My next black vinyl guest is the proud holder of the, ahem, record of being the 46th best-selling LP of the 1970’s, combining the talents of three renowned British bands into something of a monster mamma jammer, put your flippers, fingers and fins together to welcome … Free The Crimson! No, sorry, I mean Freeking Mott! No. I’ve got it now, ladies and gentlemen please welcome Bad Company!!
The sizable phoenix that rose from the ashes of Free, Bad Company absorbed the stellar talents of Mott The Hoople’s Mick Ralphs and King Crimson’s Boz Burrell, adding them to Paul Rodgers incredible voice and Simon Kirke’s straight-forward drumming. Taking on, literal, heavyweight management, in the person of Peter Grant, recording at Headley Grange, being the first release on Led Zep’s Swan Song label and getting a Hipgnosis sleeve to boot, Bad Company was a record born to greatness. 1974 didn’t stand a chance.
When I was first getting into hard rock when I was 13-ish a friend of my father’s leant me a few LPs Bad Company was one of them*, I remember falling hard for title track and then thinking it was all a bit too wussy after that; Metal Dave had just taped Killers and Flick Of The Switch for me, that was more my level of subtlety. I’ve owned Run With The Pack for almost 30 years now, but bolstered by that first impression I only picked up Bad Company 5 years ago. I like it a lot more now than I did back in 1985** but I do think it is a flawed album – for my money Bad Company‘s classic status rests on the fact that it’s good songs are GREAT, rather than any inherently GREAT qualities it has as an album.
There are very few voices out there in music better than Paul Rodgers, he is just supreme. There is a great strutting tomcat quality about it and I love the fact that even when he really opens it out and goes for it, there’s no straining, it’s all within his range and that just adds to the confident sound of it all. I have been listening to Free gluttonously in the last year and I think that on Bad Company there is a difference in the way he uses his voice, it is generally more laid-back, easier sound but like the 1537-mobile cruisin’, there’s always a further gear to slip into that just leaves the opposition trailing in the dust.
Not that anybody else involved in Bad Co. were slouches either. Mick Ralphs, Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell play it perfectly, each one keeping it simple, but not simplistic, the overall sound is quite sparse, certainly by most hard rockers’ standards but every note seems placed just so; a perfect embodiment of less is more. I can’t think of many leaner albums than Bad Company, if this LP were a man^ it would be a lean, mean womanizer in rather skinny, dusty jeans.
Which leads us neatly to Bad Company‘s defining attribute, cock. This is a decidedly thrusting LP, a definite traditional-sexual-role-models-type affair. Ladies, are all well and good, this isn’t really about them; this is about the male spirit, a certain version of it at least. Mr Bad Company is an outlaw adventurer entirely unfettered by domesticity and suchlike; neither the jail/relationship or the underpants have ever existed that can tame his spirit, or his cock.
Truly this is the Music of The Spheres that philosophers have been theorising about since time immemorial, they were just looking too high up – it’s a bollocks thing, not an astrological one. Cojones not corazón.
Just take the freewheeling excellence of ‘Can’t Get Enough’ and ‘Rock Steady’ as examples, cocksure, pripaic and perfect, they absolutely embody Bad Company at their best. Both tunes strut and preen to great effect, nothing flash but everything right. If I had to choose a favourite I’d plump for ‘Rock Steady’ for the supremely funky groove ploughed by Kirke and Burrell and the well-placed female backing vocals.
You want it a bit more cocked and loaded, then hit up the title track, which I think is the best thing on here and to be honest, I suspect there’d be very little on the 45 better selling LP’s of the 70’s to touch it either. I have such a clear memory of the very first time I heard it thinking, ‘wow, that’s a whole western in a song’. The atmospherics and dynamics of ‘Bad Company’ just deliver it, umm, hard.
I also have a real thing for the repurposed Mot The Hoople track ‘Ready For Love’, which is the most effective, reflective track on offer here. Mick Ralphs also contributes some great keyboards here and Mrs 1537 tells me that when Paul Rodgers sings ‘I’m ready for love’, he sounds like a man who knows what he’s doing^^. Regardless, I think it’s a bit of an under-valued gem in the band’s treasury.
For me though the rest of Bad Company is a little limp. I quite like the pretty sounding ‘Seagull’ that closes the album, played entirely solo by Rodgers, but it’s minor compared to what went before it. The rest have no merits for me.
I have a late 70’s cheapo re-release without the gatefold and the inner sleeve, but hey this isn’t the sort of rock that needs fripperies, it suits a pared down presentation. Which is why I think that Hipgnosis got the cover art exactly right for Bad Company, stark, suggestive of leather and pitched at a penetrative angle. Perfecto.
So there you have it, Bad Company, an LP with some really great tracks on it rather than a great LP; a tribute to and a warning of the merits and limits of, proper cock rock.
Here endeth the lesson.
PS: Have some of this!
In fact, here’s the whole gig – I’ve watched it twice today:
*Alice Cooper Greatest Hits, Vardis 100MPH and ZZ Top El Loco were the others I remember.
**maybe I’ve developed some subtlety and maturity of my own in the last 33 years? nah!
^and it certainly would be.
^^she added a completely silent, ‘just like you, dear’ to the end of that sentence, I could sense it.