Badfinger: Badfinger/Wish You Were Here (Expanded Editions)

Badfinger/Wish You Were Here (Expanded Editions)
(Real Gone)
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

The question to the Jeopardy! answer of “The ‘70s band with the most tragic history,” is almost certainly, “Who was Badfinger?” 

There isn’t room here to recount the impossibly depressing hard-luck saga of this Beatles groomed quartet, but there is voluminous information available about their rise and fall. It’s a heartbreaking narrative that found their two lead singers/songwriters (Pete Ham and Tom Evans) committing suicide due, at least in part, to financial woes that make the most horrifying stories in the music business seem like fairy tales in comparison. Despite all odds, Badfinger’s music still holds up as some of the finest power pop of the decade, even in their declining years, which these final two albums with the original four-piece chronicle.

Both the hastily named Badfinger (the band’s original title of For Love or Money was rejected by Warner Brothers) and its quick follow-up Wish You Were Here were released in 1974 after the band left Apple as that label was disintegrating. The latter album was pulled from shelves within months of its issue due to complex lawsuits. Even with a mess of legal issues, these sets displayed the foursome’s knack of writing hooky, beautifully constructed pop that balanced rockers and ballads with skill and dignity.

Not everything here is classic, but there are enough gems scattered throughout to make them essential additions to any power pop lover’s collection. Badfinger kicks off with Pete Ham’s yearning, piano based “I Miss You,” one of his most touching performances, followed by the hopeful folk-rock of “Shine On,” a collaboration with Evans that should be on every Badfinger “best of” collection. Elsewhere “Island” is a tough rocker and “Matted Spam” gets soulful and funky, showing how diverse the group was. 

Most critics tout Wish You Were Here as Badfinger’s finest moment, nine nuggets immaculately produced by Chris Thomas. It starts with the Ham composed rocker “Just a Chance” and closes with the inventive, expansive “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke,” complete with horns and boisterous, beautifully nuanced production. It’s written by Ham and Joey Molland, the only member still alive in 2018, and arguably as impressive as anything Wings released.

Better still, these two semi-classics that have been out of print for years, are remastered (for the first time) for this reissue and numerous extra tracks, most in alternate or “work in progress” mixes (all worth hearing—some arguably better than the final product), are added to the original track listing, maxing out the CD’s  playing time.

The band’s biographer, Dan Matovina who wrote what most consider the ultimate Badfinger account, helms these, putting their closing recorded legacy in capable, sympathetic hands. It’s impossible to tell from listening to these splendid, often uplifitng albums that Badfinger was in such dire financial/professional circumstances. That’s a tribute to their talents, dogged determination and perseverance in the face of obstacles that would have felled other acts, and ultimately took their toll on them.