It’s time for another installment of “David’s Records,” wherein I reach into my crates and pull out one of my Uncle’s records at random to revisit. This time I choose the 1970 album MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC by Badfinger. If I’m honest, when I pulled this one out, I nearly stuck it back. But why would I do that? Do I hate Badfinger? Not at all. I quite like what little of Badfinger I’ve heard. The reason I dreaded writing a post on this record is all the Badfinger baggage. The music industry is notoriously a ravenous machine designed to chew artists up and spit them out jaded, addicted, and destitute. But what happened to Badfinger is on a whole other level of bad. I’m going to skip over all that stuff as I feel like most people who happen upon this will know the entire story. If you don’t, take an antidepressant and Google the band.

Badfinger famously began their career as The Iveys and had the honor of being the most successful band signed to Apple Records not named The Beatles. Being handpicked for success by The Beatles at the height of their fame only to fall as tragically as Badfinger did is the kind of story made for Hollywood. I seriously can’t believe we haven’t gotten a biopic about them. Oh, shoot…there I go getting sucked back into the sad tale of Badfinger.

MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC is a bizarre title referencing a 1969 Peter Sellers film titled The Magic Christian. For years (decades actually), I always assumed that MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC was that film’s soundtrack. The Magic Christian co-stars Ringo Starr and features three songs from MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC. However, according to my extensive Google research, this record is not the official soundtrack. Apple was scheduled to release the official soundtrack, but the addition of one song prevented them from doing this (the music biz is hard), so MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC was released instead. Paul McCartney produced the three tracks used in The Magic Christian, and he even wrote one.

The album opens with “Come and Get It,” the song Paul wrote and gave to the band. Paul wrote this song during the ABBEY ROAD sessions, and it sounds like that era McCartney. I think my first exposure to this song was hearing it in a commercial sometime during the 1990s. When the Beatles Anthology came out, it featured a rough mix of this song, and I was blown away by it. I couldn’t help but think, “why didn’t this song make it onto the album?” Well, it’s because Paul gave it to Badfinger because his record label had signed them, of course. All of the tracks on MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC sound very Beatle-esque however, this one straight up sounds like The Beatles.

I like “Crimson Ship,” but I honestly cannot figure out what it’s about. There’s mention of crosses and resurrection in the lyrics, which makes me think there’s some Jesus stuff going on in the song, but I’ve never heard of anything in Christianity referred to as a crimson ship. I’m assuming if I were more religious and/or Welsh, I’d get the reference. The guitar hook is cool. The next song, “Dear Angie,” sounds like an earlier Beatles track John Lennon might have written for RUBBER SOUL. It’s very much a boy-loves-a-girl song, and the song ends on the punchline that the thing he’s got to tell her is, “I love you, you’re my all, that’s all.” While not as clever as a classic Beatles love song (seriously, they rhyme “all” with “all”), this is a decent track, and the vocals sound remarkably like Lennon in places.

The next song, “Fisherman,” is the first track on the album I had not heard before picking up this album. Unfortunately, it is not very good. It sort of drones on and seems to ape those Beatles songs that are spacey and weird but also about quaint English people. It feels very forced and is pretty dull. “Midnight Sun,” on the other hand, is an excellent breath of fresh air after such a monotonous track. The drums on this track sound fantastic. The 1970s were the zenith for drummers on record; you had guys like Keith Moon and John Bonham just absolutely killing it on the drums, and on “Midnight Sun,” Mike Gibbins is also banging his heart out. And I love it.

“Beautiful and Blue” is a decent attempt at a Lennon psych-rock. Sadly, the lyrics are pretty standard guess-the-rhyme fair that’s too predictable. It sounds nice but is rather hollow. “Rock of Ages” is another barnburner in the vein of “Midnight Sun,” although this track’s just a touch better because it’s the second track produced by McCartney. I think that this is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s not the catchiest and doesn’t have the best lyrics, but it’s a perfect evolution of British rock. I don’t think a mid-1970s Beatles album would have sounded like “Rock of Ages,” but when I imagine a 1977 Beatles record, this is what my brain conjures.

The next song, “Carry On Till Tomorrow,” is the third and final track produced by McCartney, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Lyrically somber, the song’s structure is interesting with soaring vocals, strumming acoustic guitar complemented by a great electric solo. A sad song about keeping going in the face of heartbreak/adversity, this song is Badfingers “Let It Be.” And while this might be blasphemy, but I think I might like it slightly more than “Let It Be.” This achingly sad song is followed up with “I’m In Love,” a simple, goofy song about being in love that frankly sounds like a Monkees castoff. The rhymes are simple, and the sentiment is simple; it’s disposable bubblegum pop at its finest. The drums are once again killer (those crashing high hats!), but overall, the emotional whiplash induced by going from such a serious track to this pop fluff ultimately hurts the song and the album’s flow.

There’s more emotional whiplash when the album veers back into sad and moving with “Walk Out in the Rain,” which I appreciate for its stripped-down, honest feeling. That said, the screeching “be mineeee!” is over the top and kills the song’s mood. The call and response harmonies do a lot to salvage the song, but this one feels like a re-write or two away from being a great song. “Angelique” is a mid-tempo snoozer that feels like album filler and is a less exciting version of “Dear Angie.” One of the more interesting tracks on the album’s b-side, “Knocking Down Our Home,” sounds like a combination of McCartney’s WHITE ALBUM “Honey Pie” and VILLAGE GREEN-era Kinks. This song has the kind of variety MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC desperately needed; it’s a shame the band didn’t try a few more tracks like this outside of rockers and ballads.

Speaking of rockers, the final big rockers on the album “Give it a Try” is a retread of “Midnight Sun” and “Rock of Ages.” It’s not a bad song, but it’s the weakest rocker on the album. The album closes with “Maybe Tomorrow,” which, like “Give it a Try,” is the weakest ballad on the album. Again, it’s not terrible, but on an album with “Carry on Till Tomorrow,” it feels lesser. Also, as a somewhat writer myself, it baffles me the band would choose to have two songs on the same record that are so similar that also feature the word “tomorrow” in their title. Of the two tomorrow ballads, “Maybe Tomorrow” is the more classically Beatles-esque.

As I put the record back in the sleeve, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’ve been a bit too hard on MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC. Frankly, I think Badfinger’s association with The Beatles was more of a hindrance than a help. I believe having McCartney writing and producing and generally giving the band a leg up made folks (myself included) view the band with more of a critical eye. For a band’s second album, this is great, and all of these songs are way better than anything written by the countless other Beatles-inspired bands that came after them. Compare Badfinger’s second record to the second record Jet put out.

Listening to MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC has piqued my curiosity for the band. Before listening to writing this post, my only exposure to Badfinger was a Greatest Hits compilation I own. However, MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC has enough interesting things going on in the non-single tracks to convince me I need to sit down and go through the band’s entire discography. The good news is that thanks to my Uncle, I have all the band’s other releases. So this is not the last we’ll hear from Badfinger here in the Record Dungeon.

SACCHARINE by Pinkshift

The tug of nostalgia is strong, and its pull seems to get magnified for me with each passing year. I guess this is what they call getting old. Anyway, someone online suggested that I check out Pinkshift, a modern emo-rock/pop-punk band from Baltimore. What convinced me to check them out was the comparison to early No Doubt, which is a somewhat unfortunate comparison that’s 100% because the band has a female lead singer. Pinkshift is more punk than No Doubt ever was.

The band recently released an EP of five songs, SACCHARINE, that perfectly captures the spirit of those early 2000’s era punk/emo bands that I used to hear on MySpace while hanging out in my dorm. The fact that kids these days are still interested in making this kind of music really warms my heart. Oh, and “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you” kicks major, major ass. The snark, the sneering attitude, and the swagger of that track are worth the price of admission. The dark and brooding “Rainwalk” feels like a My Chemical Romance track. Now that I think about it, MCR is a more apt comparison to make than No Doubt. But all of these comparisons are kinda lazy and don’t do Pinkshift justice.

Listening to “Mars” makes me wanna bring out the guyliner, and I never wore guyliner. I read an interview with the band online where lead singer Ashrita Kumar credits the pandemic with “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you,” blowing up online. I’m not sure if there’s a place in the current cultural zeitgeist for a 2000’s inspired emo band, but if there was ever going to be a moment for this type of music to get popular again, this does feel like the time. The musicianship, lyrics, overall vibe are all there.

Give this EP a spin and if you’re so inclined, go on Bandcamp and pick it up like I did and support these kids.

THE RAMBLIN’ MAN by Waylon Jennings

Well, I did it again. I reached into my crates and pulled one of my Uncle’s records out at random to revisit. Interestingly, the record I chose, THE RAMBLIN’ MAN by Waylon Jennings, belonged to my grandfather and was added to David’s collection upon his father’s death. I’m not a big country music fan, but I must admit, I do like some of the classic country recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Waylon Jennings is one of those outlaw country dudes whose name I recognize but of whom I know nothing. What little I have heard from Jennings comes from an EP he did in the 1990s (released in 2013) with the alt-country outfit Old 97’s. Apparently, however, THE RAMBLIN’ MAN is one of Jennings’s more commercially successful and mainstream records. Considering my grandfather bought it, the record must have been pretty popular at the time of its release in 1974. A few minutes of research online reveals that THE RAMBLIN’ MAN was the follow-up to Jennings 1973 classic HONKY TONK HEROES. It seems that in many ways, Waylon Jennings was a proto-modern country star, ushering in the current era of country by both being more mainstream and (seemingly) niche by operating as an “outlaw” country star.

THE RAMBLIN’ MAN opens with “I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” which, if I’m honest, it sounded to me like a Bud Lite version of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” So I looked into it, and it turns out Cash’s song came out in 1996, well after this album came out. But it turns out “I’ve Been Everywhere” is an Australian song that came out in 1959 (featuring cities in Australia rather than US cities). Either way, “I’m A Ramblin’ Man” has a thumping bassline and probably sounds awesome while you’re cruising the backroads of America. But, it’s weird because the song is about how much traveling he does while also serves as a warning that you shouldn’t fall in love with him because, as the song states, he does so much rambling.

The second and third tracks I consider to be companion pieces. The second track, “Rainy Day Woman,” is about a woman who, to quote the lyrics, “she ain’t happy, ‘Til she finds something wrong and someone to blame, If it ain’t one thing it’s another one on the way.” Interestingly, however, he describes this woman as “a friend of mine.” Part of this song seems like it’s about a woman that only focuses on the negative things but, on the other hand, is a kind of safe port in the storm. This is not a great song. The third track, “Cloudy Days,” flips the script, and the song’s protagonist is trapped in a negative headspace where every day is a cloudy day (“Life’s just become cloudy days”) because his woman has presumably left him. Despite being a downer, the song’s glass-half-full optimism (“But you know they say if rain don’t come, Then love has no chance to grow”) won me over.

For the fourth track, Jennings chose to cover The Allman Brothers Band classic “Midnight Rider.” That track was only four years old when THE RAMBLIN’ MAN was released, which I think is important to consider. Today in 2021, there’s nothing risky or exciting about a country star covering a southern rock band like The Allman Brothers, but I suspect this was a bit surprising in 1974. The cover is…fine. The guitar work is obviously more stripped-down/less impressive. One strength that it has over the original, however, is Jennings whiskey-soaked vocals. Jennings’s voice is both traditionally masculine and robust, but there’s a tender gentleness about it as well. Listening to “Midnight Rider” makes me wish Jennings had done a whole album of this kind of covers (maybe he did?).

“Oklahoma Sunshine” is the best song on the album full-stop. Probably because I identify so much with the song’s protagonist who is trapped in a “God-forsaken city” but at night dreams an idealized version of his simpler life back home in Oklahoma. The song isn’t just about yearning for the country while being trapped in a city; it’s about missing an idealized version of the past and yourself. The song’s soaring chorus belies much of the melancholy, but it all still lands like a gut punch every time I listen to it. People often make the comparison that country is really just the blues for white people; for me, “Oklahoma Sunshine” proves this point.

Whereas “Oklahoma Sunshine” is a sad song done right, “The Hunger” is kinda the opposite. There’s good stuff in some of the lyrics (“Her beauty has been eaten by the hunger, And the acid winds of time”), but for the most part, I feel icky listening to it, which is probably the point. There’s probably a good song somewhere about a woman’s physical beauty fading as she continually fails to find (romantic?) fulfillment, but this track ain’t it. Likewise, “I Can’t Keep My Hands Off of You” is the kind of sad-sack country song that feels extremely cliche. Also, the lyrics are pretty creepy–he can’t keep his hands off his woman, AND she looks “just like a baby in a cradle.” That’s a big “eww” for me.

“Memories of You and I” pulls me back in with its mournful harmonica and confessional-style lyrics. Drink, money, and fame are no match for the painful memories of leaving this woman. There’s no bitterness in Jennings’s delivery or the lyrics, just achingly crushing sadness and regret. Simple and effective, “Memories of You and I” lays the blame where it belongs and is all the better for it. “It’ll Be Her” is also a simple yet very effective song about a woman who’s the absolute best. Both of these tracks showcase how much a performer makes a song. If I sang these (incredibly simple) songs, most people would feel very little, but he adds this whole layer of complexity with just his voice when Jennings tackles these songs.

THE RAMBLIN’ MAN closes with the song “Amanda.” The song is both a lament for his woman’s choice of a lover (“Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife”) and a sober assessment of his life as a musician/getting older. It’s a good, sadly sweet song and the perfect way to close the album. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that my Uncle’s first daughter is named Amanda, and this probably made the song more emotional for me than it would be for most listeners.

Overall, I enjoyed THE RAMBLIN’ MAN. The instrumental and production side of things isn’t super interesting or varied, and the lyrics are primarily very simple, but Waylon Jennings sells the hell out of the songs. Even on the songs that I didn’t care for, the reason I didn’t care for them had nothing to do with Jennings and the authenticity he brings. And for me, “Oklahoma Sunshine” is an all-timer I can see myself revisiting again and again as time passes. Certain songs hit you harder and more emotional as you grow older, and time robs you of the things we all take for granted. So I can see myself sobbing like a baby while I listen to “Oklahoma Sunshine” in a nursing home one day.

An album can be a portal to another time and place. THE RAMBLIN’ MAN was listened to and enjoyed by my grandfather and my Uncle, and now me. It would have been cool to have heard this while they were still around so I could ask them what they thought about some of these songs. But since I can’t do that, let me do the next best thing: what did you think about THE RAMBLIN’ MAN? Am I crazy to think “Oklahoma Sunshine” is a stone-cold classic? Is “I Can’t Keep My Hands Off of You” as creepy as I claim, or am I being too hard on it?