Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Badfinger - Ass (Apple Records, 1973)

Read any biography of Badfinger and it'll mention how, during their heyday, the band were dogged by critics who hounded them for sounding too much like the Beatles. This makes absolutely no sense to me. In the early 70s, when the public was clamoring for the Fab Four to reunite, shouldn't a band who carried on the Beatles' torch have been universally acclaimed? Sure, Badfinger were handpicked by McCartney, worked closely with Harrison, and played supporting roles for Lennon and Starr, but that should tell you something in itself. Would these obvious talents ever allow, if you'll pardon the pun, half-assed musicians to back them up? Badfinger were fellow masters of melody, harmony, tight arrangements, and hooks, but they were hardly copycats. Their music was their own.

Which brings me to Ass. Ass was the fourth and final album Badfinger recorded for the Apple label, and, if you go by what the critics say, it was also their worst. They insist this album should be flushed. Sometimes I wonder if, after lauding a certain band, critics feel as though they must follow their praise up with a public disembowelment of that same group to bring the whole affair back down to earth. I've seen it time and time again. I also have to wonder if these critics bothered to listen to this album more than once, because it happens to be filled with some kick-ass tunes. Yes, go ahead and gasp. I'm going to draw some comparisons to the Beatles. Perish the thought. But in 1973, at a time when all four of the former Beatles were putting out their share of filler, Badfinger put out an album that put those guys to shame.

I can see McCartney spinning the opening track - "Apple of My Eye," a weepy, pathos-filled ballad disguising a kiss-off to Apple Records - and fretting that he'd lost it... and Pete Ham had found it! This song is followed by the rollicking rocker "Get Away," which itself features some downright McCartney-esque basslines. At this point tears are streaming down Paul's face as he listens to Joey Molland's "Icicles." Weren't those chiming guitars culled straight off Abbey Road? And how about that theme of never taking love for granted? It's enough to make Macca think he was right there in the studio with them during one of his more drugged-out moments.

But wait, there's more! "The Winner" sounds like a new take on "Drive My Car" and even opens with the lines "You can drive a car/be a movie star." And what about the song "Cowboy"? That's one the critics really pounced on because it was written by Mike Gibbons, Badfinger's drummer, and doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the album because of its country-ish feel. Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute! Does anyone else happen to remember another famous foursome whose drummer also used to do the countrified numbers on their pop albums? How was this any different? Sure, it's a little corny and goofy (like most country music, eh?) and plenty twangy, but to these ears it fits just fine.

To wrap things up, let's take a peek at that final entry, "Timeless." Here we find it's not just Joey, but Pete who was dipping into Abbey Road for inspiration. This eight-minute rocker, an exercise (or exorcise) in pure angst, employs a spiraling crescendo that's a direct nod to John Winston Ono Lennon a la "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." In fact, it's so good it'll give you shivers.

To all you Beatles fans who've contemplated discovering what Badfinger is all about, Ass is as fine a starting place as any. And to you critics?

Well, you know where you can stick it.
-jOhn A.

1 comment:

gunther said...

jOhn A. is the Dave Mustaine of Dirty Sheets.