Badfinger entered the studio in March of 1970 with Mal Evans producing. These sessions would result in several songs, one of which was “No Matter What”. Badfinger submitted the tune as a potential single but it was rejected by the Apple staff at the time. The band then returned to the studio with long time Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick at the production helm. The resultant album from the Evans and Emerick sessions, No Dice, was the second album issued as Badfinger, but was in fact the group’s glorious debut released in November of 1970. “No Matter What” was finally released as a single that same month and would reach the top 10 in numerous charts around the world; including peaking at #8 in the U.S. and #5 in the U.K.
No Dice was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and Trident Studios and was met with strong sales and positive reviews. One of the album’s tracks was a song created when the chorus of a Tommy Evans composition was added to the verses of a Pete Ham composition. The song, “Without You”, would be covered by Harry Nilsson the following year and become an international smash. Ham and Evans would be awarded the Ivor Novello award for Song of the Year for “Without You” in 1972, and it has since been covered by over 180 artists (it was a major hit again in 1994 when covered by Mariah Carey) and is now considered an evergreen music standard.
During this time, Badfinger also contributed to some noted solo Beatles recording sessions. All four members provided acoustic guitars and percussion for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album and would later perform the same task at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971, with Pete Ham performing a guitar duet with George on “Here Comes the Sun”.
Ham and Tom Evans would provide backing vocals on Ringo Starr’s hit single “It Don’t Come Easy”, as part of the Ringo LP sessions with “All-Starr” support from friends like Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Marc Bolan, The Band, Nicky Hopkins, Jim Keltner, Harry Nilsson and his Beatles bandmates – John, Paul & George.
Also during this span of time, Evans and Molland would lend acoustic guitar support on John Lennon’s historical album, Imagine. Their strumming can be heard on “Jealous Guy” and “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”. The album also featured guest stints from George Harrison, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner and Phil Spector suprevised the production.
Badfinger recorded their planned follow up to No Dice in early 1971 at Abbey Road Studios with Geoff Emerick once again as producer but Apple felt the album could be improved upon and needed a different producer. The band returned to Abbey Road Studios in June with a new producer, George Harrison. Unfortunately, Harrison had to leave the project in July due to commitments in organizing relief for the people of Bangladesh. Todd Rundgren was brought in later to finish the production on the album. He was not only a successful recording artist but a successful producer as well. Rundgren would utilize recordings begun by both Emerick and Harrison, re-recorded some songs, and also recorded several new songs with the band.
Straight Up was released in December of 1971 in the U.S. and February of 1972 in the U.K. The album spawned Badfinger’s biggest hit single, “Day After Day” which peaked at #4 in the U.S. and #10 in the U.K. and was certified gold by the RIAA for sales over one million. The song was produced by George Harrison and features Harrison playing the distinctive slide guitar along with Pete Ham (who recorded their parts simultaneously). The recording also features Harrison’s pal and session superstar Leon Russell, who added the piano in a single take. Leon also added a guitar part to the song “Suitcase” which featured Klaus Voorman on electric piano. Harrison also played guitar on “I’d Die Babe”. Straight Up would garner another hit single with the Rundgren produced “Baby Blue” which would reach #14 in the U.S. charts. Inexplicably, the single wasn’t released in the U.K.
Sessions for Badfinger’s next album began in early 1972 and would sporadically continue for over a year and spread out over several different studios. Initially, Todd Rundgren was brought back to produce the band, but left after a week. After Rundgren’s domination in the studio, the band wanted to produce themselves and Apple acquiesced. However, it wasn’t long before the band realized that they needed a producer outside the band. In 1974, Pete Ham would recall:
“We tried to produce Ass ourselves, initially. And we needed someone to save the day, because we weren’t all that experienced, you know? Everybody’s idea of a good production is different. That was one of the problems. Because we had four different opinions. So we had to get somebody from the outside with that ear to say, ‘Hold it. You’ve gone a bit nuts there.'”
Chris Thomas was brought in to help finish the album. Thomas had engineered and produced parts of The Beatles “White Album” and had recently produced Procol Harum. He would later have success producing Roxy Music and The Pretenders. The album was further delayed by Apple due to legal issues regarding song publishing. When the album, Ass was finally released in November of 1973 in the U.S. and March of 1974 in the U.K., it had been two years since their last release; effectively killing any momentum the band had created. It was during the Ass sessions that Badfinger’s New York business manager began negotiating with Warner Brothers for a new record deal.
Badfinger wanted to stay with Apple but it was obvious that Apple Records was winding down and staying with Apple wasn’t in the band’s best interest. Then Apple president Allen Klein offered Badfinger a new deal paying them less than what they were getting in their old deal. This was in spite of the fact that Badfinger was the best selling artist on the label. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, was offering a three year multi million dollar deal. This scenario was the inspiration for the cover art for Ass. It was painted by Grammy Award winning artist Peter Corriston (Physical Graffiti, Some Girls, Tattoo You) based on a concept of Tommy Evans. It displayed an ass (donkey) wearing headphones being lured away by a giant carrot in the sky. The cover wasn’t the only allusion to the situation. The album’s lead off song, “Apple of My Eye”, was Pete Ham’s heartfelt goodbye to the band’s label. That poignant song would also be Apple Records final single release.