Badfinger – Straight Up – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate the album.

The best sides have the kind of PRESENCE in the midrange that most copies can’t begin to reproduce. The sound on the right pressings just JUMPS out of the speakers, which is exactly what the best copies are supposed to (but rarely) do. 

This is Power Pop, plain and simple. The basics are what count: punchy drums, grungy guitars, present vocals, clear but full bass lines — just the meat and potatoes of rock, no fancy sauces.

For this music to work all the elements need to be in balance, with correct timbre for the relatively few instruments that make up the arrangements. Opacity, smear or grit instantly destroy the whole point of having a straightforward production, which is to be able to have all the parts laid out cleanly and clearly. Get the production out of the way and just let the music speak for itself.

The truly Hot Stampers remind you of the kind of basic rock and roll record that really knows how to rock. Back in Black comes instantly to mind. Black Dog off Zep IV. This is the sound you want your Straight Up to have. The title of the album is the key to the sound. No fancy packaging, just the band, Straight Up.

From 2007 to 2010 and Beyond

In 2007 we wrote: “Having played more than half a dozen copies of this record during the shootout I can tell you that the most common problem with Straight Up is grainy, gritty sound. Most copies of this record are painfully aggressive and transistory.”

With improvements to cleaning and playback i would say that’s not actually true in 2010. There is some grit to the sound to be sure, but like most records from the era, veiling and smearing are what really hold most copies back

Good copies of this record, ones that are mastered properly and pressed on “good” vinyl, sound a lot like a stipped down version of Abbey Road, which is what they’re supposed to sound like. That’s clearly the sound Badfinger and their producers George Harrison and Todd Rundgren (with some help from the Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick* ) were aiming at.

You will also hear some influences from All Things Must Pass and McCartney’s first . The music owes a lot to both The Beatles as well as Harrison and McCartney as individuals. What’s not to like? Catchy pop songs with grungy guitars — it’s ear candy when the sound is good, and the sound is very good here!

British Porky Prime Cut?

We had an original British pressing in our shootout, unbeknownst to me as it was playing of course. And guess where it finished: dead last. The most thick, congested, crude, distorted, compressed sound of ALL the copies we played. We love the work of Porky, Pecko et al. in general, but once again this is a case where a British Band recorded in England sounds best on domestic vinyl. (McCartney on Apple is the same way.)

DCC Gold

On another note, I was at a friend’s house years ago and had brought a Hot Copy of this record over to see what it sounded like on his system. As luck would have it, he also had the DCC Gold CD. This is a fellow who prides himself on having CD playback that is competitive with vinyl, so I know that his CD player was fairly good. This LP KILLED his Gold CD. It was NIGHT AND DAY better in every way. I am not an expert on the DCC Gold disc of Badfinger, but I can tell you that on Straight Up a good record can’t be beat.

Geoff Emerick

By the way, Geoff Emerick’s book detailing his days as the Beatles’ engineer is a must read for anybody who cares about their music. For audiophiles who want to learn more about how their recordings evolved it’s invaluable. Go up to Amazon and get yourself one if you love this music.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Take It All 
Baby Blue 
Money 
Flying
I’d Die Babe 
Name of the Game

Side Two

Suitcase
Sweet Tuesday Morning
Day After Day
Sometimes
Perfection
It’s Over

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

… Frankly, the increased production is for the best, since Badfinger sounds best when there’s as much craft in the production as there is in the writing. Here, there’s absolutely no filler and everybody is in top form. Pete Ham’s “Baby Blue” is textbook power-pop — irresistibly catchy fuzz riffs and sighing melodies — and with its Harrison-esque slide guitars, “Day After Day” is so gorgeous it practically aches. “Perfection” is an unheralded gem, while “Name of the Game” and “Take It All” are note-perfect pop ballads. Tom Evans isn’t as prolific here, but the one-two punch of “Money” and “Flying” is the closest Straight Up gets to Abbey Road, and “It’s Over” is a fine closer.

Still, what holds the record together is Joey Molland’s emergence as a songwriter. His work on No Dice is enjoyable, but here, he comes into his own with a set of well-constructed songs. This fine songwriting, combined with sharp performances and exquisite studio craft, make Straight Up one of the cornerstones of power-pop, a record that proved that it was possible to make classic guitar-pop after its golden era had passed.