Friday, January 16, 2009

Album project: Bad Company

Bad Company, Bad Company (1974): Bad Company, one of the most successful British hard-rock acts of the 70's, got its start when soulful vocalist Paul Rodgers, who had risen to fame with Free, formed an alliance with ex-Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs in 1973. Drummer Simon Kirke, who had been in Free with Rodgers, quickly joined with the duo. After auditioning a number of bassists, the group settled upon Boz Burrell, formerly of King Crimson, a singer who Crimson leader Robert Fripp taught to play the bass guitar after Fripp became dissatisfied with the bass players he had been auditioning. The group signed with Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, prompting many comparisons between the two bands. Rodgers named the group Bad Company after a 1972 Western that he was a big fan of; the name also served as the title of the group's debut, and its title track.

While with Mott The Hoople, Mick Ralphs had written a song, "Can't Get Enough", which he felt would be a sure hit. Mott singer Ian Hunter, however, felt the song didn't fit the band's style and refused to record it. "Can't Get Enough" proved to be a perfect fit for Rodgers' testosterone-laced vocals, anchoring the debut disc and giving Bad Company their first major hit. Taking advantage of this vein, Bad Company offers more odes to Rodgers' virility in "Rock Steady" and "Ready For Love". Gentlemen, if your hard-ons could sing, they would sound just like Paul Rodgers.

The title track, built around a basic yet strong three-chord riff, featured the group's fascination with the American West, another source of inspiration they would often return to. Life-on-the-road song "Movin' On" followed "Can't Get Enough" up the US singles charts, and the LP closes with "Seagull", an early example of Rodgers' and Ralphs' ability to write fine ballads. Bad Company topped the US album chart the week of September 28, 1974, going on to sell over 5 million copies, and providing the group an auspicious debut.

Vintage footage captures Bad Company at the height of their powers.

Bad Company, Straight Shooter (1975): A solid followup, Straight Shooter was another multi-million seller that confirmed Bad Company's status as a top-drawer arena and stadium act. For the most part, the album sticks to the tried-and-true formula that made the debut successful. Straight Shooter, though, mixes in a few more ballads like "Weep No More" and "Call On Me" that feature the more soulful side of Rodgers' singing, along with certified barn-burners like "Good Lovin' Gone Bad" and "Deal With The Preacher". "Feel Like Makin' Love", another Top 10 smash, is perhaps the ultimate ode to Rodgers' eternal tumescence. The best tracks here are "Wild Fire Woman", where Rodgers' desire to return to see his lover is underscored by Mick Ralph's stinging slide guitar, and "Shooting Star", Bad Company's best ballad, which recasts "Johnny B. Goode" in a suburban London flat.

Bad Company, Desolation Angels (1978): Run With The Pack and Burning Sky, the lackluster albums that followed Straight Shooter, saw Bad Company dig their rut and dig it deep. Paul Rodgers' macho posturing seemed more abrasive as the inspiration began to lag, while his bandmates' playing, although always competent, was seldom creative. The energetic, funky "Rock And Roll Fantasy" raised hopes for their next LP, becoming the band's biggest hit since "Feel Like Making Love". But Desolation Angels was a disappointment, yet another tired effort with too many songs about unappreciative women, showing severe signs that the band had been out on the road too long without a break. Apart from "Rock And Roll Fantasy", the only high points are the ballad "Crazy Circles" and when Rodgers' voice kicks in about halfway through "Evil Wind".

In fairness, the band had driven themselves hard through the latter 70's and was looking to wind down. They suffered a blow when in the wake of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham's death, their manager Peter Grant decided to curtail his management duties. The original lineup released one more album, Rough Diamonds, and called it a day. Mick Ralphs said, "Paul wanted a break and truthfully we all needed to stop. Bad Company had become bigger than us all and to continue would have destroyed someone or something. From a business standpoint, it was the wrong thing to do, but Paul's instinct was absolutely right".

Bad Company, The Original Bad Company Anthology (1999): Paul Rodgers released solo albums through the 80's, as well as forming The Firm with Jimmy Page, which was sometimes good, and The Law with drummer Kenney Jones, which usually wasn't. In 1986, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke got together to form a new band featuring ex-Ted Nugent vocalist Brian Howe. Atlantic Records forced this new outfit to use the Bad Company name over Ralphs' and Kirke's objections. The new Bad Company was modestly successful through the late 80's and early 90's; the best-known song from that period was the hit ballad "If You Needed Somebody".

In 1998 Rodgers approached Kirke with some new songs and expressed his desire to get together with Ralphs and Burrell to reunite the original group. These new tracks appear on The Original Bad Company Anthology, and are forgettable. Longtime BadCo fans were also disappointed by the compilation, as it left off a number of the band's most popular recordings. The Anthology makes up for this somewhat by including a number of B-sides and previously unreleased tracks from their golden age, the best being the tasty "Easy On My Soul", the B-side of "Movin' On". Except for "Rock And Roll Fantasy", the first two albums have all the Bad Company you'll need; this collection is mainly for die-hard fans and those looking for hard-to-find tracks.

The members of Bad Company got together in various projects on and off through the early 2000's. In 2006, the original lineup was put to rest when Boz Burrell died of a heart attack. Most recently, Paul Rodgers joined up with the surviving members of Queen for a tour, and subsequent live LP. It seemed a curious idea for the macho Rodgers to step into the shoes of androgynous icon Freddie Mercury, but all involved seemed to feel it went well. In 2008, Rodgers and Queen released The Cosmos Rocks, an all-new set of Queen material that was poorly received despite the initial interest.