the darkness that surrounds us

By the close of 1974, the machinations of Badfinger’s business manager, Stan Polley, had overshadowed the group’s eternal optimism. At his behest, Badfinger reconvened to record a quick followup to Wish You Were Here, mere weeks after the LP had been released.

Head First was assembled after two tense weeks of recording sessions in early December 1974 at Apple Studios. Warner Brothers, by now acutely aware that Badfinger was being badly used by Polley for his own financial gain, rejected the album. Head First became lost in more than a figurative sense, since Warner Brothers never returned the 16-track masters, but Badfinger’s new keyboardist, Bob Jackson, had retained a copy of the rough mix completed by engineer Phil McDonald on 15 December 1974. This tape is the basis of the recent Snapper Music CD which finally gives a wide release to Badfinger’s last work.

The circumstances surrounding the sessions conspired to produce a gloomy outcome, but the four members of Badfinger overcame the dispirited atmosphere enough to make Head First worthy of their reputation, even though the completed disc is barely over one half hour in length. “Lay Me Down” was conceived as a single but Pete Ham’s most inspired contribution to Head First is “Keep Believing,” his magnanimous gesture to Joey Molland, who had recently left Badfinger amidst considerable acrimony. It is the one song closest to recapturing the mood of Wish You Were Here. The legal and financial problems troubled Ham greatly, but the songs completed for Head First do not reflect this. His friend Tom Evans dealt with the matter directly. Head First’s best track, “Rock ’n’ Roll Contract,” is bitter and catchy. His candor in “Hey, Mr. Manager” is an indication of how badly their collective morale was suffering. Considering what has since come to light about Polley’s reputation the lyrics could have been even more scathing.

Bob Jackson’s keyboard work is tasteful throughout Head First (except in “Passed Fast” which sounds a bit dated) and his vocals slip in surprisingly well with the rest of the group. His vocal resemblance to Steve Winwood gave Badfinger a slightly rougher sound (which it had flirted with in live performances) and the three original members were sufficiently impressed with his writing to involve him in the group’s songwriting democracy, electing to record his composition “Turn Around.”

The eleven demos related to Head First were originally planned as bonus tracks for a single CD but were wisely moved to a second disc. These sketches would disrupt what tentative continuity Head First has. The sound quality of the demos is questionable, subpar for even bootleg material. Pete Ham had taken to recording his demos on cassette instead of his Revox Sound-On-Sound, so his five additional selections pale in comparison to 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green. The instrumental fragment “Time Is Mine” and “Nothing To Show” are thin but promising. (A sunnier recording of “Keep Your Country Tidy” in its earlier incarnation as “Sweet Josephine” is available at the Badfingernews site.) The Mike Gibbins demo “Thanks To You All” had the potential to have been developed into something nice but most of the songs, particularly Pete’s “I Can’t Believe In” and Tom’s “Queen of Darkness” (reputedly begun during sessions for Wish You Were Here) are unshakably grim.

Snapper Music’s cover design is faithful (to a point) to the photo concept devised by Tom Evans. The members of Badfinger were to be superimposed into the lion’s mouth, a brutal, accurate metaphor. (The negatives from a photo shoot for the Head First sleeve were regrettably destroyed.) Even if Head First had managed to be released in 1975 the symbolism would have been lost in a marketplace bedazzled by glam and mediocrity. To rock’s eternal shame, Badfinger was slowly eviscerated by greed.

©2001 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.