When Free disbanded in mid 1973 Paul Rodgers teamed up with Mick Ralphs, who had recently departed from Mott The Hoople, with a plan to make an album together. Rodgers had met Ralphs when Rodgers short lived project Peace had toured with Mott The Hoople during the first Free split in 1971/2 and the two had shown a mutual respect for each others work. Ralphs finally left Mott when they refused to record ‘Can’t Get Enough’. When Ralphs first played it to Rodgers the latter declared it a sure fire hit and said ‘I’ll sing that song’.
Following the demise of Free, Simon Kirke had gone off an a lengthy holiday to Brazil and on his return contacted Rodgers to see what he was doing. Kirke knew Ralphs vaguely from his Mott days and accepted an invitation to go to Rodgers house and jam on some new material. Kirke was impressed and soon the duo were increased to a three piece. The final piece of the jigsaw however took a little longer to find. It has been suggested since that as many as sixteen different bass players were tried, John Wetton being the most noteworthy, before ex King Crimson man Boz Burrell secured the gig with his non prima donna attitude and natural playing style. Rumour has it he had been taught to play bass parrot fashion by Robert Fripp on a transatlantic flight during his time with Crimson. Alexis Korner once proclaimed him ‘the most natural bass player I have ever heard’.
Prior to the line up being finalised Rodgers had contacted Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant to see if he would manage them. Subsequently Grant signed the band to Zeppelins fledgling Swan Song label. Initially though, Grant was not keen on the Bad Company moniker but (as had done with Free, who Island wanted to call The Heavy Metal Kids) Rodgers stood his ground and insisted there would be no change. It has long been considered that the name derived from Rodgers love of the 1972 film of the same name starring Jeff Bridges but this remains unclear as Rodgers has since denied it.
With line up, management, name and a great set of songs all ready in place Bad Company had a stroke of good fortune when Zeppelin were delayed by a couple of weeks when they were due to start work on the initial sessions for the Physical Graffiti album. Grant had a mobile studio all set up at Headley Grange sitting idle so suggested to Bad Company that they ‘might get a couple of tracks down if they were quick’. With the enthusiasm of a new venture burning in their souls they were not satisfied with laying down a couple of tracks and they recorded the whole album plus a couple of B sides and an unused track in the two weeks.
Bad Company’s self titled debut album takes the old Free addage of ‘less is more’ but transfers it from the blues boom sound of the sixties to the stadium rock sound of the seventies but without losing any of the soul. The foundations of Bad Company can clearly be heard on the final Free album Heartbreaker but Ralphs adds the rock n roll riffing that was never a part of Kossoffs armoury and Burrell does what all good bass players do …. add a little funkiness now and again and keep things on an even keel the rest of the time.
Bad Company the album is packed full of fine hard rocking bluesy tunes that have become a mainstay of American FM and latterly UK classic rock radio since it was released way back in June 1974. It features the obvious well known hits that really need no lengthy descriptions like the strutting love man pout ‘Can’t Get Enough’, the laid back funky riffy groove that is ‘Rock Steady’, the heartfelt blues soul plea of ‘Ready For Love’, which had been recorded by Ralphs previous band Mott The Hoople on their ‘All The Young Dudes’ album albeit in a slightly different format and the moodily atmospheric title track for which Rodgers recorded his vocal in a field under a full November moon. Then there are the three lesser known slower tracks ‘The Way I Choose’ which has a definite Highway era Free vibe about it. ‘Seagull’, an acoustic track on which Rodgers plays all the instruments, which has latterly become something of a classic in its own right due to Rodgers featuring it very prominently in his solo shows and the recent reunion tours. ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is probably the closest the album has to filler and is at times alarmingly similar to the Beatles track of a similar title. However, the addition of Sue and Sunny on backing vocals and Mel Collins on sax give the track a certain soul sound that The Beatles could never have managed. Add to this the storming second single, another Ralphs classic ‘Movin On’ which tells the tale of life on the road and you have what surely must be a contender for the best debut album of its day.
The record buying public of 1974 certainly agreed and the album peaked at #3 in the UK and #1 in the US subsequently providing Swan Song with a #1 album before Led Zeppelin themselves did. They also recieved a number of awards including best new group and best vocalist. At one point Bad Company was certified as the 46th best selling album of the seventies with over 5 million copies sold. Proof if it was needed that sometimes Bad Company is indeed good company.
N.B With Paul Rodgers and Bad Company back in the limelight due to the hugely successful reunion tours and Rodgers association with Queen it is surely time this classic album was given the full ‘anniversary’ treatment. There are at least two great B sides. ‘Little Miss Fortune’ which was a mainstay of the early live set and ‘Easy On My Soul’ a lengthier more jam like workout of the Free track. As well as a version of ‘Superstar Woman’ later recorded by Rodgers on his solo album Cut Loose which are already available on The Original Bad Company Anthology. But there surely must be radio, live and out take performances around somewhere.
The main difference between ‘Straight Shooter’ and the debut album is that the sound has definitely moved more towards the stadium/arena rock sound and away from the lingering Free influences which were evident on that debut.
Opening cut and first single ‘Good Lovin Gone Bad’ is possibly the heaviest and most powerful track the band ever recorded. Like the previous years ‘Can’t Get Enough’ it was written by guitarist Mick Ralphs but the sound here is far more air guitar heavy rock than the bluesy strutting songs on the first album. In contrast the following track, and coincidentally following single ‘Feel Like Makin Love’ is a much lighter affair although it builds to a quite heavy climax. The song has been recorded by several other artists including Pauline Henry and has featured in many TV shows and films. It has become as synonymous with Bad Company as ‘Can’t Get Enough’ as is played constantly on the radio on both sides of the Atlantic, therefore it needs no in depth analysis from me !
‘Shooting Star’ though is probably the best cut on the album and remains an integral part of any Bad Company or Paul Rodgers show to this very day. Telling the story of a young man embarking on his rock n roll adventure, hitting the bigtime and subsequently dying of substance abuse it has wrongly been credited as a tribute to several fallen rockers including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and more obviously Paul Kossoff. Rodgers though has always denied that it was written with one particular person in mind and suggests it is more of a warning of the pitfalls of the rock n roll lifestyle.
Another song that was in the live set before being recorded was ‘Deal With The Preacher’. A belting rock song with a nice bridge it was an ideal concert opener and none of the power was lost on the studio version. It ensured both sides of the original vinyl issue opened with a bang. It remains one of my favourite Bad Company tracks. Early live versions had slightly different lyrics and although none of these are commercially available there are a few knocking around on bootlegs. Similarly ‘Wild Fire Woman’ was to become a live favourite in the early years with its driving rhythm ideally suited for US radio. The album also includes two Simon Kirke penned tunes. The country tinged pair ‘Weep No More’ which features a nice string arrangement from Jimmy Horowitz and ‘Anna’ which was a reworking of a song originally recorded for the Kossoff Kirke Tetsu & Rabbit album some three years earlier. Obviously with Rodgers handling the vocal this time around, Kirke had sung it himself on the earlier recording, this is by far the superior version. The album closes with the lengthy ‘Call On Me’ a bluesy lightweight meander which really doesn’t go anywhere and is probably the albums weakest cut.
The track ‘Whisky Bottle’ was also recorded at these sessions and was used as the B-side to ‘Good Lovin Gone Bad. It is now available on The Original Bad Company Anthology.
Like its predecessor ‘Straight Shooter’ rode high in the upper echelons the album chart on its release in April 1975 peaking at #3 on both sides of the Atlantic jettisoning Bad Company into a seemingly never ending world of stadium sized headlining tours of America and all the excesses that accompanied it.
By now the two years of constant touring was begining to take its toll and the songs on here are in places a little jaded or even ordinary. Despite a number of good cuts ultimately ‘Run With The Pack’ suffers due mainly to there being no hit in the form of ‘Can’t Get Enough’, ‘Good Lovin Gone Bad’ or ‘Feel Like Makin Love’ from the earlier albums. However, it is rescued by some classic ‘album tracks’ which on the whole converted well to the live set.
The album kicks off with ‘Live For The Music’ which is in truth a pretty ordinary affair and comes nowhere close to emulating the earlier album openers. Even in a live setting this track struggled to make any sort of impact and was soon dropped. The following ‘Simple Man’ though is a classic peice of Bad Company blues country tinged ballad. It is almost ‘Ready For Love’ part two. ‘Honey Child’ is more akin to the ‘Good Lovin Gone Bad’ formula but failed to make any significant impact when released as a single. It did, however, work well in the live set. The first of the slow ballads ‘Love Me Somebody’ is another ordinary song but is saved by Rodgers excellent, as ever, vocal. The title track is a piano led mini epic with a great string arrangement to fade by Jimmy Horowitz who had also been used on the previous album.
Side Two of the vinyl issue kicks off with ‘Silver Blue and Gold’ another piano led track and one that has grown with time and is now regarded as one of the bands best songs. It still features in both Paul Rodgers solo shows and Bad Company reunion gigs. For the first single Bad Company recorded a version of The Coasters track ‘Young Blood’ which personally I don’t like at all although it did manage to get to #20 in the US singles chart. Almost comedic in places it does not sit well for me amongst the rest of the album and maybe it would have been better released as a non album single or something. It certainly brings down the overall quality of the album and I was totally amazed when they played it live at the recent reunion shows especially given some of the far better tracks they omitted. The campfire singalong ‘Do Right By Your Woman’ is next and although it is by no means a classic it sounds like it in context to the previous track! Originally a version was going to be used that had been recorded around a real outdoor fire but the crackling of the wood was too loud so it was discarded and another studio take was used instead. The original, with crackles, version can be found on The Original Bad Company Anthology. Another Ralphs penned hard rocker ‘Sweet Lil Sister’ nods again towards the power of the previous years ‘Straight Shooter’ before the melancholy country ballad like ‘Fade Away’ closes the album in classy style.
Despite the inconsistency of the individual tracks ‘Run With The Pack’ became the first Bad Company album to achieve platinum status in America on its way to #5 in the US Billboard chart. It is easy to overlook RWTP as it is not up to the standard of the earlier two albums as a whole but there are four maybe five tracks which are on a par with those from the early releases and it is only really ‘Young Blood’ that is not worthy of the Bad Company name.
It is clear almost from the outset that the three albums in as many years had taken its toll on the bands main composers Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs as the material here is once again mostly not up to the high standards of the first two albums. Thats not to say it doesn’t have its moments though.
In fact the album starts in classic Bad Company style with a crash of thunder heralding the beginning of the title cut. A song which is on a par with the tracks from the first two albums and is head and shoulders above anything else on offer here. ‘Morning Sun’ harks back to the Free days and with its jaunty melody it occasionally brings ‘I’ll Be Creepin’ to mind. ‘Leavin You’ is more typical of the Bad Company sound but lacks conviction in places and could have done with a more punchy mix to these ears at least. ‘Like Water’ is another song that sounds more Free than Bad Company although that is not surprising given that Rodgers co-wrote it with then wife Machiko Shimizu during the Free days. In fact it was one of the few tracks recorded by Rodgers band Peace during the Free split. The original can be found on the Free box set ‘Songs of Yesterday’. After a brief interlude of ‘The Happy Wanderer’ ‘Everything I Need’ ends the original side one in a sort of 60s rock n roll style complete with spoken word bridge which is corny to say the least. It is almost a cross between the two Zeppelin tracks ‘Dyer Maker’ and ‘Hot Dog’ !!!
Boz Burrell lays down a really funky bass line on the grooving rock track ‘Heartbeat’ that opens up side two before things go a little more laid back with the Simon Kirke penned ‘Peace of Mind’ and the woefully short but nevertheless pleasant ‘Passing Time’. The heaviest track follows in the shape of ‘Too Bad’ an out and out rocker which was written by Mick Ralphs despite several CD issues mistakenly crediting it to Rodgers. Another Ralphs composition ‘Man Needs Woman’ keeps the tempo high for another three and a half minutes or so and although nothing spectacular it is decent enough and benefits from some good Mel Collins sax. The final track ‘Master of Ceremony’ is undoubtedly one of the strangest tracks on a Bad Company album. A seven minute funky jazzy bluesy groove at first it sounds completely out of place but it just grows and grows ensuring that ‘Burnin Sky’ is top and tailed by its two best cuts.
‘Burnin Sky’ didn’t fare as well as the first three albums sales wise but as it was released in the punk year of 1977 that might not be quite so surprising. Like the previous years ‘Run With The Pack’ it lacked a radio friendly hit in the shape of a ‘Can’t Get Enough’ or a ‘Feel Like Makin Love’. In fact the only single released from the album was an edited version of the title track which failed to make any impact whatsover. ‘Burnin Sky’ is most certainly Bad Company’s most different album and it is obvious that ideas were at a premium. The brevity and lack of direction on some of the tracks along with a muddy at times disappointing mix from Chris Kimsey didn’t really help and although ‘Burnin Sky’ is still a fine rock album it is, like ‘Run With The Pack’, a step down from the first two albums.
Gone is the muddy muffled sound of the previous album and the laziness of ‘Run With The Pack’. This is hard hitting blues based rock at its finest. A natural successor to ‘Straight Shooter’ and the blueprint for the more melodious bands of NWOBHM and the early 80s rock revival. This is what early Whitesnake and the chart friendly version of Rainbow became in the following year. It has punch, power, hooks, melody, light, shade, blues, hard hitting rock and even female backing singers.
From the outset Desolation Angels has the foot tapping, the head nodding and it is just a real feel good type of album. From the octave divider guitar riff of opening track ‘Rock n Roll Fantasy’ to the dying soulful note of ‘She Brings Me Love’ there is not an off note, a missed key or a wasted second anywhere. Mick Ralphs is playing at his fastest and heaviest proving once and for all that he is woefully underestimated as a rock guitarist. Despite the overall power of the album he still manages to play some nice soft acoustic lines in the self penned ‘Take The Time’ and ‘Crazy Circles’. Some funky laid back country twang on ‘Oh Atlanta’ and some great understated tasteful guitar on ‘She Brings Me Love’ as well as some straighforward blues on ‘Early In The Morning’. Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell are so tight throughout it is impossible to fault them and Paul Rodgers is …… well ….. just Paul Rodgers ….. enough said.
Beautifully balanced throughout Desolation Angels showcases a band of multi talented musicians playing at the height of their creative careers with a new found hunger and enthusiasm that had been sadly lacking just a year earlier. The heavy crunch of ‘Rock n Roll Fantasy’, ‘Lonely For Your Love’, ‘Rhythm Machine’ and ‘Gone Gone Gone’ are all perfectly countered with the softer ‘Take The Time’ and ‘Crazy Circles’. Whilst the blues of ‘Early In The Morning’ and the laid back soul vibe of ‘She Brings Me Love’ the two longest tracks, compliment the western flavoured ‘Evil Wind’ and the country stomp that is ‘Oh Atlanta’ like a fine wine accompanies a great dish. Leaving you with a forty minute feast of pure aural delight.
Whisper this quietly for my reputation may not survive but this is my favourite Bad Company album. I like it even more than the debut, and not just because it was my first Bad Co album either. A rock classic and a must listen for any serious lover of rock music. Oh and just to top it off a great cover by Hipgnosis !
Despite all this Bad Company reconvened at Ridge Farm in Dorking during late 1981 individually armed with demos and song ideas. This probably explains the reason why every track on the album bar one is an individual composition and the album as a whole has a very bitty and ‘contractual obligation’ feel about it. Its pretty clear that this is a bunch of musicians who really do not want to be there and although there are some decent moments, proving that class will always outdo form in all areas of life, it is still a huge drop from ‘Desolation Angels’. In fact if this had turned out to be out takes or rejected tracks from the previous albums sessions it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest.
Opening track ‘Electricland’ is clearly the class act on here and was included live for the first time ever on the recent reunion tour. It is classic Bad Company with a great vocal and and a superb driving rhythm. ‘Untie The Knot’, the only co-write on the album (Rodgers/Kirke), is a quirky little track and is often regarded as one of the better tracks on the album but I have never really taken to it and it always sounds a little forced to me. ‘Nuthin On The TV’ is one of three songs on the album, the other two being ‘Cross Country Boy and ‘Ballad of the Band’, that are basically little more than poor B-sides. to call them filler is generous in the extreme. They wouldn’t have come within in a country mile, cross or otherwise, of getting onto any of the previous Bad Company albums and are to be brutally frank, embarrassingly poor.
It is also worth noting here that the enthusiasm from Mick Ralphs must have been particularly lacking as Paul Rodgers actually provides the lead guitar for three of the tracks, the aformentioned ‘Cross Country Boy’, ‘Downhill Ryder’ and ‘Painted Face’. That, to me at least, speaks volumes about the commitment levels here. It is not surprising that in places and particularly on those three tracks ‘Rough Diamonds’ is closer in sound to Paul Rodgers subsequent solo album ‘Cut Loose’ than any of the previous Bad Company albums.
‘Painted Face’ itself is not a bad song, it just doesn’t sound like Bad Company. Similar could be said of ‘Downhill Ryder’ which has a nice funky feel to it and along with ‘Electricland’ they are my personal favourites. Of the other tracks ‘Old Mexico’ and ‘Kickdown’ are typical Mick Ralphs country tinged western flavoured stories but lack the conviction of his better compositions and ‘Racetrack’ has a catchy infectious melody but little else to recommend it.
Unsurprisingly they decided not to tour to promote the album and subsequently ‘Rough Diamonds’ became the original line ups worst selling album. Curiously enough it still fared better than all of the future Bad Company albums on which Paul Rodgers didn’t feature and still managed to hit the Top 30 on the album chart. Although no official announcement was made the release of the Paul Rodgers solo album ‘Cut Loose’ in 1983 signalled the end of the original Bad Company. Rodgers then went on to form The Firm with Jimmy Page after which Kirke, Ralphs and Burrell took the unlikely decision to reform without him. A glaring omission to say the least. Unsurprisingly the Rodgers free Bad Company never came close to emulating the success of the original line up. Although to be fair to them they did put out some fairly decent albums even if they sounded more like Foreigner than Bad Company. It was only during the Robert Hart years that they started to sound like Bad Company again but that is for a different a review.
All in all then ‘Rough Diamonds’ was a disappointing way to end the original incarnation of Bad Company even if there were still two or three excellent tracks on there. One thing that can’t be denied though is that Bad Company were one of the best bands of the seventies and have left us with a multitude of fine recordings. Therefore this slight mis-step into the tall weeds is easily forgiven.