Badfinger- ‘Should I Smoke Or Should I Die?’-‘Wish You Were Here’ LP

by | Jun 13, 2013 | 1 comment


     This is an entry that I feel is an honor to undertake due to the highly undervalued and unknown qualities of Badfinger’s 1974 LP ‘Wish You Were Here’. Due to shady business dealings and other underhanded mischief by members of management, (way to detailed to get into in this space, See Dan Matovina’s Badfinger Book) the LP was pulled by the band’s label off of the shelves before it could even get a foothold in the market after about two months. This act resulted in Badfinger’s last (released) record disappearing from view before it was even seen. The most unfortunate event stemming from this entire disaster is that record is amazing, full of stellar pop sensibilities, sweet vocals, and bombastic crashing guitars. Today I am spinning an original Warner’s 1974 LP version on my turntable, the impetus for this review. It’s amazing that amongst the bad dealings, shady management, in fighting, and lack of new songs because of time restraints, that Badfinger would rise from the ashes with a record of such quality, complexity, and emotion. Unfortunate, only to see it be squashed under the boots of uncaring businessmen.

     This LP is unique in the way that not many records from this era have the sound that this one contains, featuring symphonic guitar orchestrations, big wartime drums, distorted horns and rubber band bass. The band was unknowingly creating a new rock aesthetic. Recorded at Caribou Studios in Colorado the record bleeds crisp sound and defined instruments. The record opens similarly to previous ‘Badfinger’ releases with a Pete Ham penned jewel. Flawless in its cut and clarity ‘Just a Chance’ detonates from the speakers with rotund guitar strokes, and a fat and bouncy Tom Evans bass line. In a time where glam was exposing its made up face, and disco and punk were on the horizon, this LP is a representation of pure rock and roll and impressive songwriting. Ham’s ‘Just a Chance’ feels like a single because of its contagious melody, and towering harmonies. The track is a fitting opener lyrically based on the personal and business troubles Ham and the band were going through at the time. ‘All I want from you is just a chance to try, anyway we can’, Ham inquires. A tasteful Joey Molland guitar solo smoothly slithers across the instrumental section of the song.

     The LP moves along with one of my favorite songs on the record, ‘You’re So Fine’ a song penned by drummer Mike Gibbins who always had a most melodically pleasing song tucked away on all of Badfinger’s releases. A swinging country jam, brimming with delicious harmonies by Gibbins, Molland, Ham, and Evans, the song sparkles like a cool back country stream. Ham’s high harmony vocals are inspirational and chilling at the same time. The acoustic guitars shimmer with crisp and sharp tones during the breakdowns that glimmer like sunshine passing through a crystal. A good ol honky tonk country stomp by some purely British boys. Again, the deft touch and definition of Tom Evans bass is the glue that holds the wildly careening song together, with sneaky warm thumps.

     Joey Molland’s shady,”Got To Get Out Of Here” follows, opening on a rigid guitar strum and sustained organ line. Obviously based on his feelings regarding his future and eventual leaving of the band, the song is simplistic in its construction, yet dynamic in its melody. Evans inserts his unique high harmony as the song moves forward acquiring a tambourine and kick drum rhythm. I love the track for its moodiness, and its complex simplicity. A fantastic song, and probably a contributing factor to why Molland felt like he could leave the band and stretch out on his own because its such a quality track. A fine display of writing and arrangement.

     ‘Know One Knows’ fires off shots next with an explosive introduction containing colossal echoed drum rolls for emphasis. A perfect little three minute song that carries a superlative ‘pop’ melody and is the perfect definition of ‘power pop’. The Pete Ham composition expresses the double meaning of the songs title, and his statement of love to the songs subject. Mike Gibbins drumming deserves special notice as its his detailed drumming that draws attention to the shifting rhythms of the song. The middle eight contains a watery dual slide guitar solo by Ham and Molland that contains a female voice reciting Japanese words over the top. An interesting addition, as it adds an underlying erotic vibe to the track. A very original and truly ‘Badfinger’ song.

     The close of side one comes with ‘Dennis’, a song that spans many different moods and emotions, moving from minor key foreboding to jumpy and positive expressions of love. The song was written by Pete Ham for the son of his girlfriend who he had been especially taken with. One of Ham’s finest compositions and most melodically complex. The track opens on a lone piano and vocal and is then joined by an early ‘Phil Spector’ sounding 1960’s drum beat. When the transcendent guitar joins in, the song begins to take on a new form, with ‘Beatlesque’ backing vocals levitating the song higher into the stratosphere. The dark edge to this positive song is what makes it so appealing, the guitar melodies full of prophesy. The song brimming with sunshine, but once in a while retreating to the shadows. Ham’s vocals are deadly serious but comforting at the same time, with Tom Evans joining in for the lyrics that end, ‘But don’t you worry, you love of ours, They look like weeds, but they’re really flowers, And they’ll soon be gone’. The song then takes a sudden corner and races into the positive and upbeat ‘middle eight’, which bounds joyously on the acoustic piano, and Evans bass. I feel this track is a close as a listener can get to being inside the head of Pete Ham with its up and down emotions, shifting moods and metamorphosing melodies. Ham’s vocals at this point in the track range from the gritty to the delicately falsetto changing as quickly as the song. The apex of the tune suddenly hangs in the balance, suspended, and buoyantly floats on heavenly ‘oooh’s’ and Ham’s emotive words, ‘There’s a way through, There’s a way to take away blue’, which seem to be directed at Dennis, and himself. Dreamy and as smooth as wet glass the song fades to black. What a way to close the first side of the LP, and such a shame the song would be unable to reach its intended audience because of business dealing effecting the creation of art.

     The second side of the LP opens on a droning spaced out collection of horns, guitars and manipulated effects that slam into the jagged piano punctuated and cacophonous ‘In the Meantime/Some Other Time’. Mike Gibbins ‘In the Meantime’ was combined with Molland’s ‘Some Other Time’ to form this variable collaboration. Both Molland and Gibbins share vocals between the segued songs that again spotlight ‘Badfinger’s songwriting talents as there are multiple changes, melody and harmony lines intersecting, and extreme detail to the arrangements. During ‘In the Meantime’ the rug is pulled out from under our feet with a complex guitar and piano melody line that acts as the connecting tissue between the changes. The orchestral arrangement moves underneath like moonlight water lapping at an abandoned shoreline as the song drops into ‘In the Meantime’s’ illusory and enchanted breakdown decorated with collaborative and effected vocals by the group. The section elicits an alien landscape with sounds and voices appearing and manifesting into colored hazes and warm mists. From this scene the song returns to the body of the song preparing to segue into Molland’s ‘Some Other Time’ in which it fits like a hand in a glove. Molland’s vocals are admirable, and both he and Ham’s guitar playing acts as the work of one player as they both state lines so tastefully and respectfully. A highly original piece of art, which like I previously stated is unlike anything other rock bands were attempting. The song eventually comes full circle and returns to the end of the beginning.

     Another Joey Molland composed song follows next with the sensitive ‘Love Time’. An acoustic love song that features a simple and dry acoustic sound and stirring vocals by Joey. It sits in contrast to the preceding songs in its woody and airy simplicity. All of the guys in this band could write such great melodies, its mind blowing! There is some complex spiderweb acoustic riffing underneath the vocals that really make the song. The middle eight contains another double tracked guitar solo that restates the warm theme of the song. Every song on the LP offers something that makes the listeners ears perk up and want to listen again.

     The only Tom Evans song on the record comes next with ‘King Of The Load’ which opens on a tinkling toy electric piano that trickles in. Evans vocals are clean and naked for the verses, and then joined by Molland on the chorus. The song, like the ones before it is well written and catchy, but it does seem slightly distracted when looked at with a critical eye. Evans had his own issues during the recording of the record, hence his lack of material. Pete Ham’s guitar solo is short and to the point but emanates professionalism and a keen attention to detail. A solid song that sits just slightly below the other songs on side two.

     The LP comes to a close on another collaborative song that features two tunes pushed together into a mini suite. ‘Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke is a chunky hard rocking closer full of highlights and comprised of Ham’s ‘Ranch’, and Molland’s ‘Smoke’. ‘Ranch’ chugs along on a dense and rough guitar rhythm, and Ham’s slick soulful verses. There are some great echoed vocals by Molland underpinning Ham’s vocals on the chorus, as well as some stabbing serrated guitar licks by Joey that adorn the song. The tunes fit together seamlessly, the only way to tell them apart is when the vocalists switch, but again the songs are a true collaborative effort. When Joey’s ‘Should I Smoke’ busts in the song’s makeup changes slightly and a spotlight shines on the vocals, as the song slows to a astral horn adorned interlude. Then as quick as it slowed the song rips back into the thick riffing of ‘Ranch’. I absolutely love this LP ending segment, like a sweet thick moist piece of marble cake these two tracks are blended together with elements of one appearing and disappearing into the other. Both Joey and Pete have their fingers in each others pies.

   It’s a very emotional undertaking to listen to this record because of the multiple occurrences that happened during its creation, release, and eventual disappearance. It would be the final ‘Badfinger’ release with the original members, and unfortunately the group would never get a proper sendoff. Within a year Pete would be gone, which would signal the conclusion of the ‘real’ ‘Badfinger’ vision. The real disappointment about this record is that it is so unique and melodically special, and very few would be able to enjoy it. Even today it only exists in its original LP format, unless you buy an overpriced import version on CD. I feel it deserves a deluxe edition treatment with live tracks, demos, and the of course the original track listing in glorious remastered sound.’ Badfinger’s’ original Apple records got the remastered treatment a few years ago, and if any LP deserves to be reintroduced to the world its this one. Enjoy the songs I’ve included below, this work of art needs more exposure, and a greater recognition. EDIT 1/2018- Rhino Records have reissued this LP on a limited edition green colored record.

You’re So Fine-Wish You Were Here

Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke-WYWH

Dennis-Wish You Were Here

1 Comment

  1. Warren Hawk

    If only those "live tracks, demos, etc" existed from this time of the band. Perhaps it does but not in releasable form. I would LOVE to hear tapes from the tour of this album….as a 5 piece band!!! I'm sure none exist….so much for a deluxe edition of this one. A brilliant album and nice review. Thanks.


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