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The Sad Story of Badfinger

Travis Rogers, Jr.

The Sad Story of Badfinger

Entertainment
3 mins
December 14, 2021

I was watching the Peter Jackson documentary on the making of Let It Be, called Get Back, and was paying attention to some of the licks they were playing as they worked on the upcoming show and record. One little line Paul McCartney played reminded me of the song Come and Get It which the Beatles never recorded but, instead, gave it to the band Badfinger.

It started me thinking about that fantastic group of composers and musicians who never enjoyed the fame and success that should have come their way. In fact, if you were to ask me what musical group of the 60s and 70s had the saddest, most tragic tale, it has to be Badfinger. 

Signed to the Beatles’ new label, Apple Records, Badfinger became the best-selling act ever signed by Apple. All four of the Beatles worked with them, from production to songwriting and even playing backup on some of their tracks.

The sky seemed to be the limit for these four young men, two from Swansea and two from Liverpool. And they made the most of their chance. With hits like Come & Get It, Maybe Tomorrow, No Matter What, Without You, Day After Day and Baby Blue, they should have owned the airwaves, especially after the dissolution of the Beatles.

All four members of the Beatles performed on and produced their first four albums on the Apple label in post-Beatle collaborations. John Lennon was the one who came up with the name Badfinger and used them on the album Imagine. George Harrison and Ringo toured with Badfinger for years. And it is George who plays slide guitar on Day After Day.

Their song Without You was not a hit for themselves but was turned into a massive hit record by none other than Harry Nilsson. Harry Nilsson, the guy called “the Beatles’ favorite band.”

But Badfinger were so badly managed. They were even performing at high schools in America while they had a #1 hit on the radio, and got none of the money for it, while other bands were selling out in arenas. They were used, chewed up, and spit out. 

Their manager, Stan Polley, was stealing everything from them. And when Polley convinced them to leave Apple for the “greener pastures” at Warner Brothers Records, they sealed their financial fate as a band and as a business. Days after releasing their second Warner Bros album, and arguably finest album Wish You Were Here, their manager had embezzled everything, and Warner literally pulled the album from record stores it had been distributed to.

Polley was a criminal and his specialty was defrauding people out of their hard-earned cash. He lived in luxury to the ripe old age of 87. He joins a long list of crooked rock band managers, however, who took advantage of talented people who just wanted to play music.

Shortly after that disaster, the group’s most gifted musician and writer hung himself in a drunken depression in the garage of his home. Peter Ham took his own life, at the age of 27. His fellow band member and co-writer of Without You, Tom Evans, was called to the home by Pete’s girlfriend, where he found him in the garage.

That traumatic experience would haunt Tom and, eight years later, after struggling to continue his career in the music business, would take his own life in the same manner as his friend, hanging himself on a tree in the back of his home. Tom was heard to say, by his friends and family in the last year of his life regarding Pete, “He’s in a better place than here.”

And if all that tragedy wasn’t enough, the main man who discovered them (back when they were still called The Iveys) and produced some of their early singles, ubiquitous Beatle assistant Mal Evans, suffered his own tragic death. At age 40, Evans was shot and killed by police at his home in Los Angeles, when officers mistook an air rifle he was holding for an actual rifle. Mal was with the Beatles, and then Badfinger, from their beginnings, at a measly, never-raised salary of £38 ($50) per week.

They had the radio hits, sure. Just like any band, though, when you start digging through the LP, you realize just how good they really were. 

Amazingly, the remaining band continued to produce albums even after Ham’s death. Joey wrote a song dedicated to Ham called The Dreamer on their 1979 album Airwaves. I still listen to an amazing Pete Ham tune called Take It All about Joey and Ham’s relationship together. You can take all the money and fame away, because nothing will ever break out relationship. They were like brothers and it truly is a sad story and take on how cruel the music industry can be. 

It has been over 50 years now, since they started turning out such amazing, charming, lively music. I listen to their records now and I still love this band. And miss them terribly.


This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.

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