The late 60s and early 70s gave us numerous underrated albums, but none was more underrated than Badfinger's Magic Christian Music. I must have listened to this album a hundred times in the summer of 1970; it was one of my half-dozen favorite albums at the time, and has only grown more appealing with the passage of time.
Badfinger's roster included Pete Ham, Mike Gibbins, Joey Molland, and Tom Evans (Ron Griffiths had been a part of the group in their earlier days, but left prior to the release of this, their first album). Their specialty was Beatles-esque harmonies and strong guitar-centered power pop tunes; their big hit from this album, "Come and Get It," sounded particularly Beatles-esque because it was written by Paul McCartney. If you get a chance to listen to McCartney's demo of this song, you'll see that Badfinger followed McCartney's lead very closely, making minimal changes while adding their own soaring harmonies. If this were the only good song off the album, it would be as forgettable as Jackie Lomax's work on Apple Records. However, the entire album is eminently listenable.
My personal fave is "Carry On ('Til Tomorrow)," a wistful and melancholy retrospective. It's a beautiful cut built on acoustic guitar and sensitive harmonies, punctuated by a sharp guitar solo. Other gems on the album include the fast-paced "Rock of Ages," the beautiful ballad "Walk Out In the Rain," the quirky faux period-piece "Knocking Down Our Home," and the punchy "Crimson Ship." The truth, though, is that there's not a bad song on the original album.
That doesn't mean that there's not a bad song on the CD, however. They'd added a few bonus tracks of weaker material, including "Arthur," "Give It a Try," and "Storm in a Teacup," none of which match the quality of the core album's tracks. The completist in me is glad to get the extra tracks; however, their presence brings the CD to a very weak close, and it's recommended that you skip them until you're familiar with Badfinger's better work.
The star of the group was Pete Ham, a talented singer/songwriter/guitarist whose sound blended the best of Lennon and McCartney. Alas, he committed suicide in the mid-70s, despondent over legal issues that kept the group from releasing new material. It's a shame; he's a power-pop genius, and I can't help but wonder what he might have done in the 1980s and the 1990s.
However, this isn't a one-man group. Molland, Gibbins, & Evans each bring a distinctive sound to the group, taking a turn at lead vocals as well as harmonies. Again, the Beatles comparisons come through; like the Beatles, Badfinger had its two starring members—Ham and Molland—and its two lesser luminaries. Nevertheless, all four display amazing talents.
If you like power-pop, you can't do better than this album.