“Playing with John Lennon was a big deal. He was very cool and very nice. Very much like the John Lennon that you imagine, you know.”
By Blake Maddux
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the British band Badfinger was seemingly being groomed to be the next Beatles by the Fab Four themselves.
Paul McCartney wrote their debut single, “Come and Get It.” The group’s two Liverpudilians—bassist Tom Evans and guitarist Joey Molland—played on John Lennon’s 1971 album, Imagine. Members of the group also appeared on recordings by Ringo Starr and George Harrison. The quartet’s second, third, and fourth albums were released on Apple Records, the label that The Beatles founded in 1968.
In addition to “Come and Get It,” Badfinger scored a string of top 40 hits that were written by guitarist Pete Ham: “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue.” “Without You,” also written by Ham and Evans, was a #1 hit for Harry Nilsson in 1971 and a top 5 entry for Mariah Carey in 1994.
The last two of these songs appeared on the 1971 album Straight Up, the production of which was begun by George Harrison but completed by Todd Rundgren. In 2013, “Baby Blue” played over the closing scenes of Breaking Bad‘s final episode.
On November 3, Joey Molland (the band’s sole surviving member) will be performing the whole of the band’s 1971 classic at Arlington’s Regent Theatre on Friday, November 3. Among the album’s songs are five of his own compositions.
Molland spoke to The Arts Fuse by phone from Minneapolis, which he has called home since the early 1980s.
Arts Fuse: How did Badfinger get its name?
Joey Molland: The story that I got told was that it was a working title for “With a Little Help from my Friends.” John was playing the piano on the demo, John Lennon, and he wasn’t that good a pianist. So they called it “Bad Finger Boogie” because of the mistakes in it, I think. We got the name, it was passed on to us by Neil Aspinall, the head of Apple Records, so it kind of makes sense that that’s what happened.
AF: What were your contributions to Lennon’s album Imagine?
Molland: We played on two songs. Tommy Evans and myself both played acoustic for him. We played on “Jealous Guy” and on the song called “I Don’t Want to be a Soldier.” It was a very exciting time for us, obviously. Playing with John Lennon was a big deal. He was very cool and very nice. Very much like the John Lennon that you imagine, you know.
AF: What were your relationships with other members of the Fab Four like?
Molland: The closest was with George Harrison, doing the Straight Up album. You know, George was producing it. And, of course, we played on George’s solo album and at the Bangladesh concert with him. But during the recording of the Straight Up album, we kind of got really close. He was super. Liked to bring his guitar in and play with us. He was really great. He was lovely. He wasn’t a big ego tripper or nothing. Just a good guitar player. He was very thoughtful about what he played, you know what I mean? He’d take his time and work it out. And he had good suggestions for us, although he didn’t really interfere too much with what we played.
AF: How did having Todd Rundgren take over production duties from Harrison affect the making of the record?
Molland: He was the entire opposite to George. He was very arrogant, to the point of being rude, really. He was very conceited and full of himself. George was very modest. He had a very modest side to him. There’s no way you could say that about Todd Rundgren. Todd was a very imaginative guy, though. You know, loads of sparks coming off him and stuff. Again, he didn’t really advise us on our playing, licks that we played. I don’t think he thought much of us as musicians. He was a very confident guy. He’d been raised as genius, so he carried that with him. I suppose he still does.
I talked to him about it once. We did a concert together down in Atlantic City at the Hilton. I asked him why he was like that, and he said, “Oh, I’m not really like that, you just remember me like that.” So he got out of it that way, but on the other side of him there was a good social side to him. He was nice and easy to talk to that night in Atlantic City all those years later, but when were making the record it was really kind of difficult. And he really didn’t think too much, I don’t think, about what we wanted. He didn’t really talk to us about it or what we thought of the song or anything. We would just play the song for him and he would take it away and do what he wanted, really.
AF: How did you learn that “Baby Blue” was being used on the final episode of Breaking Bad?
Molland: I was taping the show for my son, is what I did.
AF: So you didn’t know that it was going to be on until you saw it?
Molland: That’s right, yeah. It just came on. I had no idea. They played it and it was fantastic. It was a real thrill to hear. I had no idea it was going on, you know. … He was coming home the next day. He found out himself. It was all over the news. It was on the TV news in Minneapolis, where I live. And then, of course, the phone started ringing, and you’d pick up the house phone and it was like the New York Times calling or [Access Hollywood]. All of a sudden the phones wouldn’t stop ringing. I was like a rock star. It was incredible. I think it was bigger when that happened than when the record was actually out.
AF: How do you think you would have reacted if someone told you 45 years ago that you would be performing Straight Up in 2017?
Molland: I think I would have laughed! We had no idea about these things, of course, in those days. Whenever you’d see one of the old bands like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones and they were talking about being in rock band, everybody thought—and we thought the same thing—that it would be over a long, long time ago, maybe by the time we were 30. I’m a lot older than that now, I’m 70 now. I wish I could say I was 50, but I’m not, and I’m lucky that my voice is holding up and I’m not in bad shape. I’m lucky in that way. I’m really blessed. It’s just an amazing thing to me that this is happening. And the other thing that’s amazing is these venues. We’ve been having really good crowds and it’s great. And we’re getting loads of shows, like we’re doing, I think, 10 shows in November, 10 or 12 shows, which is a lot of shows for a band that’s like 50 years old! It’s really good. I’m really happy.
AF: Somerville resident Al Kooper played on a version of the song “Name of the Game” that later appeared on a reissue of the album. Is there any chance that he might join you on stage in Arlington on Friday?
Molland: He might, because he did a bit of work on that song, didn’t he? We did some sessions with him at Bell Studio in New York. But I haven’t seen him since, or if I have he’s never come and said hello. Mind you, I haven’t gone and said hello to him as well if I’ve seen him somewhere. But I don’t know. If he chose to come down and he wanted to do that, that’d be just fine with us. Fine with me.
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist who also contributes to The Somerville Times, DigBoston, Lynn Happens, and various Wicked Local publications on the North Shore. In 2013, he received an MLA from Harvard Extension School, which awarded him the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding Thesis in Journalism. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife in Salem, Massachusetts.