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Badfinger
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Badfinger

Badfinger was a British band from the 1960s and 70s. Their meteoric rise and tragic demise became a cautionary tale for the rock music industry. Once widely touted as the heir apparent to the Beatles, Badfinger is now seldom remembered outside their native land of Wales.

The band originated with guitarist/keyboardist Pete Ham (1947-75) and a group called The Panthers. Members changed to resemble the first band line-up, with Ron Griffiths on bass guitar and Dai Jenkins on guitar. The trio formed a band called the Iveys, named after a street in Swansea, Wales. By 1965, Mike Gibbins had joined as the drummer, and the band began playing locally with such groups as the Spencer Davis Group, the Who, the Moody Blues and the Yardbirds. The following year, with manager Bill Collins, Badfinger worked in London, both for David Garrick, a local singer, and as a solo act. In 1967, Dai Jenkins left and was replaced by Tom Evans.

This line-up signed with the Beatles label Apple Records in 1968 and Paul McCartney soon became enamored with the group's vocal sound, if not their unassuming name. He proposed a change to his proteges, still known as the Iveys

John Lennon wanted to call the band "Glass Onion", but no one liked the name. (Lennon later used the name for one of his comical songs on the White Album. Instead, The Iveys chose another Beatles-inspired moniker: "Badfinger." This was a reference to "Badfinger Boogie", an early working title of "With a Little Help from My Friends," from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band|".

Studio recording was difficult for Badfinger, with many failed attempts at a single occurring before the group finally offered "Maybe Tomorrow" in 1968. The single did well in the Netherlands and Germany, but not so well in England or the United States. Business and personal problems with Apple Records also contributed to the record's failure. However, enough interest was generated to keep the band alive for another year.

Paul McCartney wrote the band's breakthrough song, "Come and Get It", intended for part of the soundtrack to The Magic Christian. It was a hit throughout Europe and the United States, where it reached the Top Ten. Ron Griffiths soon quit the band to spend more time with his family. After the departure of Griffiths, the band reorganized into their definitive lineup. Tom Evans became the bassist, while guitarist Joey Molland joined in time to tour in support of Magic Christian Music, the band's first major outing.

The band's career began increasing exponentially in 1969. "Come and Get It", "Carry on Tomorrow" and "Rock of All Ages" were popular singles in the U.K. The band recorded many sessions for fellow Apple Records labelmates, notably George Harrison's All Things Must Pass," and John Lennon's Imagine."

In 1970, Badfinger released the album No Dice, the group's magnum opus. "No Matter What" has endured well on classic rock stations, while "Without You", became a bigger hit when sung by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey. One wonders at the potential songwriting talents of Pete Ham and Tom Evans, had their partnership survived the coming tragedies.

Badfinger subsequently found a new manager in Stan Polley, who would prove their downfall. The group toured in America, where their debut album had been well-received, but the group still saw no money and felt like they were living in the shadow of the Beatles. Some music critics had made unfavorable comparisons, during the anti-Beatles backlash that ensued, following the Fab Four's breakup in 1970.

Badfinger's second album, Straight Up came out in 1971, including "Day After Day", "Baby Blue" and "Name of the Game", all popular singles on both sides of the pond. Both George Harrison and Todd Rundgren took production credits on perhaps their most commercially successful record. The group also performed during the Concert for Bangladesh, raising their critical stock even further among the rock intelligentsia.

Unfortunately, Apple Records' finances were in chaos. Straight Up was not marketed effectively. Meanwhile, Stan Polley had been witholding income from the band members as they toured and recorded nonstop. Their last Apple album was Ass (1973), with a satirical record cover of a donkey following a carrot on a stick -- a theme more recently purloined by American band Styx. Unlike its predecessors, Ass lacked hit singles, and fared poorly in the charts. Further problems recording Badfinger's fifth album led to Polley negotiating a multi-million dollar deal with Warner Brothers Records.

Ass was almost immediately followed by the first Warner Brothers release, Badfinger. With the band's popularity in America at its peak, they recorded Wish You Were Here in late (1974). These last two Badfinger albums had more in common with another Beatles-inspired rock band that had just emerged, namely Queen.

After the 1974 U.S. tour, severe financial problems plagued the group. Large amounts of money disappeared from their account. Subsequently, the band lost their contract with Warner Brothers, who pulled "Wish You Were Here" from store shelves in early 1975. Later that year, Ham hanged himself in his garage in Surrey. His suicide letter blamed Stan Polley, "a heartless bastard," for the group's misfortunes, a tragic irony since Ham had been most supportive of Polley's management early on. For years afterward, lawsuits and bankruptcies haunted Badfinger on both sides of the Atlantic. Ham also left behind a widow and an infant daughter.

With Pete Ham's suicide, Badfinger had lost their arguably most talented member. However, Joey Molland had emerged as a songwriter during the band's recording career. Airwaves came out in 1978, with Peter Clarke (drums, of Stealers Wheel) and Tony Kaye (Yes) on keyboards. However, the album Airwaves fared poorly, and the band was reduced to playing small-time venues. Tony Kaye later rejoined Yes and Badfinger gradually became a non-entity outside Britain.

Ultimately, Tom Evans and Joey Molland split acrimoniously in 1979. They briefly operated rival bands, both using the name Badfinger. In 1983, a frustrated Tom Evans hanged himself at his home, in an eerie replay of Pete Ham's 1975 death scene. For all intents, Badfinger was over.

Since Tom Evans' death, Joey Molland and Mike Gibbins have alternated between recording projects and Badfinger live albums and compilations. Molland now lives in America, where he has been writing a definitive band history. In 1999, a new collection of posthumous Pete Ham recordings revealed his unfulfilled promise as a gifted rock musician. More recently, the City of Swansea established a musem exhibit, which commemorated Badfinger as one of Wales' cultural treasures.