Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Badfinger - Straight Up (1971)

Furthering the exploration of a singer/songwriter "kick," Straight Up is notable when compared to previous posts as it was produced by Todd Rundgren. Released in December 1971, Straight Up is one of the finest albums by Badfinger, one of those groups you didn't know you knew. Developing out of a group The Iveys, Badfinger got its name from the working title of Lennon-McCartney's "With a Little Help from My Friends" and is known for such hits as "Baby Blue," "Day After Day," and "No Matter What." Unfortunately, as is the case with many bands, the tragedy of the suicides in the band often overshadow a serious look at the music. Music critics will refer to Badfinger as "power pop," but as was the case in my review of Egg and Canterbury scene I'm hesitant to embrace the term as the musicians themselves didn't use it. (The term originated from an interview with Pete Townshend of The Who, but in its context it's unclear if he is actually labeling himself as such). Straight Up opens with the medium-tempo ballad "Take It All" penned by Pete Ham. This track is a fantastic opener because of the gradual entrances in the beginning of the track; the track starts with piano, voice, and harmonics on the guitar and builds to include organ, drums, and bass. "Baby Blue" is the next track on the album and one of my personal favorites. "Baby Blue" is a good example of why Badfinger is considered "power pop" because of the liberal use of power chords in the guitar. Yet, it seems senseless to base a genre around the frequent use of one type of chord. "Baby Blue" is an interesting track because despite tending toward the major key (the exception being the bridge) the words of the song are very melancholy. This creates a great tension in the listener which is resolved in the minor bridge and the outro. "Flying" is a quaint piece because of the word-painting it uses along the concept of flying. The long notes in the verse and especially the suspended held notes later in the track give a sense of gliding. "I'd Die Babe" is a great track with a notable driving bass line, and syncopated comping in the keyboard synced with the crash cymbals. This track is also testament to the tasteful use of vocal harmony that is key to a number of Badfinger songs. "Name of the Game" is a great ballad noteworthy for the sporadic harmonized vocal backgrounds and Ham's work on piano. The bass primarily outlines the roots of the chords and isn't very busy until the choruses. Despite making some good solo vehicles on guitar, the piano seems to be just as integral to the Badfinger sound. "Day After Day" is indefinitely one of Badfinger's most well-known singles and one of my favorites. "Day After Day" uses a lot of the elements of its other songs such as prominent piano, vocal harmony, and driving bass lines in an excellent execution. This track is also noteworthy for George Harrison's slide guitar solo, who was the record's producer until he left to produce The Concert for Bangladesh. The closing track "It's Over" seems to be a bit tongue-in-cheek when its subject matter is compared to its place on the album. "It's Over" is a great feature for the vocals of the group as well as one more taste of Ham's piano and Molland's guitar.