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.