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No Dice

Badfinger’s No Dice was released by Apple in November 1970, cast onto a musical landscape dominated by rock monsters Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Top of many Christmas lists that year was Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd, while two weighty albums from Badfinger’s own record label, both heavy for different reasons, would rack up the competition yet higher: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.

Into the slipstream left by such elite, Badfinger pitched their wares — a diligently honed blend of good old fashioned rock’n’roll, winning melodies and great, catchy riffs. Their formula proved successful, they won some very favourable reviews, and No Dice became the band’s best selling LP, particularly in America. It reached No. 28 on the US Billboard Hot 200 chart — an impressive enough showing — while the accompanying single, ‘No Matter What’, peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and hit No. 5 in the UK.

No Dice was the second album issued as Badfinger, but was in fact the group’s opening statement. The first LP Magic Christian Music, issued in January 1970, had been recorded as The Iveys, with a line-up of Pete Ham (guitar), Tom Evans (guitar), Ron Griffiths (bass) and Mike Gibbins (drums); everybody sang. The Iveys would be rebranded as Badfinger following the sudden departure of Ron Griffiths.

Judged upon their recorded output, The Iveys earned a poorly-deserved reputation as a lightweight pop band, teenyboppers even. To catch them live was to hear much heavier and harder music. With the arrival of guitarist Joey Molland in late 1969, the group dropped most of the poppier material and developed a new consistency between performing and recording. Joey’s experience had been forged in a number of Liverpool line-ups, and he had enjoyed brief Beatlemania-style success in Japan playing in Gary Walker’s psychedelic post-Walker Brothers band, The Rain.

Joey knew of The Iveys but wasn’t too keen. “I’d seen them on The Lulu Show doing ‘Maybe Tomorrow’,” he remembers. “They were very poppy, and I’d seen a photo where Tommy was wearing a silk scarf and it all looked very affected. I’d done the same thing myself, but years before when I was with Gary Walker.” Street credibility was an issue, but when Joey heard that The Iveys were looking for a new guitarist (after Ron’s exit and Tom’s switch to bass), he trekked from his native Liverpool to the band’s HQ in Golders Green, North London.

“They gave me the job!” he recalls, and his take on The Iveys changed instantly. “Tommy and Pete were unbelievable singers, as good as anybody I ever heard. Pete had that lovely voice. He could sing really high and really low. Very clear. He smoked all day, as well.”

It wasn’t just the vocals either: “Pete could play the crap out the guitar,” continues Joey. “He was a great player, a real technical guy — he’d been a TV engineer and he had that sort of mind — but he was very musical and very melodic. Tommy was very good too, an intuitive musician. He came up with original riffs, really naturally. And Mike of course was an excellent drummer, just beating the hell out of everything.”

Joey joined in time to relish the success of ‘Come And Get It’, the band’s just-recorded new single, written and produced by Paul McCartney, and issued in December 1969. It became a transatlantic hit and established the Badfinger name. Sessions for the first album proper followed in the spring, mostly booked at Abbey Road.

At the controls was Mal Evans (no relation to Tom). Mal was a confidant of The Beatles and had been their former road manager. He had championed The Iveys for several years and had been instrumental in Apple signing them. With his heart set on a creative role within Apple, Mal had produced some Iveys tracks on Magic Christian Music and he now wanted to produce Badfinger. Several demos resulted, including a version of ‘Without You’. (See Bonus Tracks).

“Mal was a beautiful guy,” remembers Joey Molland. “He was super friendly, and would give you a big old bear hug. He was really encouraging. He had such a great love for the music — and a huge knowledge from all his experience with The Beatles.” Mal’s sessions also yielded a new song of Pete’s with a memorable crunchy guitar riff. It was called ‘No Matter What’ and it had hit written all over it. (See Bonus Tracks for a Mal-produced demo of ‘No Matter What’).

Close behind was Tom Evans’ ‘Believe Me’, one of his best loved tunes. “I played bass on ‘Believe Me’,” remembers Joey. “Tommy played the main guitar lick. I couldn’t play it the way he played it, so he said, ‘You play the bass, no big deal’. For the guitar solo, Mal said, ‘Who’s going to play this?’ and both Pete and I said ‘I will’. So Mal said, ‘Well, both of you’s go down and plug in and play it together.’ Two lead guitars — and we both pretty much played the same thing. Funny that.” (See Bonus Tracks for Mal’s demo of ‘Believe Me’.)

“I really enjoyed working with Mal,” adds Joey. ”I thought his recordings sounded great!” Unfortunately for Mal, Apple didn’t agree, and his tenure as Badfinger’s producer was sweet but short. He and his ambition were sidelined. His vacancy was offered to Geoff Emerick, EMI’s Grammy Award winning high-flyer and Beatles recording engineer extraordinaire. Post Abbey Road and no more Beatles to record, Geoff too was looking for something new. Badfinger turned out to be his first major production commission.

What had happened to Mal? Why had he been dropped? “Allen Klein wanted me to produce the album,” remembers Geoff, and that, he indicates, was the end of it. Allen Klein, of course, was running Apple at the time.

Mal did go on to win an important victory, however, when his recording of ‘No Matter What’ was resurrected after the band ran short of material at the end of Geoff’s sessions. Geoff put a bit of spit and polish on it but it was essentially Mal’s work. Next thing, Apple released it as Badfinger’s new single, and ‘No Matter What’ became their second Top 10 hit and a power pop anthem.

Personal feelings about Mal aside, Badfinger had nothing to complain about. Even if Geoff’s approach was different: “I knew what The Beatles could do,” recalls Geoff. “So obviously my standards were a lot higher than what Badfinger had been used to. So we pursued things a little longer in the studio, in their playing. I realized that they had potential, they were talented kids.”

Geoff continues: “My first attraction to them was the songwriting”. The band had a mean knack of turning a studio jam into a viable song. ‘Watford John’ was one such an example. “That was named after John Smith,” reveals Geoff. “He was an employee at Apple Studios, and had been an assistant engineer at Abbey Road. He used to come down the pub with us. And he came from Watford.”

Each member of Badfinger wrote his own material, and the hidden talent in the group was drummer Mike Gibbins. Joey: “I really liked Mike’s songs. ‘It Had To Be’ is a knock-out. Pete did the arrangements on that (and sings lead). He helped Mike with his writing.”

Pete himself was no songwriting slouch. “ ‘We’re For The Dark’ and ‘Midnight Caller’ — they blew me away,” says Joey. “Pete was a great writer. The melodies he sang were just superb.” Pete’s ‘I Can’t Take It’, which opens the album, is another highlight (See Bonus Tracks for an extended version), while ‘Blodwyn’ was, in many ways the last vestige of the old Iveys sound.

Joey too weighed in with some impressive rockers, including ‘Better Days’. “I wrote that for Elvis Presley,” he laughs. “That’s what I had in my head. We did that on nearly every live date. We started shows with it.” What about ‘Love Me Do’, Joey, your song that shares a rather familiar name? “It may have been unfortunate,” he shrugs, “but that happened to be the title of it. I didn’t do it on purpose, it was just a little rock’n’roll song, a bit of fun.”

Another Joey tune is ‘Photograph’ (aka ‘Friends Are Hard To Find’). ‘That was the first song I wrote with Badfinger,” he reveals. “I wrote it in the van, driving up Edgware Road. I’d known a girl called Michelle in London, who used to live up that road, and I just got the idea: ‘I had to laugh / I saw photograph / Of someone that I knew’. I did try to find her again but I couldn’t.” It’s a fine piece of work, but it didn’t make the final album (See Bonus Tracks).

More reflective is ‘I Don’t Mind’, a mid-tempo Molland track bathed in subtle Emerick effects. ‘I wrote that in my bedroom in Golders Green,” Joey recalls. “They gave me a little box room in the band house … single bed… tiny place with a gas fire.”

The Golders Green house was also the birthplace of Badfinger’s most famous song, ‘Without You’. Soon after its release, the band’s album-track original would be bested in a most convincing manner by Harry Nilsson’s definitive cover version single. But the song remains the same. It is in fact two songs stitched together. Pete began his half, ‘Well, I can’t forget this evening…’, before struggling over a chorus. Tom meanwhile had a rousing chorus ‘…I can’t live, if living is without you’, that didn’t quite match his verse that preceded it. A little songwriting surgery later and Badfinger had created what surely every tunesmith the world over hankers after, a multi-award winning, million-selling, all-time classic.

The new band had clearly cemented its position on the world’s stage and, as a review in Rolling Stone put it: “With their new album, No Dice, Badfinger has to their credit one of the best records of the year.”