The four major UK-U.S. hits of the Anglo-Welsh foursome were also staples of Australian AM radio. At the time, in 1972, these songs were gathered into a special Australasian EP release. Two of them grace Straight Up; Ham’s ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Baby Blue’.
The best-known Ham-Tom Evans composition, ‘Without You’, has attracted nearly 200 recorded cover versions, including the big ballad of 1993 for Mariah Carey and the soft rock of Australia’s Air Supply.
The 2013 finale of TV hit Breaking Bad showcased ‘Baby Blue’, popularising it for a new generation. Here’s a band at the top of their game, unwinding three-minutes-thirty of power-pop exhilaration, with Mike Gibbins blitzing the drum kit.
And here’s a present-day British guitar-nerd, with a serious tutorial on the hooks and harmonies that make it memorable.
“Guess I got what I deserved,” confesses Ham, “kept you waiting there too long my love". The mood on Straight Up is emotional, bittersweet. “Looking out of my lonely room,” as Ham also has it, “day after day”.
This was Badfinger’s third album for the Beatles’ troubled Apple Records label. The company had bounced them through three different producers. The middle one was Beatle George Harrison. The Evans-Molland ‘Flying’ has a Beatles feel.
Another Beatle, John Lennon, famously imagined:
“... all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer.”
With his rejoinder, ‘Perfection’, Ham prods the social conscience of the era in another direction.
More aligned with today’s realpolitik:
“There’s no good revolution, just power changing hands.
There is no real perfection, there’ll be no perfect man.
So listen to my song of life, you don’t need a gun or a knife.”
While Ham’s epic ballad, ‘Name of the Game’, finds him in ominous confessional mode:
“Oh comfort me dear brother won’t you tell me what you know
For somewhere in this painful world is a place where I can go.
Oh, don’t refuse me, if you choose me you’ll follow my shame.”
Badfinger’s next and final Apple album was a letdown. Off they shunted to the U.S.' Warner Records. British producer Chris Thomas coaxed them back to best form, in the 1974 Wish You Were Here sessions. All four members contributed original songs.
Though initial sales were promising, Warner abruptly withdrew this album, over a lawsuit. Hence the band’s contractual and financial frustrations deepened. Early 1975, Ham took his life, directly blaming the band manager. The group fell apart.
We’ll never know how Ham would have responded to the punk-rock music unleashed the following year. We do know that power-pop bands resounded through the 1970s, that their echoes carry down to this day. For example, check this Spotify list or the new release from Melbourne perennials Even.
After 1975, Badfinger regrouped on and off. It wasn’t the same magic. The band’s 1970-74 albums capture their essential songs.
Stephen Saunders is a former public servant, consultant and Canberra Times reviewer.
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