by Ben Wener
The Orange County Register , August 13, 1997
For those who know Badfinger only as that group behind those awfully Beatle-esque tunes ``Come and Get It'' and ``No Matter What'' - and, really, isn't that at least 99 percent of people who even know the name Badfinger? - a new documentary about the band's tragic history may prove quite eye-opening.
``Badfinger'' (Pegasus Flight Video, $23.95) is a surprisingly concise and well-crafted hour-long look at the forgotten British group's quick rise and fall in the late '60s and early '70s. It shows them moving from struggling Merseybeat knockoff and Apple Records' sole, non-Beatles-based darling to imploding money-machine mired in legal entanglements, mismanagement and suicide.
It's a sad tale, one that would seem more appropriate coming out of rock 'n' roll's scandal-ridden early days than from its most enlightened period. Badfinger began as the Iveys, a so-so pop outfit that changed its name and look after signing with the Beatles' newly begun (and soon to be floundering) label Apple in 1968. Within two years - and thanks in part to considerable contributions and guidance from Paul McCartney and George Harrison - the group became Apple's biggest seller, scoring four Top 20 hits, including the aforementioned charters, ``Day After Day'' and ``Baby Blue.''
At its height, Badfinger was not only popular but well-received, with most of the former Beatles recruiting band members for help on solo projects. (The group, in various forms, appeared on John Lennon's ``Imagine,'' Harrison's ``All Things Must Pass'' and Ringo Starr's ``Ringo.'') Meanwhile, legendary songwriter Harry Nilsson scored one of his biggest hits with a cover of the band's ``Without You.'' (Mariah Carey would find success with the tune as well, in 1994.)
The documentary does an adequate job covering that early ground, with rare live clips of the band on British and German television. (It doesn't, however, offer a thorough understanding of each player's role in the group; indeed, only surviving members Joey Molland and Mike Gibbins are heard from, aside from various outsiders, and their memories are limited and overly optimistic.) Where the tape succeeds most is in relating the facts of what went wrong for Badfinger, beginning in 1973 with a shaky deal with Warner Bros., from whom the band received a reported $3 million advance (of which no member ever saw a penny).
That leads into an intriguing discussion of the band's dark days that culminated in Badfinger's dissolution in 1975, when the group's brightest talent, leader Pete Ham, despondent over bad deals, worse love affairs and too much whiskey, hanged himself at age 27. Eleven years of litigation ensued to win unpaid royalties after Ham's death, during which time bassist Tom Evans, tormented by bleak financial prospects and heavily addicted to drugs, hanged himself as well, in 1983. (This ``director's cut'' of the documentary features an extra 30 minutes past the credits devoted to discussions about Ham's and Evans' deaths.)
Not exactly a happy ending. Still, ``Badfinger'' does its best to put it all in perspective, letting it stand not only as a minitragedy but as a warning to on-the-rise musicians. Does it ultimately deem Badfinger a more important band? No. The film (and the music itself) doesn't warrant reassessment of its place in history. And the film has its share of imperfections: Too much focuses on the facts and not the emotions attached to them, neither Gibbins or Molland really addresses the constant tagging of the band as an inferior Fab Four imitation, and it's hard to believe that there's no interview footage of Ham and Evans around.
Nevertheless, it's a story worth watching at least once - if only to see the band do ``Come and Get It'' and ``No Matter What'' one more time.