Album review: Badfinger, Ass

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Album Reviews

The story of Badfinger is a strange tale, full of unmistakable highs and tragic lows.
They had both the good fortune of being signed to the Beatles’ fledgling record label Apple and also the curse that came along with it, as they never were able to escape the shadow of their much bigger star label mates.
Their early albums on Apple produced four megahit top 10 singles in “Come and Get It”, “No Matter What”, “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue”, songs which still receive airplay on classic rock stations today. However, albums like No Dice and Straight Up could have been much bigger hits with a little more promotion from Apple, who reserved the little promotion money it had (it was a failing venture almost from the get go) on the Beatles’ solo projects.
The band got to work with Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison, but that affiliation perpetuated the constant comparisons to the Beatles, as their songs often had a very Beatlesque feel to them.
There were many similarities of course between the two bands, and there are worse things you can be compared to. Hell, Oasis has made quite a good living off riding the Beatle wave.
In their 70s heyday, Badfinger consisted of guitarists Pete Ham and Joey Molland, bassist Tom Evans and drummer Mike Gibbons. Like the Beatles, all four members sang and wrote their own songs. Ham wrote most of the band’s hit singles and was the most gifted songwriter on the whole. But each had talent, and they produced soaring pop tunes to go along with uptempo rockers (Molland in particular tended to write the heavier rock tunes).
The band could have been much bigger than it was, but it was undermined by label troubles and management woes, which led to money problems and the eventual suicides of both Ham (in 1975) and Evans (1983).
The trouble started in 1972 or 73, when Badfinger’s contract with Apple was due to expire. Apple manager and resident jackass Allen Klein didn’t want anything to do with the band, only really caring about the ex-Beatles. Badfinger’s equally crooked manager Stan Polley shopped them around, eventually signing the band to a lucrative three-year, six-album deal with Warner Brothers Records.
Before they could start putting out albums for Warner Brothers, Badfinger owed one more album to Apple, an album eventually released in late 1973 with the title Ass.
The cover art featured a donkey with headphones on walking toward a carrot that was being dangled in front of it. It symbolized the contract talks with Warner Brothers, as the workhorse band (represented by the donkey) was being promised more rewards ahead with a new deal.
Still, leaving Apple was bittersweet for the band, summed up perfectly in the track “Apple of My Eye,” where Ham laments “Though I’m sorry but it’s time to move away, though inside my heart, I really want to stay, Believe the love we have is so sincere, You know the gift you have will always be, you’re the apple of my eye, you’re the apple of my heart, but now the time has come to part.”
It’s a tremendous kiss-off to Apple, which provided the band with its big break and nurtured it in its early days.
Ass, unfortunately, was a sign of the troubles ahead for the band, as it stiffed commercially, not a great way to head into the brand new contract with Warner Brothers. It’s finally been reissued as part of the Apple non-Beatles reissue campaign, and there are other gems to be found on the fine yet overlooked record.
With Ham in a bit of a writing slump (he contributes just two songs, Apple and the phenomenal epic closer “Timeless”), Molland steps up to write half of the album’s 10 tunes, with Evans contributing a pair and Gibbons one.
Molland’s tunes range stylistically from the hard rocking “Constitution” and “Get Away” to psychedelic numbers like “Icicles” and the weepy ballad “I Can Love You.” Both of Evans’ songs are top notch, particularly “Blind Owl.” Only Gibbins’ “Cowboy” feels a bit out of place, and could have easily been replaced by “Do You Mind,” an outstanding outtake by Molland included here as a bonus track. Molland’s bar room tale “Regular” also is included as an outtake, and it’s fun as well.
Overall, Ass is of slightly lower quality than the rest of the classic lineup’s catalogue (all three of the albums Badfinger recorded for Warner were excellent, as are the three Apple records that preceded this one) and that’s mainly because Ham is notably absent. On all other Badfinger releases, Ham wrote more songs, giving the albums a nice balance between the songwriters (not to mention he generally wrote the best tunes anyway). I just received Badfinger’s first release for Warner Brothers, their self-titled follow-up to Ass. I will review that one soon and go into more of the problems which ultimately led to the band’s untimely demise.

Sod review: *** 1/2
Key tracks: Apple of My Eye, Icicles, Constitution, Blind Owl, Timeless, Do You Mind


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