Has there ever been a sadder, more violent death in pop music than that of Pete Ham? Grisly ends are not exactly unique in rock. Think Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and John Lennon, all shot dead. But that trio had already earned their place in the pantheon. Ham, the composer, guitarist and lead vocalist of Badfinger, a band that had three top-10 hits in the first two years of the 1970s, is largely forgotten half a century later.
Even at the time Ham’s death was under-reported. He was found hung in the garage of his studio in Woking, Surrey three days before his 28th birthday in April 1975. He left a note telling his pregnant wife and son that he loved them. Badfinger’s business manager Stan Polley had been sued by Warner Brothers after an advance to the band and Polley himself had vanished. The suicide note read: 'Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.'
Warner Brothers had picked up Badfinger as the empire of Apple, who had signed the band along with James Taylor, Mary Hopkin and Billy Preston, began to crumble. Badfinger’s biggest hit was their first, Come And Get It, penned by Paul McCartney and used on the soundtrack for the Peter Sellers/Ringo Starr film The Magic Christian. With its catchy, almost aggressive chorus 'If you want it, here it is come and get it' it became a chant on the football terraces after entering the charts in the second week of the Seventies. A year later No Matter What followed and a year after that Day After Day. Day After Day was marginally less successful than its two predecessors but it is by far Bandfinger’s loveliest song.
Badfinger were touted as the new Fab Four and Day After Day actually sounds like a mid-Sixties McCartney song. In fact if you close your eyes it sounds uncannily like the man himself is singing. There is also a 10-second guitar solo two-thirds of the way through that sounds uncannily like George Harrison. That’s because it is. The song has a tumbling, melancholic chorus:
Looking out from my lonely room
Day after day
Bring it home, baby, make it soon
I give my love to you
As well as playing slide guitar on the track Harrison produced the song that also features Leon Russell on piano. Day After Day, which appears on Badfinger’s album Straight Up, was actually more successful in the States where it reached No4 in the Billboard charts.
Paul McCartney described Without You as the 'killer song of all time'. An unfortunate phrase
Badfinger had begun life as The Iveys in Swansea in 1961. The Iveys sounded a little too much like The Hollies and by the time the band joined Apple in 1968 their name was changed to Badfinger after the working title of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper song With A Little Help From My Friends, Bad Finger Boogie. In 1967 guitarist Dai Jenkins had been asked to leave the band and was replaced by Liverpudlian Tom Evans. Legend has it that the Beatles assistant manager and Apple A&R man Peter Asher saw The Iveys at London’s Marquee Club early in 1968 and the band became the first group other than The Beatles to sign for Apple that summer.
By the time of Day After Day’s release at the beginning of 1972 Badfinger were contracted for one last album with Apple but the company was disintegrating. Around this time, though, Ham and Evans celebrated their greatest success. Without You was a song released without much fanfare on the band’s 1970 album No Dice. John Lennon’s drinking buddy Harry Nilsson heard it and recorded it the following year, having first believed it was a Beatles song, so catchy was the mournful lyric.
Ham and Evans did not consider the song to have a lot of potential. Nilsson turned it into a power ballad that reached No1 here and spent 20 weeks in the charts in the first half of 1972. McCartney described Without You as the 'killer song of all time'.
An unfortunate phrase. It was a dispute with another bandmate Joey Molland over the royalties to Without You that is believed to have led Evans to hang himself in 1983. Evans had been with Pete Ham the night his friend died. Ham had received a call from the States telling him the band’s money had disappeared after cheques had bounced. The pair went to a Surrey pub where Ham was said to have drank around 10 whiskies before Evans drove him home in the early hours of the morning.
Evans had a couple of minor hits with new band The Dodgers but never really recovered from the trauma of losing his songwriting friend and briefly retired before unsuccessfully re-forming Badfinger.
New Yorker Polley was luckier than Pete Ham and Tom Evans. He had a long life, dying at Rancho Mirage in California in 2009 at the age of 87 after defrauding a number of clients. There were few mourners at the funeral.