Trigger Warning – Suicide
Badfinger, originally named The Ivies, started as one of the best and most promising British groups of the late 60s. They were the first band ever signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records label and they enjoyed the patronage and mentorship of the legendary group early in their career. Their first song to reach the top 10 on the British and American charts, “Come and Get It,” was written by Paul McCartney. After they released this song, the group decided to change their name. They chose Badfinger as a reference to “Bad Finger Boogie” which was an early reference to the Beatles song “With a Little Help from My Friends,” written about John Lennon injuring his finger while playing that song. However, George Harrison would later claim the band was named after Helga Fabdinger, a stripper the Beatles met in Hamburg.
During the early 70s, the band, composed of vocalist and guitarist Pete Ham, vocalist and bassist Tom Evans, guitarist Joey Molland and drummer Mike Gibbons, released some of their best and most successful work. One of the standout tracks from their esteemed 1971 album “Straight Up” is “Baby Blue.” In it, Pete Ham sings about wanting his “Dixie back,” referencing singer Dixie Armstrong. Hiding behind this yearning rock ballad is a depth of feeling in the vocals that suggests a deeper level of pain. Despite this song having been released almost fifty years ago, when it was featured in the “Breaking Bad” finale, it charted in the UK once again, showing just how relevant the band’s music still is. Another standout track, released in 1973, is “Apple of My Eye.” Just 10 seconds in, the pure and vulnerable words mix with a powerful guitar riff to create a hauntingly beautiful sound. The bittersweet effect of the song is compounded by the reminder of how much better this band could have gotten had they been given time together. Unfortunately, they remain one of music’s biggest what-ifs.
The downfall of Badfinger has a singular pantomime villain – their manager Stan Polley. Although Polley initially seemed like the perfect mix of power and ambition to harness Badfinger’s newfound success, he quietly began reorganizing the finances to take complete control. Panic began to set in for group leader Ham after two months of checks bouncing, especially because he had just bought a new house and was expecting a daughter. All his attempts to contact Polley were met with silence. On April 23, 1975, Ham took his own life, leaving behind a note that read, “Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.” Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the group’s tragedies. Tom Evans died by suicide in 1983 following another dispute over the band’s financial troubles, and Mike Gibbons died of a brain aneurysm in 2005. They leave behind a legacy of often misremembered or even completely forgotten work. While Badfinger unquestionably benefited from working with the Beatles, they are often thought of only as the Beatles’ prodigies who never lived up to their potential. While you could be forgiven for mistaking a Badfinger song for a Beatles one, there is a dark richness in the vocals and accompanying instruments that makes Badfinger one of a kind.