Magic Christian Music
“Hello Badfinger. Goodbye Iveys."
The Iveys, one of the groups signed to Britain’s biggest independent record label — the 12-million-discs-a-year Apple company — have changed their name to BADFINGER.
Reason behind the change, according to group leader Pete Ham from Swansea: ‘We felt our original name was too nice. And people kept asking us if we were the old Ivy League.”
The above words come from the introduction to the sheet music collection for Magic Christian Music, Badfinger’s debut album of sweet colourful pop songs, issued in January 1970. Despite that announcement, this isn’t really a Badfinger release at all, as every track on it, including ‘Come And Get It’, was recorded by The Iveys.
The new name was prompted by the decision to toughen up the band’s recorded sound, and by a line-up change, when, in one of those irredeemable moments of inter-band politics, Iveys bassist Ron Griffiths was asked to leave. “It was put to the vote…” recalls Ron today.
This meant that even though Magic Christian Music is actually an Iveys LP, there was no mention of Ron Griffiths on the record. Except, that is, for the romantic ‘Dear Angie’, which had been something of a signature song for the group, being their second single.
“That’s about my wife, Maureen,” reveals Ron. “Angela is her middle name. ‘Dear Maureen’ didn’t sound as hip.” Ironically enough, it had been the very existence of a Mrs. Griffiths that had hastened Ron’s exit from The Iveys. “I was the only one in the band who was married,” says Ron. “I had a young lad and it created bad vibes.”
For Ron, ‘Dear Angie’ remains a memento of the years that he lived in The Iveys’ shared house in Golders Green, north London. “Maureen was to-ing and fro-ing from Hertfordshire to that house to see me whenever she could,” he recalls. “That’s the lyric: ‘When you caught your train today / You took my heart and soul away…’.”
The sheet music collection for Magic Christian Music contains band member profiles (minus Ron, of course), which hint at the individual personalities within The Iveys as they morphed into Badfinger. Pete’s write-up begins: “A great deal of the grit and strength of Badfinger stems from the grit and dedication of Pete Ham… solemn Pete Ham from Swansea.”
Pete himself added: “I would like to think of Badfinger’s music as mood music. Something with a bit of feeling, whether it’s hard or soft”. He continued: “Songwriting is one of the greatest pleasures in life. I usually get the mood between 11pm and five in the morning.”
Drummer Mike Gibbins — whose profile begins “I don’t really like to talk too much. I like to think” — admitted that he wasn’t as all-consumed by the creative process as his bandmates. “I’m not like Pete,” he said. “He lives and breathes music. I’m not kidding you, man. He goes into a studio and it gets hot and horrible in there but he won’t come out. He likes it too much.”
The profile for Tom Evans, hailing from Liverpool, begins, “Basically, I’m very introverted. But put me on a stage and I’m completely the opposite.” Like Pete, Tom also believed it was all about the songs: “In Badfinger, we try and channel our surplus creative energy into good songwriting. The moods come and go, but 12 months ago we were writing two a week and now there’s 200 or 300 songs in there.”
As the Sixties and The Iveys passed into history, and heavier rock sounds were in the ascendancy, there was a new sense of purpose in the band. Pete had decided that good tunes per se weren’t quite getting the band’s message across. Badfinger would have to develop a new consistency in their material in order to build up their fan base. “The songs we do are usually very varied,” he said. “But I’m thinking we’d better start trying to put them into one category. You can branch out when you’ve got established, but I reckon our early mistake was being too varied too soon.” Even a cursory listen to Magic Christian Music today will confirm that he was right.
It had been the group’s manager, Bill Collins, who had insisted that the key to success in music was songwriting. He was serious about it too, having turned down The Who’s offer of ‘Mary Ann With The Shaky Hand’ as The Iveys’ debut 45. “It has to be one of your own,” Bill had told them.
That was easier said than done, as the band had discovered. After enjoying moderate success with their debut single, the power ballad ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ — one of Tom Evans’ earliest songs for the band — The Iveys found themselves struggling to convince Apple that they could write a strong follow-up. “Bill would take in the tapes,” recalls Ron Griffiths. “But we were always disappointed by the results coming back from Apple… ‘It’s not that good. You’ll have to try something else’.”
It would take the intervention of Paul McCartney to really kick-start the band’s commercial success. As not even Bill Collins would turn down a Beatle. Paul had been asked to provide three songs for a new film, The Magic Christian, in which Ringo had a starring role alongside Peter Sellers. Paul had written ‘Come And Get It’ but his Beatles commitments prevented any further work. His problem coincided with a ‘what next?’ moment for The Iveys, which was played out in the music press.
It was a quote from Ron Griffiths in a Disc & Music Echo interview that caught Paul’s eye: “We do feel a bit neglected,” said Ron. “We keep writing songs for a new single and submitting them to Apple but The Beatles keep sending them back, saying they’re not good enough. We’ve now come up with a song that Mal Evans says he likes, so perhaps we stand a chance with that.”
That song was ‘Mrs. Jones’ (see Bonus Tracks). It had a strong melody but Paul rejected this too on the grounds that its mid-section harmonies came perilously close to the ‘Frère Jacques’ refrain in ‘Paperback Writer’. But Paul had a solution to both his and The Iveys’ problems. He drove over to the band’s Golders Green house — “He drew up in a yellow Mini if my memory serves me well,” says Ron — armed with a demo his super-catchy ‘Come And Get It’.
Ron recalls: “Paul said, ‘I’ve got a lot on my plate at the minute,’ before offering us the song. He said: ‘You can’t just have it for having its sake. I want it played exactly like this. Don’t try to deviate or rearrange it. It’s yours if you do what I say. If you accept this as your next single, you can write the two other tracks they need for Ringo’s film’.”
“It was gobsmacking stuff for us,” remembers Ron. “We ended up in a little theatre at Pinewood, or wherever it was, watching the rushes for The Magic Christian. We had to take on board the plot and the scenes they wanted for the two additional songs. That’s where ‘Rock Of All Ages’ and ‘Carry On Till Tomorrow’ came from.”
Both the Simon & Garfunkel-flavoured ‘Carry On…’ and ‘Rock…’, delivered in a ‘Long Tall Sally’ style, were recorded at Abbey Road, with Paul producing. The main focus, however, was on ‘Come And Get It’. “That session went on forever,” remembers Ron. “Around 30 takes, I think. Peter, Tommy and myself all had a shot at singing it. I probably I overdid the delivery. Paul told me I sounded like Reg Presley from The Troggs! Paul’s description of Pete’s attempt was that it wasn’t clear enough, there wasn’t enough attack. And, of course, Tommy got the gig. I always said for a mickey take that it was the old Liverpool connection there.”
Ron did manage to add a little flourish of his own, however, that he remembers with a smile: “Paul’s demo didn’t have the bass run-off at the end, and he said, ‘Oh, I like that, Ron. We’ll keep that’.”
By the time the single appeared in the shops Ron was no longer in the band, but his photo was included on the record sleeve. “In Tommy’s room at the house, there was a photo collage of all our heads,” reveals Ron. “That’s more or less what’s on the cover. They did try to obscure me a bit, but I’m there!”
‘Come And Get It’ was, of course, a massive hit, peaking at No. 4 in the UK and No. 7 Billboard in the US. After four years of struggling as The Iveys, Badfinger were suddenly on Top Of The Pops and on the road to success.
An album was needed quickly to capitalize on the single. The newly named Badfinger and their main contact at Apple, former Beatles roadie Mal Evans, set about compiling one from the most commercial-sounding material the group had available (hence the credits for three different producers). The other two film songs, ‘Rock Of All Ages’ and ‘Carry On Till Tomorrow’ were in the can, as were the then unreleased ‘Crimson Ship’, ‘Midnight Sun’ and ‘Walk Out In The Rain’ — all Pete Ham songs, the first of which had been inspired by working with Paul.
There was also ‘Give It A Try’, which had been prompted by Apple’s repeated knock-backs of what The Iveys had considered strong, potential singles. “That song was a wind-up!” remembers Ron Griffiths. “The whole thing was a bit of bubblegum, something stupidly over-the-top commercial. It was me on the Walt Disney harmonies, as I call them, and on the middle section — I could shout me head off, as well!”
The remaining tracks on Magic Christian Music were all taken from The Iveys’ album, Maybe Tomorrow. In general, they are lighter of touch. Some were remixed, others not: ‘Dear Angie’, ‘Fisherman’, ‘Beautiful And Blue’, ‘I’m In Love’, ‘Angelique’, ‘Knocking Down Our Home’ and ‘Maybe Tomorrow’.
This CD edition adds a previously unreleased version of the group’s first B-side, ‘And Her Daddy’s A Millionaire’; a remix of the single-that-never-was ‘Mrs. Jones’, the previously unreleased mono mix of ‘See-Saw Granpa’ from Maybe Tomorrow; and a new, unedited mix of that album’s psychedelic finale, the heaviest song The Iveys ever recorded, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’.
- Mal Evans (Except tracks 2, 9, 11, 14, 15, 19 to 22 Tony Visconti; tracks 1, 7, 9 Paul McCartney)
- Recorded at
- Abbey Road / Trident / IBC / Olympic
- Released (UK)
- Released (US)