"No matter what you are/ I will always be with you," writes Pete Ham on the supremely delightful single, "No Matter What." Those words, and the song itself, sounded off the arrival of one of the '70s most talented and likeable bands. Unfortunately, they also served a purpose of tragic, ill-fated irony.
Ham's band, Badfinger, rose from the ashes of a revolving door of band names and members to become a model of musical triumph and the most successful outfit to sign on to the Beatles' tumultuous Apple Records label. No one could have predicted the disastrous turn this band with so much promise would find itself taking - one that would leave Badfinger's members in irreversible financial debt and drive its two leaders to eerily-mirrored suicides.
Aside from the Beatles themselves, Badfinger was really the only band signed to Apple that had any success. Their first single, "Come and Get It," was a breakout pop song that both elevated the group to star status and left them with a tune that they came to collectively loathe. It was penned by Paul McCartney, and given Badfinger's sonic resemblance to the Beatles, critics treated the band like they were just eager to ride the coattails of that supergroup.
Ham proved his detractors wrong, however, with the release of No Dice in 1970, an incalculable success that showcased the aforementioned "No Matter What" along with other original hits like "Better Days" and "Without You." But while the band's music was becoming a perpetual success, a series of events behind the scenes were backing them into a corner and creating one of the ugliest and most controversial scandals in rock music history.
This was the same year that Badfinger hired a confident agent named Stan Polley. Polley was trusted with handling the musicians' finance for what would be the rest of their career together. But Polley came under fire when large sums of money started disappearing from a publishing escrow account without explanation. Later, it was discovered that Polley was accumulating the entire band's royalties in a holding company; the money the band actually saw was grossly insufficient, and following a lawsuit, Polley stopped sending the band their salaries entirely.
No one suffered worse from these economic woes than Ham, the band's creative guide. In April of 1975, a broken and broke Ham, contractually handcuffed by Polley, hung himself in his garage one month prior to the birth of his daughter. In a suicide note, Ham wrote, "Stan Polley is a soulless bastard." With the band in shambles and its members both misdirected and impoverished, Badfinger sputtered along in a state of devastation until the early '80s. In an event of grim serendipity, the band's guitarist, Tom Evans, squabbled furiously over the phone with co-member Joey Molland over song royalties, and the next day went into his garden and hung himself.
The saddest element of Badfinger's story is that there was never a shortage of demand for the band's music. Ham's songs were filled with lush melodies and words of optimism and love. The success of greatest hits records released decades later confirmed that music fans' love for the band has not weathered with time. But the name Badfinger will always be accompanied by memories of a financial catastrophe so great that if took the lives of the band's two brightest figures.