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Straight Up

Presented here is an expanded edition of Straight Up, Badfinger’s third and, many believe, best album. This CD includes the original 12 tracks, plus three songs considered but not issued as UK singles at the time, and a further three that are previously unreleased.

Straight Up came out in America in December 1971, and in the UK in February ’72. It was the middle of a British winter, but defying the chilly wind, the cover photograph portrayed Badfinger basking in warm autumnal colours, all reds and browns, and there was a similar benevolent glow to the production inside.

As ever, Badfinger laboured under inevitable Beatles comparisons in the accompanying reviews — “pre-Sgt. Pepper”, was a favourite. Britain’s Beat Instrumental likened Straight Up to a kind of Badfinger For Sale, no less, qualifying that it was “a good ‘un”. While the U.S. magazine, Scene, said “If only McCartney and Lennon had written some of these songs,” before concluding that Badfinger’s “importance lies in their unpretentiousness and commercial potency. That is their message and conclusion”.

It had been over a year since No Dice and ‘No Matter What’. Badfinger had been touring ever since, honing their craft, earning their crust. Most shows had been in the States, alongside acts such as The Rascals, Wishbone Ash and REO Speedwagon. There were a few British gigs too, and a rare date in Iceland with progressive bands Writing On The Wall, and Man.

Not least of Badfinger’s live appearances in 1971 was at George Harrison’s Concert For Bangla Desh that August at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The group didn’t get formal billing, but did contribute instrumentally, and George put Pete Ham under the spotlight with their acoustic guitar duet as George sang ‘Here Comes The Sun’.

Just as Paul McCartney had done so before, George Harrison took a personal interest in Badfinger — until his Bangla Desh commitments prompted his early exit. In May ‘71, he had joined the band at Abbey Road Studios to start work on what would become the follow up to No Dice. But the recording of Straight Up was far from straightforward.

Badfinger had actually completed an untitled 12-track album prior to George’s involvement, at sessions from January to March ’71, with Geoff Emerick as producer. Half of the songs found their way onto the final, released product, albeit in different form, but six remained unissued at the time: three were included on the 1992 edition of No Dice, and three appear here brand new: ‘Baby Please’, ‘No Good At All’ and ‘Sing For The Song’. (See Bonus Tracks)

One stand-out from Geoff Emerick’s original sessions was ‘Sweet Tuesday Morning’. Guitarist Joey Molland: “I wrote that for my wife, Kathie. I was very nervous doing it. I'd never really sung anything like that, an acoustic love song, a direct admission of that love. But the guys liked it”.

Another highlight was ‘Name Of The Game’, which almost became Badinger’s third single. It is an epic both in sound and in sentiment. “We were all knocked out by that,” agrees Joey. George Harrison, too, thought the song had great potential, but felt the recording needed a certain extra something, and to that end arranged two remixes, one from super-sessionist Al Kooper, and one which he undertook himself in league with Phil Spector. He never found the solution he was looking for, however, and plans for a ‘Name Of The Game’ single were dropped. But it wasn’t just the single. Everything got cancelled — the album and indeed its producer, Geoff Emerick, were suddenly pulled when Apple Records rejected the whole project.

For ‘Apple Records’ read ‘George Harrison’. Joey Molland remembers that it was George who shelved the first session tapes, saying that Badfinger sounded "too much like a beat group". With the caveat that "You guys can do better," George decided to re-do the album with himself at the controls.

George's vision was for a more homogenized, 'produced' sound, something akin to Abbey Road. (How could Badfinger ever escape those Beatles comparisons?) George and the group gelled together in the studio and began work on four tracks: two new versions of songs from Geoff Emerick’s sessions, ‘Name Of The Game’ and ‘Suitcase’, and two new ones, ‘I’d Die Babe’ and ‘Day After Day’.

‘Name Of The Game’ and ‘Day After Day’ were both written by Pete Ham, both personal pieces reflecting his complex relationships — two great songs inspired by two different women. George was particularly impressed with both, and asked to play on ‘Day After Day’. The final mix included Pete and George doubling up on the signature slide solo, playing side by side, synchronized in harmony just as they would at The Concert For Bangla Desh.

The second two songs cut with George Harrison were by Joey Molland. “ ‘Suitcase’ was about my experience on the road,” says Joey. “George did the arrangement.” He adds that ‘Suitcase’ too was once considered for a single release (and at one point, the B-side to ‘Name Of The Game’).

“That's why I changed the words,” continues Joey. “The original went 'Pusher, pusher, on the run', and George said, ‘You can't really sing that Joe, they won't play it on the radio.’ So I changed it to 'Butcher, butcher', because although he was just trying to give me advice, you know, and he was a very nice guy, I was still put out because I didn't expect that much interference when it came to writing songs.”

That said, Joey has fond memories of working with George, and George seemed to relish the experience too. The pair worked closely on ‘I’d Die Babe’. “George loved that song,” enthuses Joey. “He was dancing around in the control room as we recorded it. But I was going to drop it because I couldn’t get the words. After the opening phrase, ‘You give me loving like crazy’, I had a gap, and George said, why don’t you say ‘You make my daisy grow high’? So I did. I guess that’s a collaboration between me and George!”

“George played guitar on ‘I’d Die Babe’, as well,” reveals Joey. “He and I started on acoustics on the basic track, Pete was on lead. And then George went back and played that low Fender riff you can hear. It was a lot of fun.”

But the fun didn’t last, and as George rushed off on his mission of mercy for Bangla Desh, Badfinger found that producer No. 3 had been commissioned by Apple to finish the album. This was Todd Rundgren, American studio wizard, and true star in his own right thanks to his U.S. solo success and previous form with the garage band Nazz.

No new friendships were formed between Badfinger and producer at the final Straight Up sessions, but Todd picked up on George’s brief, wrapped up the songs George had left unfinished, and the record was completed swiftly, in a professional, workmanlike manner.

Although a writer with talent of his own, drummer Mike Gibbins didn’t get any of his new songs on Straight Up. The lion’s share was divided equally among Pete Ham and Joey Molland, with five each, while Tom Evans claimed two, plus one co-write with Joey.

Among the new songs was Joey’s rocker ‘Sometimes’; ‘It’s Over’, Tom’s farewell to loyal fans on their U.S. tour; and ‘Baby Blue’, Pete’s lament for his Dixie dear, a tour encounter all of his own, that proved to be Badfinger’s final U.S. hit. Pete’s ‘Take It All’ was a reflection on his Concert For Bangla Desh experience — “In a way / The sun has shone on me…”. The ‘sun’ in question being George’s ‘Here Comes The…’.

In contrast, a darkness shadowed Tom’s major Straight Up contribution, ‘Money’, which brought the band down to earth after the highs of the Bangla Desh concert and touring the States, and which mirrored the prevailing gloom of Britain’s economic climate at the time: “So we grow a little older / With another tale to tell / So we grow a little colder…”.

A similar feel grounded ‘Flying’, too, which Tom co-wrote with Joey Molland. As Joey recalls: “We’d been touring America… we were having hit records... it was great… I wrote the first verse, which said ‘everything was good’. But there was cynicism in Tommy’s second verse, and he chewed up the softness of the song: 'Feel like I'm falling / It's all I can do / Lying and dying is lonely / Deep and darker / No way to forgive / No way to believe what you told me'.” Joey pauses… “Who knows what machinations were going on there?”

At this stage in his life, Pete Ham was reassuringly upbeat. In an interview for Canadian radio, he explained the inspiration behind ‘Perfection’, another Straight Up high-water mark: “The first thing people have to do before they try and do anything about the world is admit that they've got a lot of faults themselves… People get too obsessed with ideals, the perfect world, the perfect human being. And there's no such thing. So all that song says is realize our imperfections and talk about them. And then try and do something about it."

Straight Up, then, presented Badfinger as a mature, successful, if partially world-weary group of four young men in their mid twenties, not quite in full control of their own destinies, but for the most part on the ascendancy, and with everything to play for.

The first three bonus tracks included here were all at one time considered as UK singles: ‘I’ll Be The One’, ‘Name Of The Game’ and ‘Baby Blue’.

Joey Molland recalls that ‘I’ll Be The One’ was “really commercial, and kind of purpose built”. Although a singles mix was prepared, George Harrison nixed its release on the grounds that it was just “too Beatley”.

Which is something Joey doesn’t deny: “Tommy and Pete came into my bedroom (at Golders Green) with that song and wanted me to help them with it. So I wrote some of the verse: ‘Cries in the rain / I’ll learn to get by / Without you / For the pain in my heart’, a few country-style lines. For the chorus, what I suggested was just like ‘Eight Days A Week’, wasn’t it?”

‘Name Of The Game’ appears here as the first version, from the Geoff Emerick sessions — the intended Apple 35 — and is a different, fuller arrangement than the album cut. ‘Baby Blue’ was scheduled as Apple 42 and would have been Badfinger’s penultimate Apple single, but it wasn’t released in the UK either. It was a hit in the States, however, and is represented here by Apple’s U.S. singles mix, which adds reverb on the drums.

The remaining three Bonus Tracks make for a top-notch coda to Straight Up: ‘Baby Please’, ‘No Good At All’ and ‘Sing For The Song’ are all taken from Geoff Emerick’s original album sessions from early 1971.

Says Joey: “Tommy didn’t show up for a session one day. So the three of us just made up ‘Baby Please’. I played bass, Pete played rhythm and then lead, and boy, he smoked on guitar on that track. Pete wrote the lyrics in ten minutes. I love it. I thought that song was absolutely brilliant. It sounded like a record.”

Joey recalls that Tom Evans was always keen to write strong, commercial tunes, potential hit singles. ‘No Good At All’ fits this bill perfectly, with its down-home lyric and its insistent, catchy refrain. Likewise, ‘Sing For The Song’: “That’s another Tommy number,” says Joey. “We had everyone singing on that, we all overdubbed on it. Mal is singing on that. So too is Geoff Emerick, the roadies, the engineers, everybody. It’s a nice idea. Tommy was a great lyricist. It’s a great fun track.”