Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Without You": A story less told that you might like to hear...

As a teenager (mid-90s) I remember "sampling" was a phenomena that, although not new, seemed to be as pervasive as ever in popular music. If your not familiar with the phenomena of "sampling," its pretty simple: artists use rhythms, beats, licks, and lyrics from existing songs, and build a "new" song around it. A perfect example is Puff Daddy using The Police's "Every Breath You Take." I got into an argument with a kid at school once about a tune that I knew was based on a Chicago sample that he insisted was original (its funny to think that nowadays I could have had the original song playing in his ear within seconds, but even in the mid-90s the information age hadn't really arrived). Anyway, all this to say that, as a young (and odd) lover of older music, I was frequently finding myself in a position of the "advocate" for recognition of original artwork. Janet Jackson has nothing to do with that great guitar lick.. its from an America song written 25 years ago! Hey Warren G fans...that's a Michael McDonald groove in there!
Ok Jake.. whats the story?..Yesterday evening, I watched a short documentary about the band Badfinger. I am aware of some of their hits, but knew little else about them. Their story, to me becomes a deeper and more meaningful application of this concept of  "recognition."

I'll try to be brief... Badfinger were the first artists to sign onto Apple Records. Apple was a label owned and started by the Beatles (James Taylor also signed onto Apple shortly after Badfinger). When the Beatles broke up, Badfinger was slated as the "next Beatles." Their early hits included "If you want it hear it is come and get it," and "Know matter what you do." If you don't recognize these songs form the title, you'd recognize them if you heard them.
The band had tremendous promise. Tragically, the unfortunate combination of the band's inexperience and a crooked manager left them without anything (financially) to show for their early success. The band's leader and primary song writer, Pete Ham had naively defended the crooked manager till the betrayal was exposed. Devestated, and facing serious financial hardship, Pete Ham, a young father, took his own life.
Several years later after painful attempts at recovery and tragic infighting between members of the band, Tom Evans, Pete Ham's closest friend in the band, also took his own life in a desperate moment.
Tragic and sad story, right? But what is the "recognition" issue here? What I did NOT know is that Badfinger had written and released a song along with those previous hits that went essentially unnoticed as a "Badfinger" song. The song was picked up by Harry Nillsson as a VERY rare cover tune for him. The song was called "Without You." Some of you more seasoned readers will remember the Harry Nilsson version.. some of you my age may only remember a Mariah Carey version of the song which was a major hit in 1994.
Most music listeners could care less about the story or context of a song. If they choose to think about it all, they rarely consider that it might go any deeper. (and to be fair.. a lot of songs, past and certainly present, don't go any deeper than the radio wave itself).  In 1994, when Mariah Carey came out with this song, I have to admit that the thought NEVER occurred to me that this song had a story.  I would later discover that Harry Nilsson had recorded a version and that it was not his, but I never knew whose it was.
It was, in fact, Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger who had co-written the song in 1972.

No I can't forget this evening or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that's just the way the story goes
You always smile, but in your eyes
Your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
No I can't forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow
When I had you there but then I let you go
And now it's only fair that I should let you know
What you should know

I can't live

If living is without you
I can't live
I can't give anymore

The next time you hear this song, in addition to any emotion the song may evoke on its own, consider its careworn co-writers perhaps revisiting the song in future moments of utter desperation. Whew! Music is more than we make of it sometimes. Its fun, and its catchy but its also art, literature and even history. 

Just wanted to share...


Daniel and Angie Callister said...

Fascinating. I only knew them for "Come and Get It", which is a Paul McCartney composition. I actually didn't know they wrote much, so it shocked me to read that they are responsible for such a great and well known song like "Without You". Ironically, it's always been my dream to write a song that someone else makes famous. I'll even settle for a sampling :)

Deborah and Stephen said...

very interesting.. I am one of those people that just listen to music for the pure joy of it and never think of much else.. I am glad that I have more knowledge from reading this :) you and dan know first hand how much of yourself goes into writing and making of songs.