Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bad Company-The Paul Rodgers Era

A few years back, I wrote a piece about Bad Company when they reformed with Brian Howe as the vocalist.  I didn't think it would have been such a hit, it's in the top ten all time best of Record World blogs.  With the announcement that Rhino is reissuing the Bad Company albums in expanded 2 CD form, I decided perhaps it's time to take a look at the original band.  I don't have a high opinion of expanded 2 CD sets,  I'm not hardcore enough to buy alt mixes and alt takes of songs that didn't make the final album cut or regulated to simply B sides.  In the case of the first Bad Company album, itself a staple of classic rock radio and one of the must owns albums of the 70s I tend to think that Little Miss Fortune and Easy On My Soul, B sides to Can't Get Enough and Movin On would have enhanced the album a little better and both cuts were better than the hardly played The Way I Choose, the weakest track from their first album.  Simply trotting out a 2 CD expanded edition just does not seem cost effective.  Unless you're a hard core fan that has to have it all.  To which Rhino Records salutes you, now fork over your money.

That said Bad Company is a supergroup from in 1973 when Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke of Free joined forces with Mick Ralphs (Mott The Hoople) and the late Boz Burrell, who was the lead singer on the King Crimson album Islands but did not sing in Bad Company.   Free was falling apart, Ralphs was getting frustrated in Mott for writing up Can't Get Enough and didn't have the vocal to make it a hit.  Enter Paul Rodgers, which we call "the voice" of rock and roll.  Rodgers  could sing just about anything and even in his early 20s he can do R and B and the blues as well as rock and roll.  They were also the first band to sign up with Swan Song, Led Zeppelin's label which established them in the cool category.  The first album remains their best although it's not as perfect as they want you to think.  Side 1, most of the songs get regular play on Corporate Rock, the count em off and Kirke's drum hit at the beginning of Can't Get Enough, to the funk and roll of Rock Steady and a remake of Mott's Ready For Love to which Paul's vocals do give the song better justice than when Mick sang it for Mott from All The Young Dudes.  My favorite remains side closer the moody Don't Let Me Down, which did get more FM airplay back then than now.  Side 2 starts with their namesake song Bad Company a crowd favorite even if Brian Howe sang it during his tenure in the band and Robert Hart which I'll probably add something down the road from him.  After the snoozefest that is The Way I Choose, they get back to top forty land with Movin On which is boogie rock without much thought, just go with the melody and rock out.  And concludes with the Paul Rodgers showcase Seagull which is just Paul and his guitar.  Bad Company still remains required listening after all these years and despite some of the songs being overplayed.   They were never quite live up to the hype ever again.

Straight Shooter is a slightly weaker version of the first album, with rocking hits (Good Lovin Gone Bad, which the word Yeah repeated in record numbers, Bad Company songs never really meant much outside of rock and roll and getting laid) and the hard rocking overplayed Feel Like Makin Love  (Let's Get It On for the rock and rollers out there). Another rocking FM classic is Deal With The Preacher (Mick Ralphs knows how to use a hook when needed) and to a lesser extent Wild Fire Woman. Somehow Simon Kirke managed to get two songs he wrote onto the album (Anna and Call On Me) and they are the two weakest.  B side Whiskey Bottle (B side to Good Lovin Gone Bad) probably would have made the album stronger but overall, it does pale in comparison to the debut.

Run With The Pack, the formula begins to tire and the buyers were not so much willing to buy but in my ears it is a better album than Straight Shooter although more inconsistent songs are beginning to show up.  Starts out according to plan with a rocker Live For The Music before Rodgers leads us into Simple Man and then failed rocking single Honey Child, (it's recycled Can't Get Enough sped up but I like it myself).  Plaintive ballad Love Me Somebody puts me to sleep before waking me back up with the pompous title track.  For some, the sad Silver Blue And Gold was the perfect love is gone ballad that played great when you broke up with your high school sweetheart and she broke your heart, but for myself I think I rather much prefer Love Me Somebody.  A remake of Young Blood was fun but it didn't sell as a forty five either and between the last two ballads, we get Sweet Lil Sister, another boogie rocker about a groupie I betcha.  Overall, a good record though not a classic.

Burnin Sky, led by the title track is not bad but the rest of album is halfassed, as if Paul Rodgers was trying to come up with ideas that will stick.  At time some inspiration comes around in songs like Too Bad and Man Needs Woman but Master Of Ceremonies is awful.  I have no idea what Rodgers was trying to do but the absence of Mick Ralphs writing songs didn't help things either.  This was their worst album before Rough Diamonds came out five years later, that still is their worst, but Burnin Sky is runner up.
It would be a couple years before Bad Company reconvene and Desolation Angels was worth the wait.  Led off by the overplayed Rock And Roll Fantasy, the production and sound was a much smoother sound than what Chris Kimsey (and Ron Nevison on the earlier albums) gave them.  The acoustic numbers (Take The Time, Crazy Circles) were a bit more inspired, Gone Gone Gone and Lonely For Your Love has Mick Ralphs playing inspired rock again and even throwing a bit of soul music into Oh Atlanta and Evil Wind despite the disco drum boasts on the latter.  She Gives Me Love is a rewrite of Don't Let Me Down. Desolation Angels while not perfect was a improvement over the bloated Burnin Sky and at least feels more like a band effort rather than a Paul Rodgers solo album.

The final effort Rough Diamonds, recorded a few years later remains the worst of the Paul Rodgers era led band. Outside of Electricland, this version of Bad Company was trying to come up with something Corporate rock sounding and ended up being too corporate for its own good.  With the poor sales and poor reviews Bad Company called it a day, Atlantic cherry picking songs for the 10 from 6 Best of.   However a few years later the band minus Rodgers and with Brian Howe, begin the second phase of their career.

After Brian Howe left, Robert Hart was lead singer.  Atlantic not ready to give up yet, stuck them on the East West label for two good but not great albums.  Hart, who made a album for Atlantic in the late 80s had a more suited vocal in the style of Paul Rodgers.  By then Rick Wills (Foreigner) replaced Burrell on bass. Company Of Strangers (1995) upon a second listening actually is not bad considering if you put this up alongside the subpar Rough Diamonds and Burnin Sky. Robert Hart does sound like a decent Paul Rodgers sound-alike although a few songs get dangerously close to Brian Howe's showboating. I suppose a B grade is a bit too generous and there might be a bit too many songs but I like it fine and not bad for a Rodgers tribute kind of album.   Stories Told And Untold (1996) sees the band moving out to Nashville to try their luck and revisit some of Rodgers era led songs, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss helped out.   The failure of that album pretty much was the end of Hart era Bad Company, Hart would go on to the Jones Band for one album.

Paul Rodgers stayed busy through these times, making a solo album (Cut Loose) and then joining up with Jimmy Page in The Firm for two albums and then with Kenny Jones of Small Faces/Who fame with The Law.  But after the demise of that band and back into solo work, he did decide to rejoin with the original Bad Company for a 2 CD overview of selected Bad Company hits and misses for Anthology (Elektra 1999) It's a throwaway as you would think, but it's not a greatest hits package, Electricland is missing and so is Gone Gone Gone but the B sides not on the original two albums are here, plus four new songs of varying degree.  Rock And Roll Fantasy-The Very Best Of, might be the best overview, since it does include most, if not all of the singles that Bad Company issued in the Paul Rodgers era. And does have Electricland and Gone Gone Gone on this best of.  It's not a perfect overview, Weep No More still remains a filler song, perhaps adding Little Miss Fortune instead would been a better choice.  It does include the best songs from Rough Diamonds and Burning Sky, perhaps the only ones you need.  A little late to the game but compared to the rest Rock And Roll Fantasy shapes up to be their best overview.

Since then, Bad Company has issued two live albums, Merchants Of Cool in 2002 (with 2 new Paul Rodgers songs of varying degree) and Sony Music put out highlights of 2011 concert on their Extended Versions Live Series (it may have been the Wembley show that Eagle Rock issued earlier). Despite it being sold as bargain bin special, it did managed a surprising 82 chart position on the Billboard Charts.  Rhino did managed to issue 2 live dates from 1977 and 1979 and shows that the original Bad Company could boogie with the best of them, alas the 1977 show features way too many songs from Burning Sky.  The 1979 live document is better. While Rodgers doesn't think much of the Brian Howe or Robert Hart years (he doesn't do any of the songs from that time) he has managed to get back into the band if Mick Ralphs feels up to it although Simon Kirke remains the only member of Bad Company to play on all albums from various lineups. Boz Burrell passed away in 2006.

Despite the shoddiness of their catalog, when Bad Company wrote the right song, they could do no wrong. Even though their stuff is overplayed, there's still a magical charm to Shooting Star or Feel Like Making Love if Paul sang it or even Brian Howe and everybody knows the words to Can't Get Enough.  If you played in a bar band at any time you were get requests for this song or Feel Like Making Love.  And Paul Rodgers still remains one of my favorite all time vocalists ever. That accounts for something. But when I want to hear my favorites of Bad Company, I'm more in line to play Honey Child or Deal With The Preacher and while my classmates wanted to hear Silver Blue And Gold for that earnest ballad, I'm more happier to play Seagull, which speaks for me more.  Your favorite might be a tad bit different.


Bad Company (Swan Song 1974) A-
Straight Shooter (Swan Song 1975) B
Run With The Pack (Swan Song 1976) B+
Burnin' Sky (Swan Song 1977)  C+
Desolation Angels (Swan Song 1979) B+
Rough Diamonds (Swan Song 1982) C
10 From 6 (Atlantic 1985) B+
Anthology (Elektra 1999) B
Merchants Of Cool (Sanctuary 2002) B
Extended Versions (Sony Music 2011) B
Rock And Roll Fantasy-The Very Best Of Bad Company (Rhino 2015) B+
Bad Company Live 1977 and 1979 (Swan Song/Rhino 2016) B

The Robert Hart Albums:

Company Of Strangers (East West 1995) B
Stories Told And Untold (East West 1996) B

Selected Paul Rodgers Albums:

Cut Loose (Atlantic 1983) C+
The Firm (Atlantic 1985) B
The Firm Mean Business (Atlantic 1987) B+
The Law (with Kenny Jones) (Atlantic 1991) C
Muddy Waters Blues (Victory 1993) B-
Now (1997) B
Electric (CMC 2000) B
The Cosmos Rocks (with Queen)(Hollywood 2008) B
The Royal Sessions (429 2014) B+

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