Magic Christian Music


Apple / Capitol Records, 1970

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Once upon a time, the only way you could get your greasy little hands on any of the older albums from the British group Badfinger was to pay some ridiculous amount of money for a used vinyl copy. This is because, for reasons unknown to me (and because I don't feel like digging out the original press releases), the re-issue rights for the group's early albums were tied up legally, preventing them from ever seeing the digital age. I still have here in the Pierce Memorial Archives a copy of their Straight Up album I was given by my uncle; I could have sold it for about $100 at the time, but I wanted to hang on to it.

In 1991, that all changed, as Capitol Records finally began issuing Badfinger's early releases. (There are still a few from other labels the group recorded on that have yet to see the light of the digital dawn.) The band's first release, Magic Christian Music, served also as the unofficial soundtrack for the 1969 Peter Sellers film The Magic Christian, which featured the song "Come And Get It".

Now, 30 years after this album originally came out, you can occasionally hear the influence of the Beatles in this group (who were often criticized as being rip-offs of the Fab Four), but the question is, would you still want to? We'll answer that later on. (Sorry, Bucky, but we gotta give you incentive to read the rest of the review.)

Ironically, when this album came out in 1970, Badfinger was in a state of flux. Out was bassist Ron Griffith, over from guitar to bass was Tom Evans, and in at guitarist was Joey Molland. However, before Molland could join the band, the cover art was prepared... and it shows only three members of the band. While the band re-grouped, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Magic Christian Music was shaped around tracks from an album recorded when Badfinger was still known as The Iveys, songs from the "soundtrack" and a few new tracks. (Side note: the album from The Iveys, Maybe Tomorrow, was also released on CD shortly after Magic Christian Music. Maybe one day we'll get to that disc as well.)

Two songs immediately stick in my mind from this disc. The first, naturally, is "Come And Get It," which became the group's first hit. One wonders if the Beatles influence on this track is due to the fact that one Paul McCartney wrote and produced the song for Badfinger. It's short, it's catchy... and it's still kinda fun to listen to.

The other track is an all-out rocker that was the "b" side to the "Come And Get It" single, "Rock Of All Ages". I can hear some Beatles inluence here, specifically the reckless abandon of John Lennon's style in the delivery. Even today, there's still a level of excitement I feel when this song comes on, though I'd dare to classify this one as a "forgotten oldie". (I swear, one of these days I'm gonna get on the radio and do a show featuring nothing but songs you don't know from groups you do.)

As for the rest of Magic Christian Music, you might expect it to be ripe with Beatle-esque melodies and harmonies. Sadly, this isn't the case; instead, we're presented with a group that is trying valiantly to find their own unique sound, but doesn't quite know which direction to go. In one direction, we hear the layered harmonies and musical progression in a song like "Crimson Ship" or "I'm In Love"; in another direction, we hear more pop-like safety of songs like "Knocking Down Our Home," "Dear Angie" and "Maybe Tomorrow".

Note that I'm not saying these songs are bad; if anything, Magic Christian Music does the listener a favor by giving us a peek at the struggles a band like Badfinger faced due to being on the Beatles' own label. For each moment that you hear the influence of the Beatles (as on "Fisherman"), you hear the band try to rebel and carve their own sound out (as on "Carry On Till Tomorrow"). For any band, the task would be a daunting one - I mean, how on earth do you pretend to try and follow a legendary band and walk in the footpaths they did? No matter what you would try, you'd be lambasted, either for sounding too much like your forefathers or not enough like them.

Maybe the one mistake that Badfinger made was relying on material from Maybe Tomorrow on this album. Admittedly, they had the difficult task of shuffling their lineup at the time, but maybe it would have been better to let things settle down first and then hit the listener with a barrage of new material, as they would later that year with No Dice.

Magic Christian Music is the kind of disc I like to pull out of the archives every once in a while to remind me of how things were in the immediate post-Beatles days. To Badfinger's credit, you can hear them hammering out their own musical road that they wanted to travel - but they just weren't there yet.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Apple / Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.