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Day After Day

Music Review: Badfinger – ‘Timeless… The Musical Legacy’

Is Timeless a fitting introduction to the music of Badfinger?

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If you were not around in the ’60s and’70s, or simply did not listen to music then, Apple Records has released a compilation to introduce you to the band Badfinger, Timeless. The Musical Legacy contains 16 tracks, 14 of which were originally recorded for Apple and two for Warner. I will not revisit the sad personal story of the band as it’s well covered in Dan Matinova’s definitive book, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger (Revised Edition; 2000).

Let’s take a look at the songs on Timeless so that you can decide whether it should be in your collection. (All comments about recording sessions and band member quotes are sourced from Matinova’s book.)

Beatles Yellow Submarine

Badfinger B&W

[Look-alikes, The Beatles and Badfinger.]

Timeless opens with “Day After Day” from Straight Up, Badfinger’s masterpiece. George Harrison handled the production and played the lead guitar with Pete Ham. Harrison’s friend Leon Russell was brought in to play the piano. This remastered version allows you to hear the beautiful piano work as well as the harmony vocals.

“Without You” is the original version by the band, later covered and made into a smash single by Harry Nilsson. Badfinger’s version is understated compared to Nilsson’s dramatic take, but there’s a nice Procol Harum-style organ line that carries the song along. Ham said this about Nilsson’s version, “We knew that was the way we wanted to do it, but never had the nerve.”

Tom Evans intended “Rock of All Ages” to be a screamer in the style of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” but as recorded – with Pete Ham and Mike Gibbins – it came off like a variation on The Beatles’ “I’m Down.” This was especially true as Paul McCartney played piano on the track, which he also produced. A great live number (I saw Badfinger in Berkeley in 1972), the fine remaster allows you to hear the background vocals. “Dear Angie” was a track from the days when Badfinger was known as The Iveys. It’s a pleasant song sung by Ron Griffiths, the band’s original bass player. The tune has nice stereo sound effects, but it is far from essential.

McCartney was also involved in the song that made Badfinger famous, “Come and Get It,” which he wrote and produced. The sound is great here and McCartney proved to the doubting band members that he could fashion a hit single using sparse instrumentation: bass, drums, tambourine, and piano. It worked.

McCartney told Badfinger that “Maybe Tomorrow” was bound to be a hit single. That was not to be and today it sounds like an ornate song from the Bee Gees 1st album. “No Matter What” was a great, chunky-sounding single that reached number eight on the Billboard singles chart in 1970. It segues quite well into “Baby Blue,” the band’s best-ever, Beatles-quality single. Matinova called it “a superb showcase of Badfinger’s classic chemistry.” The version included on Timeless is the American stereo single release, which included an added snare drum. It’s snappy but the sound is fuller and richer on the Straight Up mix.

“Believe Me” is one of the best songs from No Dice. It is followed by a track from Straight Up, “Name of the Game.” The drumming gives it a “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” feel. This version comes off as a bit dull compared to the earlier version, with horns, that’s a bonus track on the remastered Straight Up CD. “I’ll Be The One” was recorded for, but dropped from, Straight Up. It should have been a single as it sounds like the Beatles doing country rock.

“Apple of My Eye” was Ham’s bittersweet tribute to Apple Records. “Suitcase” is included and it’s the right take. This is the early “Pusher, pusher on the run” version recorded before the modified “Butcher, butcher…” take found on Straight Up. It’s a heavier version and reflects what the band sounded like live. As Molland said, “The original ‘Suitcase’ was more of what Badfinger was.”

The title track “Timeless” is a good song that, unfortunately, goes on too long, dissolving into a type of Baroque Traffic jam. At 7:40 it is needlessly longer than “Hey Jude.”

“Dennis” is another non-essential track, but it’s interesting because of a few Brian Wilson-like touches. The compilation concludes with “Love Is Gonna Come At Last,” a nice, airy, pleasant pop song written by Molland that sounds like Badfinger crossed with America. This may be an alternate take from the 1979 Airwaves sessions since Matinova writes that the album version was “tepid and slow.”

Longtime Badfinger fans will have all or most of this music in their physical or digital collections. But the compilation will work for those who would like a decent sampler. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to hear Badfinger at their very best you should consider acquiring either Straight Up or No Dice (or both).

Well recommended, for its intended audience.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Apple Records.

This article was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-badfinger-timeless-the-musical-legacy/

It was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper site:

http://m.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Badfinger-Timeless-The-Musical-5144246.php

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Positively Spot On

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95, 272 pages)

“I wish that for just one time/ You could stand inside my shoes/ And just for that one moment/ I could be you…” Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street

In the eternal quest to try to interpret the “real” meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs, some have speculated that “Positively 4th Street” is his retort to the many critics who emerged following Dylan’s controversial decision to “go electric.” Most people who have even some passing knowledge of music history have seen multiple examples of Dylan being cantankerous with the media, dating all the way back to the 1963 Newsweek article questioning his identity and past, and famously filmed in D.A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back.

Out of the Vinyl Deeps

Lately, Dylan has mellowed in that regard, or so it seems. Perhaps because he is now a revered survivor and not a young rebel.

What does Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music have to do with Dylan? Quite a bit as it turns out. This book is a compilation of writings on music by the late writer that appeared in a variety of publications, including her regular column for The New Yorker, “Rock, Etc.”, over a span of 34 years. The book is edited by her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz, and virtually every column and essay that doesn’t actually address Dylan, references him. Judging by Willis’ intuitive take on the music as it interweaves with the various time periods, her insightful commentary, and fine writing, this would be one critic who Dylan might actually like.

Willis drops a few names, but rarely seems caught up with celebrity. For her, it is all about the music. Her favorites, in addition to Dylan, are Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, and the Rolling Stones. Many others receive prominent mention, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, an often under-rated band, and others ranging from obscure to superstar, such as Bruce Springsteen. Willis was a feminist who could objectively analyze the art for its strengths and flaws without either coming across as a man-hater or relinquishing her status as a fan — two of the three would be pretty good, but to pull off all three makes for a damn interesting and good writer.

Fifty-nine short pieces are divided into six themes: World-Class Critic, The Adoring Fan, The Sixties Child, The Feminist, The Navigator, and The Sociologist. The first entry is on Dylan, and the last is a commentary on her philosophy of the role of music in society that mentions him in the third to last paragraph of the book. The final paragraph invokes Little Richard and The Ramones in the same sentence. How great is that?

This book is perfect for any 60s/70s rock-and-roll head. No doubt they would be overcome with nostalgia. But for those who are just as fanatical, but younger — who love the music just the same — and who perhaps even fancy themselves a bit knowledgeable about rock’s history and the great music of this era, they, too, will love Deeps because Willis is one writer who can make you feel like you were there.

Highly recommended for music lovers of all ages.

Dave Moyer

Out of the Vinyl Deeps is available as a Kindle Edition download. This book was purchased for review.

Dave Moyer is an educator who thinks a lot about rock music. A drummer, he has not yet played for the Rolling Stones. His book about baseball and Bob Dylan is entitled, Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein (Harper; $27.99; 512 pages)

Bob Dylan is a performing artist – a traveling bluesman, a modern-day minstrel – and the best way to try to access his art is to see him perform live.   Reading the lyrics, even listening to the records just does not do the man justice.   In The Ballad of Bob Dylan, Daniel Mark Epstein does what few have been able to do at all, much less do well – capture that spirit and, in doing so, somehow manages to get closer to the essence of an American icon.

Epstein explores Mr. Dylan through the lens of four concerts spanning 46 (yes, you read it correctly, 46!) years.   Beginning with the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., December 14, 1963; moving to Madison Square Garden, 1974; then to Tanglewood, 1997; and, finally, ending with Aberdeen, 2009, the author invites the reader into the endless iterations and reincarnations of the man who, by Dylan’s account “doesn’t do folk-rock” and is “just a guitar player.”   Epstein tells of a Hibbing, Minnesota, Jewish boy obsessed with American roots music.   He explores the inner workings of a young man who locks himself in his room listening to far away radio stations – a teenager enamored with Little Richard and Buddy Holly.

Epstein takes the reader on an improbable journey in which this same person, later in his life, converts to Christianity and – for nearly three years from 1979-1981 – almost exclusively performs music from his three religious albums, regularly using the stage as a pulpit.   Epstein describes a man so distraught that in 1987, after years of going through the motions and hiding behind back-up singers, concludes that retirement from live performances is his only option.

At this point, Epstein alludes to a turning point in Dylan’s career familiar to many of his fans.   On October 5, 1987, in Locarno, Switzerland, Dylan, petrified, needing to take the stage on the verge of a panic attack, indicated that he heard a voice, and a revelation occurred to him.   “I’m determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not.   And all of a  sudden everything just exploded in every which way.   After that is when I sort of knew:  I’ve got to go out and play these songs.   That’s just what I must do.”

This moment is likely the birth of what has become known as “The Never Ending Tour”, a tour that Dylan claims has ended, but to which the author refers in an effort to describe Dylan’s continual need to perform well over 100 shows per year.   Epstein describes Tanglewood as the 880th show of the tour.   Specifics aside, Dylan has kept up this pace ever since.   He has played in front of a couple of thousand people or less; he has played to sold-out arenas; he has played summer shows in amphitheaters to crowds of 20,000-plus; he has played ballparks and college campuses; he has played in front of crowds that have enthusiastically embraced him, as well as several who have walked out on him.   But keep playing, he has.

As Epstein relates, Dylan wanted to take his music to a new audience without preconceived ideas of what it was supposed to sound like.   In so doing, Dylan essentially recreates his music on a nightly basis.

Moving from concert to concert, Epstein recounts various stages of Dylan’s career.   Many of these stories can be found elsewhere.   However, the perspective is unique, and there’s ample and interesting new ground.   The best example of this is Chapter 12, in which the author goes to great lengths describing the impact drummer David Kemper had on the band during his 509 shows (1996-2001).   It is probably no coincidence that this is the era in which Dylan reconnected with the masses.

Another interesting tidbit is Epstein’s account of when Larry Campbell replaced John Jackson on lead guitar.   Upon arrival, Campbell had to learn Dylan’s songbook, yet during the rehearsals prior to his first tour, the band almost exclusively played covers from the traditional American songbook.   Rarely did they ever rehearse anything.   Dylan wanted things raw and spontaneous and created an environment to ensure it.

There are a great many other nuggets in this book, and Epstein’s bright ability to capture the essence of Dylan’s commitment to performing live is unique.   Paul Williams wrote three books entitled Bob Dylan Performing Artist, which consider work from different eras of Dylan’s career, but Esptein – for reasons that will become apparent to the reader – does a better job than most at providing the context of why this discussion is worth having in the first place.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is the author of a novel about baseball, family and Bob Dylan entitled Life and Life Only.   He has seen Bob Dylan perform live twenty-nine (yes, 29!) times over the years and decades; however, Mr. Moyer has never played his drums for Mr. Dylan.


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