51. Badfinger / Straight Up (1971) 

Rating: Unfavorable 
"Most of all though, and it really hurts to say this, there just isn't any rock and roll spirit on this album: that magic scooby-doo, whatever you want to call it, is gone. Straight Up is completely devoid of the handful of energetic ravers Badfinger have included on previous albums and which acted as keys to the music's overall vitality; added the lack of Badfinger's former lightweight pop virtues, this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the group... 

...There were many comparisons made of Magic Christian Music and No Dice to the Beatles' Helpperiod, and the analogies were apt. With Straight Up, Badfinger seem to have already reached the Beatles' Revolver stage: a stultifying self-conscious artiness, a loss of previous essential virtues, and far too much general farting around." (Mike Saunders, 1/20/72 Review) 

Wow. The lesson here, apparently, is that if you do too much experimenting in the studio (or "farting around," rather) then you shouldn't be surprised when the finished product is a record every bit as indulgent and "stultifying" as the Beatles' Revolver

Prior to this review, Mike Saunders was actually one of Badfinger's most vociferous proponents in the rock press, peddling enthusiastic reviews of No Dice to whomever would publish them. "[T]his album sounds like nothing so much as what might have happened had the post-Pepper Beatles gotten it together after their promising double The Beatles," he wrote in the 12/10/70 issue of RS, in yet another dig at Abbey Road. "It's as if John, Paul, George, and Ringo had been reincarnated as Joey, Pete, Tom, and Mike of Badfinger." 

Three months later, he wrote an equally fervent review of the album for Creem. "When Badfinger gets around to making the record they're capable of making, it may be as good as everything the Beatles ever did after Rubber Soul, all rolled into one," he proclaimed. 

Yet Saunders hated Straight Up, for reasons puzzling and inexplicable. His analysis doesn't strike me as particularly articulate or persuasive (the "magic scooby-doo" is gone!), yet apparently this review had a profound effect on the band, who ultimately concluded producer Todd Rundgren was to blame for Straight Up's perceived lack of energy. Rundgren had already begun work on the band's next album, but he left the sessions shortly after this review was published. Badfinger would never be the same. 

Meanwhile, on January 24, 1972, an article about "The Rock & Roll Press" appeared in a publication called The Rag. The author asserted that Rolling Stone "has gone straight downhill" and that, aside from the record review section ("which isn't as bad as some think"), the magazine "is done by a bunch of faceless lackeys run by Jann Wenner and Ben Fong-Torres." This piece was written by... none other than Mike Saunders. 

Nonetheless, in the year 1972 "Metal" Mike had eighteen reviews published in Rolling Stone. 

Straight Up would actually prove to be Badfinger's best-selling album, but it was perceived as a disappointment at the time by this band that was supposed to be the next Beatles. Badfinger attempted to produce their next record, entitled Ass, themselves, which proved such a disastrous move that Apple ordered them to bring in Chris Thomas to salvage the tracks. The band eventually severed relations with Apple, who issued Ass around the same time Badfinger was releasing their eponymous debut for Warner Bros. Greg Shaw called both albums "the biggest disappointment of the new year" in the January '74 issue of Phonograph Record

Against the odds, Badfinger returned at the end of '74 with what was arguably the best album of their career, Wish You Were Here. "Dejected by the constant struggle against forces that had nothing to do with music, their next LP was born from the emotional intensity and frustration of their experience," Dan Matovina wrote in a May '79 retrospective published in Trouser Press. "Apparently, little conscious planning went into the recording, the songs simply flowed out. The entire groups's writing seemed to be a profound response to their most heartfelt feelings." 

"The recording of Wish You Were Here went over budget, but it was expected to be compensated for," Matovina continued. "So what happened? The LP was stopped, recalled, and banned! Litigation had begun because of shady management dealing. It meant stopping any further releases by Badfinger and prevented any singles from being released off the album. This totally crushed the group and reportedly Chris Thomas was so upset about it that he wept - he considered it one of his finest achievements."* 

Six months after the release of Wish You Were Here, Badfinger's principal songwriter, Pete Ham, committed suicide. "I think what brought him down is that he didn't have any money left," guitarist Joey Molland said in the obit that ran in the 6/5/75 issue of Rolling Stone. 

Badfinger was left out of the first edition of the record guide. "Badfinger had some lovely melodic Beatle-style songs and on occasion came up with some convincing rock & roll," Debbie Geller wrote in the second edition. The only records listed in the book, though, were Airwaves and Say No More, which Molland and bassist Tom Evans recorded after Ham's death. Geller dismissed both of these records as "pedestrian MOR tripe" and rated both LPs two stars. 

Paul Evans rated Straight Up three and a half stars in the third edition of the album guide. ""Baby Blue," the Todd Rundgren-produced followup single, brings a touch of Revolver to the Badfinger mix," he wrote (ostensibly this was now considered to be a good thing). "[T]he rest of Straight Up devolves into competent genre exercises." He gave No Dice three stars; Wish You Were Here was not rated or mentioned in the book. 

Badfinger was omitted from the 2004 album guide. 

*-I should note that in the preceding year Chris Thomas produced For Your PleasureStranded and Paris 1919!