Although some folks will argue that Badfinger’s “No Matter What” was the first and perhaps the finest power-pop song (post-Beatles anyway), you’ll still find little argument from those same fans that their third album Straight Up was/is their greatest achievement as a band.
As part of EMI/Capitol’s ongoing remastering project of the original Apple Records catalog, Straight Up — along with the rest of Badfinger’s first four albums — has just been released in a newly remastered edition.
For their few critics, the knock on Badfinger has always been their close ties to the Beatles, as well as the often striking similarities to the Fabs in their own sound. While it is true that you can hear distinct echoes of the Beatles in Badfinger’s work, including Straight Up’s two hit singles “Baby Blue” and “Day After Day,” there are lots of other influences there as well.
You can hear plenty of the sixties California folk-pop of people like the Byrds and CSN&Y in Badfinger’s spot-on harmonies for one thing (and hearing them again after all these years serves as a reminder of just how underrated Badfinger really was in that department). On the other hand, the lush elegance of songs like “Name Of The Game” and “It’s Over” is cut straight from the early Elton John school of stately Brit-pop.
Still, there’s no getting around the Beatles influence here. The unmistakable sound of George Harrison’s “Hawaiian” guitar is all over “Day After Day” for one thing (Harrison’s solo is actually double tracked with Badfinger guitarist Pete Ham here). And no, you are not imagining the resemblance to “Lady Madonna” on “Suitcase” (although you can also hear a little of Traffic’s latter-day song “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” here as well). “Sometimes” likewise is close enough to “She’s A Woman,” both in the killer guitar riff and the Macca-esque vocals, to warrant an arrest for suspicion of theft.
But ya’ know what, who cares? There are certainly worse things than sounding a little like the greatest band of all time. After all, it certainly hasn’t hurt bands like the Raspberries and Cheap Trick, right? The fact is, with Straight Up, Badfinger delivered one of the first power pop records of the post-Beatles era, and perhaps one of the best of all time.
Picking out all the Beatles references is just one of the things that makes Straight Up such a great album. Mostly though, Straight Up is sixty minutes (when you count the extras included here) of pure power pop bliss. Most of the original twelve songs clock in at three minutes or less. And while there are bright shimmering guitars and pop hooks aplenty here, equal attention is given over to lush sounding Brit-pop.
The longest track on the album, “Name Of The Game” is a perfect example of this. The five minute track is a gorgeous ballad, complimented by the sort of soaring vocal harmonies that wouldn’t be a bit out of place on an album like Abbey Road. An alternate version of the song, included here as an extra and originally intended for American single release, is occasionally bogged down by the addition of strings and horns that threaten to overwhelm the song (especially during the chorus). Even so, the added syrup mostly goes down pretty sweet.
Grammy winning engineer Geoff Emerick’s remastering of the original tracks produced by George Harrison and Todd Rundgren (who was something like the Rick Rubin of his day) is also noteworthy. The separation is magnificent. On tracks like “Take It All” you can hear every crack of the snare drum with the same clarity as every strum of the guitar. If you liked Emerick’s work on last years Beatles remasters, you’ll love this.
The extras here are also notable, including alternate versions of “Baby Blue” (the U.S. single release, which sounds like it might have been mixed in mono) and “Name Of The Game” (with the aforementioned strings and horns). There are also three previously unreleased songs. The best of these, “No Good At All” is a ferocious sounding little rocker, powered by a killer guitar riff that sounds like a cross between T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong” and Dave Edmunds “I Hear You Knocking.” Although it’s a scant two minutes long, I can’t imagine how this one ever got left on the cutting room floor.
Sadly, in between felonious mismanagement and the eventual suicides of original members Pete Ham and Tom Evans, Badfinger was never able to fully live up to their full potential as one of the best post-Beatles exports of great Brit-Pop.
What they leave behind is a string of great singles, and at least one criminally underrated album in Straight Up. Their lasting, if mostly unheralded influence on a generation of younger power-pop artists is unfortunately thought of as more of a footnote than anything else today.
If you haven’t yet discovered them, or maybe you just always wondered who did all those great Beatles sounding songs in the early seventies like “Baby Blue” and “Day After Day,” this newly remastered version of their finest album is a great place to start.