Hit records and two suicides: The story of the rock band Badfinger

Jan 26, 2000 (Updated Nov 8, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A strong biography of a much-missed rock band.

Cons:May prove unsettling to some.

The Bottom Line: A great biography of a band with more than its share of highs and lows in the music business.

Ever dream of becoming a celebrity? Ever want a hit record? Are your children thinking about a musical career? Read Dan Matovina's "Without You: The Tragic Story Of Badfinger" first.

Badfinger began its life as The Iveys during the Fab 1960s. They became Badfinger when the various ex-Beatles "discovered" them and signed them to their Apple Records label.

Apple Records was a unique label. Loving and nurturing to its artists (if not overly generous with royalty rates, according to Badfinger members), Apple and its Beatle owners immediately launched a promotional push for the band.

They quickly found themselves performing on the soundtrack for the Ringo Starr/Peter Seller's film "The Magic Christian" and in 1970 their performance of a song from that film, "Come And Get It," written by Paul McCartney, rose to # 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles. The soundtrack rose to # 55 on the album charts.

They might have been one-hit wonders except they had one incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist in Pete Ham. The band's first studio album, "No Dice," followed in late 1970 (peaking at # 28), and the first true "power pop" single, Ham's "No Matter What," propelled the band to their second Top 10 hit (peaking at #8).

In 1971 the "Straight Up" album, with production by George Harrison and Todd Rundgren, peaked at only # 31 --- but it spent a phenomenal 32 weeks on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. It also gave the band its first Gold Record Award for the single "Day After Day," which peaked at #4.

The follow-up single "Baby Blue" became their first single not to crack the Top 10, peaking at # 14.

Two more years, a musical lifetime, followed before Apple would release another album by the band, and that album failed to crack the Top 100 album chart and produced no hit singles.

Thinking they could do better elsewhere, the band signed with Warner Brothers. In 1974 they released two excellent albums on Warner, but again they failed to crack the Top 100 albums and failed to place any singles on the charts.

In fact, with their final Warner's release, "Wish You Were Here," acclaimed by critics and selling 25,000 copies a week, the band found themselves suddenly being ripped off by their management and then sued by their record label (which pulled the album from circulation). A tour folded and the band's assets were frozen.

Depressed and broke, Ham committed suicide by hanging in 1975. Eight years later, bassist Tom Evans did exactly the same thing. The twosome had written a little tune in 1970 entitled "Without You" ("can't live / if living means without you..."), a Grammy-winning hit for Harry Nilsson and a 1994 hit for Mariah Carey. Due to legal battles that lasted decades, neither Ham nor Evans saw the enormous royalties the song produced during their lifetimes.

Badfinger did continue with Evans and guitarist Joey Molland after reforming in the late '70s and early '80s (even scoring minor Hot 100 hits with "Love Is Gonna Come At Last" in 1979 and "Hold On" in 1981), but the group never recovered its former fame. Since Evans suicide in 1983, the band has continued on as Joey Molland's Badfinger.

Dan Matovina has interviewed the surviving band members and many of the people involved in the band's rise and fall to try to recapture just what went wrong. The book is not endorsed by guitarist Joey Molland, who comes off rather bad in the book (I have mixed emotions in recommending the book, therefore, since I was able to meet, share a drink and a chat with Molland after a gig in 1993; he was very cordial and a gentleman in that meeting, while this book portrays him as something of a scoundrel).

Matovina does a commendable job of checking and rechecking his sources. Molland refused to be interviewed for the book, forcing Matovina to fall back on taped interviews he had done with Molland in the late 1970s.Interestingly, the surviving Beatles also refused to be interviewed.

Matovina was able to interview dozens of people (many with Beatles' connections, like engineer Geoff Emerick, and producer Todd Rundgren) to help build the case for what happened to a promising young band. He was also able to interview Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins several times for the book (before Gibbins, like Molland before him, begged out of participation in the project saying he was going to write his own book).

There are many very personal, revealing moments in the book (some of the typical who quit the band this week and rejoined the next week type that hit all bands). The final days of Pete Ham and Tom Evans are detailed very well; two talented young men gone much too soon.

The book is written very well with journalistic accuracy and a narrative feel. It is 436 pages in paperback and loaded with hundreds of photos. Most of all, this details the dangers that go with becoming a celebrity in any field, not just music.

On the web:

You might also enjoy my review of the album, "The Very Best Of Badfinger," at: http://www.epinions.com/content_106012380804

Badfinger fans will probably enjoy Capitol/EMI's 24-bit digitally remastered CD "Greatest" by Raspberries which was released in May of 2005 in the U. S. and Europe. Raspberries original lineup (Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti) reunited in 2004 and played before sell-out crowds on tour in 2004 and 2005. "Greatest" by Raspberries features all 7 of Raspberries Hot 100 singles, has 20 tracks and runs 78:53 minutes: http://www.epinions.com/content_186044681860

Also of interest:

"Eric Carmen: Marathon Man" by Bernie Hogya and Ken Sharp: http://www.epinions.com/content_153762500228

"Overnight Sensation: The Story Of The Raspberries" by Ken Sharp: http://www.epinions.com/book-review-7ABF-5A754E8-385DC2B5-prod3

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