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Jay Presents: A Quick One with The Pretty Things, Badfinger

May 17, 2010

In this episode, Jay takes a wild-eyed glance at tracks from Britain’s The Pretty Things and Badfinger. The late 60’s catches The Pretty things fully in the middle of evolving from a booze-drenched R&B outfit to a booze-drenched, acid-soaked head-music machine. By the time 1974’s high-water mark Wish You Were Here arrived, Badfinger was well on its sad way to being dragged down by mental, managerial, and legal troubles.

Is there a theme, other than country of origin? If forced, I’d answer: Abbey Road. The studio figures prominently into the sonic texture of the former’s output while the latter received creative CPR from a certain studio stalwart of the era: one seriously not-dead Paul McCartney.

Talkin' about the good times....

The Pretty Things — The Psychedelic Years 1966-1970 (Snapper Music, 2001)

The Pretty Things don’t rate nearly high enough on most best-band lists of their contemporaries. They wrote songs that competed on the same artistic plateau as the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Pink Floyd–and they sometimes sound like a startlingly functional hybrid of all four–but they simply couldn’t write and perform that same caliber of material for more than a few songs per album.

“She Says Good Morning” and “Talkin’ About The Good Times,” played back to back, sound like excellent live Beatles outtakes. The backwards-echoing drum fills sound spot-on like Ringo tracks from “Tomorrow Never Knows”-era sessions. This reference point is no slight to the Things; it’s more of a happy, semi-accident, as “She Says” and “Talkin'” were both recorded at much-storied Abbey Road Studios. Hear Phil May channel his inner Macca during the “G-G-G-G-G-Good Morning!” in the outro. The spirit of the time was in the air. Something was in the air alright.

Badfinger — Wish You Were Here (Warner Bros. Records, 1974)

Badfinger Wish You Were Here

A man who feels the space begins to need the wall

Sometimes a band just can’t catch a break, even if the break arrives in the form of Sir Paul McCartney offering up one of his B-roll tracks to your slumping band. That song was called “Come and Get It,” and it proved resuscitative for Badfinger as well as being one previously unreleased highlight on 1996’s Beatles Anthology collection. That song isn’t on this album, but that’s okay. Badfinger wrote some enduring power pop of their own, much of it also indebted to Beatles-related atmospherics and benefaction.

“Got to Get Out of Here” depicts a man struggling to cope with alienation, risking an unhealthy connection to avoid a deadlier absence; I kept wishing I could play Kinks classic “Strangers” to the protagonist for succor (“Strangers on this road we are on / We are not two, we are one”).

If I knew every aspect of Badfinger’s output, I would say this unequivocally. As it is, I must assert this with an apprehension of its truth, rather than certainty: “Dennis” may be Badfinger’s best song, eclipsing even the excellent power-pop blueprint of “No Matter What.” With its dramatic piano anchor and multiple movements, the song is certainly their most moving, accomplished piece. The Dennis of this song is clearly a train-wreck, whether from the culmination of unfortunate circumstances or from self-destruction. The singer’s motive is to express support, to get Dennis back on the path, to help kill the blues that form a vicious cycle that’s ruining him, to make him see why his perspective is poison both to himself and to those that love him.

If you’ve ever had a friend you tried to counsel through a long, dark time, and with a certain sense that your actions are as doomed as they are necessary, this track can be emotionally overwhelming. But, listening proves well worth it, much like trying to help one another get by despite shitty odds  is central to our humanity. At least I hope there is valor to be had in fighting for lost causes.

Higher hills to climb / Climbing all the time / Tryin’ to find a way through / Fallin’ down again / On the ground again / Wonderin’ what you can do / But don’t you worry / You love of ours / They look like weeds / But they’re really flowers / And they’ll soon be gone

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