Badfinger’s Ass is one heavy record. It is heavy in sound, heavy in sentiment, and it was heavy for reasons personal to the band. The album’s opener is a case in point: ‘Apple Of My Eye’ was Pete Ham’s heartfelt goodbye to what had been the group’s record label and spiritual home since 1968.
Ass was Badfinger’s last album for Apple Records, issued as the company wound down its non-Beatles activities. After Ass, only the individual solo Beatles released records on Apple.
Launched in the States in November 1973, but not until March ’74 in the UK, Ass spawned one single. Fittingly enough, it was ‘Apple Of My Eye’, destined to be not only Badfinger’s last 45 for Apple but also Apple’s last ever non-Beatles release.
It was the end of the road for Apple Records, but for Badfinger it was the conclusion of one journey and the beginning of another. Warner Brothers Records, who had already picked up former Apple artists James Taylor and Jackie Lomax, saw huge potential in Badfinger, and had signed them to a three-year, multi-million pound deal.
The cover artwork for Ass was inspired by this event, the lure of great rewards ahead. It was painted by Grammy Award winning artist Peter Corriston, later known for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and iconic Rolling Stones covers including Some Girls and Tattoo You. But it was Badfinger’s bassist Tom Evans who originated the surreal concept for Ass — and its title too, as a comment on the group’s mixed fortunes to date: “No Dice, Straight Up your Ass”, as he’d say. Or, as he sang in ‘Blind Owl’: ‘Play the role / Sell your soul…’
As guitarist Joey Molland explains today: “Tommy came up with the idea of calling the album Ass, and the cover idea. Tommy was very into photography and art for a while. Peter Corriston was a lovely, mild mannered Philadelphia gentlemen. The painting was really well done. I liked it a lot. It shows us being tempted away with a carrot. We were the donkey with the headphones. It reflected the way we were seeing the world at the time.”
Indeed, Badfinger’s chosen title for their first Warners album had been For Love Or Money, although it eventually appeared as simply Badfinger. Due to the tail end of their Apple deal overlapping the new arrangement at Warners, both Badfinger and Ass were issued almost simultaneously. The sound of the two LPs contrasted widely. While Ass epitomised the heaviness of early 70s British rock, Badfinger was lighter and presented a back-to-basics approach, more akin to 1970’s No Dice. Music critics and the band’s fans were confused, not least by the fact that it had been two years since the previous album, Straight Up.
Reviews for Ass were mixed, although two of the most important American notices were positive. Said Billboard: “A very well done set from this vastly overlooked British band, their fusion of strong vocal harmony with both intricate acoustic guitar work and a straight rock sound give them the combination that should attract overdue attention”.
Rolling Stone, meanwhile, cited “the group’s unusually muscular playing” before concluding: “This is a surprisingly vibrant album from a group that has never managed to string its scattered hits into a distinguishable identity, and which seemed to be headed for oblivion or dissolution, whichever came first. It would qualify as a comeback if it weren’t so clearly an introduction to the band beneath the veneer”.
Despite such good reviews and his liking for the cover, today Joey Molland has mixed feelings about Ass. He sees it as a compilation, due to the inclusion of two tracks, ‘The Winner’ and ‘I Can Love You’ — both Joey’s own songs, incidentally — that dated back to sessions at Apple Studios with producer Todd Rundgren in January 1972. Todd had started the follow up to Straight Up, but contractual wranglings put paid to the project after just a few sessions. Recordings for Ass proper didn’t start until later that year.
The process of making albums had never been painless for Badfinger, and Ass was no different. Craving creative control, in September ‘72 the band won Apple’s approval to work in the studio without a producer, but they soon realized that there was more to producing records than simply getting the songs down on tape.
As Pete Ham recalled in 1974: “We tried to produce Ass ourselves, initially. And we needed someone to save the day, because we weren’t all that experienced, you know?” He continued: “Everybody’s idea of a good production is different. That was one of the problems. Because we had four different opinions. So we had to get somebody from the outside with that ear to say, ‘Hold it. You’ve gone a bit nuts there.’ I think there is a need for good producers.”
Apple couldn’t help but agree, and in April 1973 the label’s then A&R head Tony King proposed a good producer named Chris Thomas to take charge of the Ass sessions. Badfinger liked what they heard of Chris’ work, particularly Procol Harum’s latest album Grand Hotel. It didn’t hurt either that, in George Martin’s absence in 1968 and ‘69, Chris Thomas had produced several Beatles sessions. (See Bonus Tracks for three examples of Badfinger producing themselves; plus a previously unreleased version of Joey’s ‘Do You Mind’, and the never-before-issued ‘Regular’, which Joey calls “my drinking song”.)
Badfinger were long gone from Apple by the time Ass was released, and it’s noteworthy that the single release of the valedictory ‘Apple Of My Eye’ was an Apple decision. It was a suitable double tribute — from band to label and from label to band — that let the world know that there had been more to the relationship than just business.
Joey Molland’s ‘Get Away’ follows. Says Joey: “That’s about Pete. He worked all the bloody time in that little studio in the house where we all lived. He drove himself mad, and me crazy. I’d write my songs wherever I was and go back to the house to make a demo. But I didn’t stay inside all the time. So I wrote the song: ‘You may be right / Working all night and day / But sometimes / I just got to get away’.”
‘Icicles’ is one of five Joey Molland songs on Ass. Joey: “That’s a Joni Mitchell kind of idea. My wife Kathie turned me on to her. Badfinger went to see Joni and Jackson Browne in Manchester, when we were there to do a TV show called Set Of Six. It was just acoustics, you know? When she came on she just floored me. She was so powerful. Great sound and beautiful songs. ‘Icicles’ came out of that experience.”
While it had been Pete Ham’s unswerving dedication to songwriting that had prompted ‘Get Away’, it was John Lennon’s overtly political period around the time of his Sometime In New York City album that inspired Joey to write ‘The Winner’.
“I loved John Lennon,” says Joey. “He had the world at his finger tips. I wanted him to come out with something really smart, but I thought he was complaining a bit too much. I didn’t know about the FBI thing and all that going on his life, but it was a given that it was us against the suits”. This observation didn’t diminish Joey’s admiration for John, however. “Whenever I saw John at Apple, it would make me nervous,” he admits. “I thought he was absolutely brilliant. It was like bumping into Salvador Dali. He was really remarkable, streets ahead of most people in his thinking.”
When asked about his tracks on Ass in 1974, Tom Evans said: “The one that has most meaning for me is ‘When I Say’, which is a slow, love song. Because it’s about my wife. There are only two on it I wrote anyway”. Tom also contributes ‘Blind Owl’: “That says a little bit about the things that have happened to us in our travels. It’s more of a controversial type song. It’s like a protest song, man.”
Joey’s ‘Constitution’ is also a protest of sorts, a kick against constraint. He describes it as “a good rock riff idea”. He quotes: “ ‘I can sing the blues / Any way I chose’, you know what I mean? The music was getting a bit more raunchy and heavier. Pete played the shit out the guitar. Man, he just jumped all over it. We used to play that on stage a lot. We had a great jam on that.”
Tom spoke for drummer Mike Gibbins when asked about the track that provides some light relief on Ass, Mike’s ‘Cowboy’. "We were touring with a country and western band called Pure Prairie League,” said Tom. “Mike got friendly with one of the guitarists, who showed him a few picking things on the guitar. So Mike wrote the song in dedication to that guy. Pure Prairie League were all like cowboys, you know, dyed-in-the-wool.”
Badfinger’s lyrics almost always grew from direct experience, as Joey’s ‘I Can Love You’ demonstrates: “You have relationships, and sometimes it comes into question,” he says. “That’s what it’s about. And then on the bridge of the song… it doesn’t matter what’s said or what happens to the flowers, nothing matters. I really liked the tune. I thought it was really strong. Powerful.”
There didn’t have to be a specific story behind each title, as Pete once revealed, and his comments can easily apply to the closing track on Ass, ‘Timeless’. “Sometimes I can write a song and not really know what it means myself, you know?” he said. “It’s just individual feelings that come into my head, and usually you find that it gets a certain meaning for you and for everybody after a while, although at the time of writing you don't really know why you wrote it”.
Britain’s Melody Maker reviewed Ass in April 1974, and while mostly faint in its praise, it was spot on when discussing the finale: “The best comes last, however. ‘Timeless’, a Pete Ham song, opens with Harrison-like mysticism. It grows into a high, wide and really quite handsome production job. Promising note to end on.”
That was Badfinger. That was Ass. That was Apple Records.
- Chris Thomas & Badfinger (except tracks 4 & 9 Todd Rundgren; tracks 11 to 19 Badfinger)
- Recorded at
- Apple Studios / Olympic / Morgan / The Manor
- Released (UK)
- Released (US)