Vinyl Score: Badfinger
Monday, May 26, 2008 11:51:49 AM
Back when I was treading the boards the guitarist from No Dice – a fella who rejoiced in the name Diesel – came in to our rehearsal studio as we were packing up and had a pleasant chat. He took a particular shine to one of our guitarists' sunburst Les Paul and 20w Marshall amp set-up and asked if he could have a go. Upon being given permission he impressed the hell out of both the guitarists in the band by tossing off the intro to “Constipated Duck” and various other wrist-mangling Jeff Beck chord sequences.
Mind you, we had been auditioning a drummer earlier and he was so unimpressed at the guitarists’ rendition of the intro to “Purple Haze” he emerged from behind his kit and taught them how to play it properly, so it is probably true to say that it did not take much to impress said guitarists at that stage of their career.
So far as I know, No Dice never released an album called “Badfinger” so I guess some of you will have realised that this is a review of an album called “No Dice” by Badfinger.
Oddly enough, I am only three acts into my review of my vinyl record collection and this is the second band of the three who had two members die. With the Allman Brothers, two members died in motorcycle accidents; with Badfinger, two of them hanged themselves.
I am not entirely sure the circumstances behind their suicides, but I seem to recall the band was fairly comprehensively stiffed by their management which may have contributed to their state of mind.
Be that as it may, what about the music?
Badfinger were dogged throughout their career with the reputation of being Beatles copyists, which is odd for a band that started out life as The Iveys, a name chosen to conjure up images of The Hollies.
They signed to The Beatles’ record label, Apple, and are the label’s best selling act other than the Fab Four.
I think “No Dice” is their second album and it starts with a nifty rocker called “I Can’t Take It”. If I played it to you and said this is a long lost McCartney classic in the mould of “Drive My Car” you’d probably be half inclined to believe me.
If the band was to become tired of the Beatles comparisons they did themselves no favours by decisions such as titling one of their songs “Love Me Do” (a routine Quo-like 12-bar) and going so far as to include one song (“Better Days”) that clearly was meant for Ringo to sing.
Side one ends with a triplet of great songs. “Midnight Caller” is a mid-tempo piano-based bitter-sweet love song to a prostitute. It’s followed by the hit single “No Matter What”, a straight-forward driving pop song which I tried to get one of my bands to cover but which was thrown out because the rhythm section complained it was too simple (bloody musos).
Side one ends with “Without You”, the song that should have set Tom Evans and Pete Ham (the writers and the two guys who hanged themselves) up for life. It’s the original version but not the best, seeing as Harry Nilsson pretty much nailed the song and made it his own. Nevertheless, Badfinger’s version is not without its charm, especially on the long Hey Jude style fade out which also threatens to turn into “Whiter Shade of Pale” at times.
The song highlights one of the problems with the band which may have stopped them from achieving the level of success their songs deserve, and that is the fact that the band are middling musicians. The singer struggles to hit the notes and the band’s playing is a bit lumpen.
In a perfect world the leading lights of Badfinger would now be writing hits for Kylie Minogue or Mariah Carey (wait, hang on …)
Side two does not have the quality of side one, having a few too many watered down boogie numbers. It starts with a whimsical number called “Blodwyn” which reminds the listener that the band were from Wales.
The closing track, “We’re For The Dark” is probably the most interesting song, lyrically and instrumentally. It’s acoustic guitar based but with some subtle orchestral additions and underlines how ordinary the rest of the production on the album was.
As you can see, it is impossible (for me anyway) to avoid describing Badfinger in terms of how their work relates to the Beatles and this album, with half a dozen very strong songs on it, three OK numbers and three fillers really could have done with some input from George Martin.
I imagine the band got mightily cheesed off with the likes of me constantly comparing them to The Beatles and in any case at the time of this album music fashion was moving in a heavier direction, and Badfinger’s blend of commercial rock was going out of style, not to return until the jingly-jangly indy pop revival of the eighties.
In order to cast off their old pop image the band subsequently recorded a studio album that was much heavier and bluesier, and the record label refused to release it. When “No Dice” was reissued in 1991, Apple included the unreleased tracks on a bonus disc.
As mentioned, the bonus tracks are heavier and bluesier, and something really weird has been done to the vocals, which sound like they are playing at 16 rpm while the rest of the band is on thirty-three and a third. Frankly, it makes the singer sound brain-damaged and were it not for the fact that my turntable plays a bit fast anyway I would assume that there was something wrong with the turntable, or maybe the disc is warped.
As ever, the songs are generally pretty good on the bonus disc and the playing is unexceptional.
Of all the albums in my vinyl collection this is the only one I purchased during the period when I did not own a turntable, so it is still fairly unfamiliar to me. I bought it because my friend Kevin Warne lent me a copy back in the days when I had a record player, so I must have been impressed then and I am pretty impressed now. By most accounts this is not the best Badfinger album, either, but it is pretty good nonetheless, and recommended if you like power pop where the songs take precedence over the musicianship.
Keep or dump? A definite keeper. The more I play it, the more it grows on me and the less distracted I become by the white-bread arrangements. I may have to check out some more of their stuff. I suspect this may end up as an 8 out of 10 album after more playing but for now, 7/10.
P.S. The YouTube link to the track "Better Days" suggests these guys were better musicians than I give them credit for.