Mission Immersion 15.1 – Ass by Badfinger

Apple 1973

The whole point of rock and roll may be to have fun, but this pretense often overshadows the very real dangers of the music business. The majority of people who “make it” in the rock world are very young and that’s always been the norm, but there are several reasons for this. The obvious one, and the one most people think about, is the fact that the young and fresh-faced are generally the people others will pay the most money to see. Youth is an attractive force – when we are in our youth, we want to be around more of it; when we are old, we struggle to reclaim it. But there is a darker side to the allure of youth in rock. Without a good amount of dumb, young souls to mislead and misuse, many in the music business would have very limited resources. Badfinger (one of the best, most fucked-over bands in history) were exploited and flat out robbed from day one, and the main thing that kept them from doing anything about it was the same sort of blind trust that has always led young people into dangerous situations.

For example, I am in an 8-yr old independent rock band, and at least once every couple months, I get a call or an email from some young upstart who says his “company” is interested in helping my band “get our music out to more people”. They always say something like, “For a reasonable flat rate of $449, we can put your band on a sampler CD that will be distributed to our long list of contacts”. I always hear them out until they finish and ask me, “Do you have any questions?” Of course, my question is always “How much will it cost us?” They leave this part out in hopes that I’ll be too excited about this potentially huge opportunity to ask or even care about money, because in reality, impulsive decisions by rockers who don’t know any better probably account for more than 75% of their income. Even after so many have seen a fate similar to (though not nearly as tragic as) Badfinger, would-be rockers everywhere are still desperate enough to jump at every single phone call or email expressing even an ounce of interest in their band. To be successful in the music business today, the first thing you have to realize is this – no one likes your band enough to want to help you for free. If you get a call or email like this, it means one of two things: You are already very successful, they have noticed, and they want to cut in on your action; or it is obvious to them that you are a young, inexperienced band whose desperation could allow them to take you for hundreds of dollars, which would help further their operation for a few more weeks.

Badfinger had the rare distinction of being a young, green band that scored four consecutive worldwide hits very early in their career. This combination, though seemingly ideal, turned out to be devastating for the group. While most bands dream of being mentored by or recording with their favorite bands, Badfinger’s semi-close connection with The Beatles ended up hurting them as much or maybe more than it helped them. Aside from the fact that critics wasted no time drawing mean-spirited comparisons between the two groups, Badfinger’s bosses were also their heroes, which in many ways kept the band from asking those important questions or further developing themselves into a legitimate business. By the time of the release of Ass, their fourth album for Apple, the band felt they had been misled by their label over the years, a sentiment hilariously depicted on the album cover in the form of a donkey pursuing a giant carrot. The album turned out to be very aptly named, as Ass also marked the moment in time when things really started to go to shit for Badfinger.

Let’s draw up a little outline of the Ass experience, shall we? Band’s previous album garners two major hits. Label wants another album immediately. Band goes in to record next album with same producer, but producer leaves project after four days because of disagreements with band. Band tries to produce rest of album themselves – end product is unlistenable and rejected by label. Producer #2 is brought in to finish the project, but process has already delayed release by at least a year. Publishing disputes based on songwriting credits delay release even further. Release dates for USA and Europe are three-and-a-half months apart. By the time album is released in Europe, band’s home continent, band’s NEXT album is already available in stores. And thus, the shit-storm begins – the chain of events surrounding the production of Ass created problems that would haunt Badfinger in one form or another until their demise.

Along with offering an early point of foreshadowing into the band’s very bleak future, Ass was the first noticeably weak record from Badfinger’s classic lineup. It contains two amazing tunes – Pete Ham’s gorgeous and heart-wrenching “Apple of my Eye” (sort of a Dear Jane letter to their soon-to-be-ex-label), and Tom Evans’ spine-tingling ballad “When I Say” – both of which have been included on Badfinger compilations in the past. Five of the songs were written by Joey Molland, the bully of the band. It was around this time that Molland had been pressuring the others to focus on creating blues-y, jam band style songs, a direction in conflict with the melodic, Beatle-esque strengths of the other songwriters. As a result, the bulk of Ass’ track listing goes to Molland’s songs, most of which are soulless, indistinct, unoriginal, and sometimes just flat out shitty white blues jams (except “Icicles”, which is simply good). Ham and Evans were obviously stronger songwriters, and Ham’s abilities in that area would especially improve in the course of the next two albums.

In reality, six different producers worked on Ass throughout it’s recording (Todd Rundgren, the four members of Badfinger, and finally the producer they had been waiting for, Chris Thomas). This coupled with the wildly uneven (and sub-par) song selection makes the whole listening experience pretty uncomfortable. For how comical or tongue-in-cheek the title was most likely meant to be, Ass is a sadly perfect moniker. This wasn’t the death knell for Badfinger, as they put out two more albums that surpass Ass greatly. The band never recovered from all the poor business decisions, though, and despite the fact that their best material was yet to come, in the end it was just part of Badfinger’s quick downward spiral. **1/2

Note: Badfinger’s story is too complex to cover in an album review, but it is also required reading for anyone interested in pursuing any sort of entertainment career. Dan Matovina’s biography Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger comes highly recommended from RGH. Please reference this to expand on anything mentioned in the above review.

Listening Again? I’ll always revisit a couple songs, but the album as a whole is lacking.

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One Response to “Mission Immersion 15.1 – Ass by Badfinger”

  1. Mission Immersion 15.2 – Wish You Were Here by Badfinger « Record Geek Heaven Says:

    […] Record Geek Heaven Just another WordPress.com weblog « Mission Immersion 15.1 – Ass by Badfinger […]

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