band who did "No Matter What" and I was hooked.

      With next to no filler and a number of Badfinger classics, this is arguably their best album. "Wish You Were Here" is more cohesive and rocking, and also filler-less, but doesn't hits the same high points as Pete's triad of genius here.

      Oh, and "It's Over"? My God, how apocalyptic! Do not listen when depressed, especially over a loss, unless you're up for some serious catharsis! Tom and Pete were too sensitive for their own good, though the music certainly turned out well.

  2. Speaking of Beatles associations, Flying reminds me of 'Baby You're A Rich Man' while 'Sometimes' sounds like 'She's A Woman', but I guess we could go on for hours. A fine album, anyway.

  3. Every time I hear the start of "I'd Die Babe" I want to "Hoo! Hey Hoo! Hoo! Hey Hoo! When you're life... is on the blink etc."
    Macca ripping of Joey Molland?

  4. No interest in this group, but WTF is dude in the middle thinking with that RIDONKULOUS hairdo? It looks like the mid 70's Farrah Fawcett feather 'do...only mulletized!

    1. LOL yes it is very "mulletized" indeed! My problem is they made Tommy look cross-eyed!

  5. I saw Badfinger live in the early seventies. It was the strangest concert I ever attended. Badfinger headlined and the radio stations promoted the concert. Also on the ticket were Poco and Leon Russell in small print. The concert started with Badfinger. They sounded good even though Evan's had his arm in a cast. They played all their hits. Then Poco came on and did their thing. Kinda crazy hippie country. Last was Leon Russell.The real headliner.He did his Mad Dog Bangala Desh type show and rocked the arena. It was backwards but it was better that way.

  6. I'm with you on Day After Day. It has become THE go-to Badfinger song on American radio—I think I hear it every time I go to the dentist's office. It has that depressing early-'70s pop vibe, if you know what I mean.