Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Badfinger
Still riffling through those records I got from my sister’s cool boyfriend, who works at an FM rock radio station. Today we have something of interest to Beatles fans … by a group that managed to get three of the Fab Four involved with them over different points in their existence.
That’s Badfinger of course, and today’s record is Magic Christian Music, released on the Beatles’ Apple Records imprint in 1970. Badfinger performed some of the songs in a movie, The Magic Christian, but the album isn’t an official soundtrack because the song “Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman that appears in the movie isn’t on the Apple label. The real soundtrack appeared on another label, but mainly in England – so Apple put out today’s record to at least get Badfinger exposed to American audiences.
Badfinger is, of course, the British group led by singers Pete Ham and Tom Evans, who were also the group’s main songwriters. They were called the Iveys when they were “discovered” by Mal Evans, the Beatles’ roadie and the dude who did a lot of the heavy lifting for Apple Records. Evans signed the Iveys to a recording contract in 1968 and released a few singles to lukewarm success. Paul McCartney was asked to write a song for the soundtrack of The Magic Christian movie, and when he did he asked the Iveys to record it. While they were recording McCartney’s song “Come and Get It” (the session was also produced by McCartney), the group changed its name to Badfinger.
The Magic Christian was a satirical movie written by Terry Southern, also known for penning the script for Easy Rider. It was first a novel, then the screenplay was adapted by Southern along with the film’s star Peter Sellers and two young British comedians, Graham Chapman and John Cleese (later to become famous as part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus). Sellers played Guy Grand, an eccentric billionaire who adopts a homeless man (Ringo Starr) and together they begin playing nasty practical jokes on people. The movie’s satiric message is that people would do just about anything for money, and each prank progressively gets wilder than the one preceding it.
So – Badfinger. In addition to “Come and Get It,” they did two other songs, also produced by McCartney. “Carry On Till Tomorrow” and “Rock Of All Ages” appear in the movie, so to fill out this quasi-soundtrack Apple used a bunch of tracks cut when the band was still the Iveys. As a result, Magic Christian Music is pretty inconsistent – “Dear Angie” is perhaps the best of that bunch, and “I’m In Love” sounds like really watered-down Kinks. “Midnight Sun” is a decent rocker, it doesn’t seem out of place alongside the movie song “Rock Of All Ages,” which was written by Ham-Evans and drummer Mike Gibbins. The third movie song, “Carry On Till Tomorrow” really sounds like the Badfinger that would go on to have hits in the early 1970s.
Later in 1970, Badfinger would release No Dice, probably considered their real debut album. This one contained the crunchy rocker “No Matter What” and the ballad “Without You,” that Harry Nilsson (and much later Mariah Carey) would turn into smash hits. Badfinger would go on to make two more albums for Apple, then they cut a few for Warner Bros. In 1974 the group would disintegrate due to internal frictions and sleazy management, Pete Ham committed suicide in 1975 and in the ensuing years Tom Evans and guitarist Joey Molland would try to reform Badfinger with a revolving cast of replacement players. The two had a fallout over royalties and in 1983 Evans also committed suicide.
Badfinger was the one band that had the strongest connection to the Beatles – McCartney’s involvement with the music from The Magic Christian (and Ringo was in the movie), and some of the band’s songs were produced by George Harrison, including the 1971 hit “Day After Day.” Ham and Evans also appeared on Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and they are seen (and almost heard) strumming acoustic guitars in The Concert for Bangladesh movie and album.
YouTube: A clip from The Magic Christian, with Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a very young John Cleese!