by Salley Rayl
Rolling Stone , June 14, 1979, page 24
SLICES OF SUNLIGHT stream through the blinds in a sumptuous Beverly Hills office, shining on a stack of fan mail piled on an oversized table. Joey Molland, the blond, doleful-looking guitarist of Badfinger, tosses some envelopes to his longtime partner, bassist Tom Evans. Letter after letter applauds Badfinger's re-formation. "They all remember the songs," says Molland. "People always thought we were the Beatles hand-picked protégés, but the band was together for five years before we even met them."
In the late Sixties, Badfinger, with it Liverpool-infected harmonies and ties to Apple Records, came on like the Beatles' artful understudies. A string of resplendent hits laid the foundation for what seemed to be a brilliant future. But a dose of naiveté, managerial problems and the specter of living in the Beatles' shadows intermittently capsized the band, and when group leader Pete Ham committed suicide in April 1975, Badfinger went under. Now, four years later, Molland and Evans are back together, and their new Elektra / Asylum album, Airwaves, already shows signs of renewing their commercial prowess.
Most rock & roll reunions fail to live up to expectations, in part because of the largely artificial sentiments and dire financial straits that often prompt them in the first place. But Badfinger, like many of its Sixties contemporaries, commands a cheeky sense of humor and an air of timeless optimism that makes the group a natural for today's blithe marketplace. Like the best of Badfinger's previous music, Airwaves is classic British pop: lilting guitar phrases hanging on bittersweet ballads, balanced by spirited rock tunes.
But then Badfinger had some of the best tutors possible. In the summer of 1968, Mal Evans, the Beatle's road manager (who has since died), brought the group, then called the Iveys, to the attention of the just-formed Apple Corps. Paul McCartney eventually took a liking to the band, and the following year he turned over responsibility for the Magic Christian film score to the group, renamed Badfinger. McCartney also gave the band a new tune he'd written for the movie, "Come and Get It." The song climbed into the Top Ten in both Britain and America almost overnight. The two albums that followed the Magic Christian soundtrack, No Dice and Straight Up, were cohesive, refined efforts, hailed by many critics as some of the freshest, most invigorating English pop since, well... the Beatles.
"Undoubtedly," says Molland, "it helped us just being connected with the Beatles. But it got weird rolling up to gigs and finding out that all anybody wanted to ask about was the Beatles." During the recording of Straight Up, which was partially produced by George Harrison, the resentment escalated. "I was really uptight then, never shouted, but vibed about it," says Molland. The group's identity problem, plus financial troubles with management, began to impede their creative capabilities. The band's last Apple album, Ass, was languid, and the subsequent Warner Bros. efforts, Badfinger and Wish You Were Here, were rife with disillusionment.
"It got to the point in the studio where we just couldn't agree anymore," says Evans. "One night we went to a pub to try to figure out a way to get out of our management situation. Pete was drinking heavily that night - triple Scotches -and decided there was only one choice: to leave the management. Then, the next morning, Pete's girlfriend called, hysterical. I went over the house right away; he'd hung himself in the garage."
After Ham's suicide, the band members went their own ways. In L.A., Molland formed Natural Gas with former Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley, while in England, Evans had a brief stint with a group called the Dodgers. But both ventures were short-lived. Molland wound up as a carpet installer, Evans a draftsman.
Then, a year ago, Molland called Evans and asked if he was interested in joining him in L.A. to form a band. Playing together for the first time in four years, they decided to re-form Badfinger. For a time, two young Chicago musicians rounded out the quartet, but they left midway through Airwaves. The group has recently added drummer Peter Clarke, an Apple session player and one-time member of Stealers Wheel, and keyboardist Tony Kaye, a classically trained pianist whose background includes stints with Yes, David Bowie and Detective.
"I don't think there'll be any sort of backlash from our previous tie to the Beatles," Molland says. "Anyway, we're more secure now. The fact that our album is being played must herald some kind of return to the melodic pop form. Also, this time out, we have the business aspect under control. We have no management contract. The only contract we have is to Badfinger."