Graded on a Curve:
Bad Company,
Bad Company

I’m bad company, I don’t deny it. I tend to monopolize conversations. I’m loud. I laugh at my own jokes. I cut other people off mid-sentence. I cheat at penny poker, although I always get caught. And I have the annoying habit of boring people with long monologues on the Versailles Treaty.

But England’s hard rock band Bad Company are another beast altogether. Their members constituted a minor supergroup. Vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Burke hailed from Free. Guitarist Mick Ralphs came by way of Mott the Hoople, where he’d tired of their fancy Glam pretensions. Bass player Boz Burrell previously played with King Crimson. Together they hammered out some of the most lowdown, stripped to the bone music of the Seventies. They had no interest in bedazzling you with subtlety.

The band’s eponymous 1974 debut was one of the premier hard rock albums of its time, and gave teen listeners a no-frills alternative to such bands as Queen, Supertramp, and the Electric Light Orchestra, amongst others. There was scads of other hard rock bands out there, but few pounded it home the way Bad Company did—Grand Funk Railroad were just plain inferior product, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive—with such up-tempo songs like “Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” and “Hey You”—may as well have been the Archies. The sole populist band their superior was Lynyrd Skynyrd, thanks both Ronnie Van Zant’s extraordinary lyrical gifts and the Southern Rock touches, which added color but never detracted from the band’s hard rock sound.

Bad Company kicks things off with “Can’t Get Enough,” with Ralphs playing pile driver guitar while drummer Burke crushes stone like a guy on a slave gang. Rodgers makes it clear he has bad manners—he doesn’t politely ask for things, he takes them. “Rock Steady” is a slinkier-than-usual statement of purpose with Ralphs playing a cool guitar hook, perfect fills and a restrained but perfect solo while a pair of female backing vocalists toss in on the choruses. As for Rodgers, he demonstrates why he’s considered one of the finest vocalists of the era and an inspiration for the likes of Ronnie Van Zant.

Ralphs brought the bluesy slow mover “Ready for Love” with him from Mott the Hoople (you can find it on Mott’s All the Young Dudes). His barbaric riff hardly gives you the impression its love he’s looking for—if I had to guess I’d say a club fight. His piano and organ provide some color while Rodgers walks alone down a rocky road ready for love, but why he expects to find a lover on a road in the middle of nowhere is a mystery. “Don’t Let Me Down” has a gospel feel and a saxophone solo, which might lead you to think the band has gone soft were it not for the ringing Ralphs guitar solo that follows.

On the haunting and masterful “Bad Company” Rodgers establishes his bona fides as a badass—he’s a Confederate deserter “born with a six-gun in my hand/Behind a gun I make my final stand.” He’s accompanied by perhaps the heaviest guitar riff this side of Jimmy Page, and unlike most of Led Zeppelin’s songs “Bad Company”—and “Shooting Star” from their subsequent LP—are story songs of the first order. “The Way I Choose” is a ballad complete with saxophone and shows off the band’s softer side, but while the melody captivates it comes at the cost of the band’s landslide crush.

But they kick back into gear on the fast-paced (by their standards) “Movin’ On,” a road song that does what all road songs should—trucks. Ralphs plays a guitar solo with nary a wasted note, while Rodgers brags “Every day of my life I’m movin’ on.” Closer “Seagull” is what you’d expect given its title, an acoustic guitar-driven meditation of sorts, the gist of which is that seagulls can predict the future. I have my doubts, but I don’t have much time to ponder the issue because somebody (and you won’t find this on “Free Bird”) ups and shoots the soothsaying bird. I don’t know what kind of dirty son of a bitch goes around assassinating seagulls, but I do know this—in a perfect world an entire flock of seagulls will descend on the guy, and when they fly off again all that will be left is the bastard’s skeleton.

Bad Company followed this one with 1975’s Straight Shooter, which included three stone-cold classics in “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” and “Shooting Star”—a remarkable feat given the LP was released only ten months or so after their debut. Most bands empty the bank on their debut and leave little to spare for the second—it’s a testimony to the songwriting fecundity of Ralphs and Rogers that they pulled it off. They only faltered come 1976’s Run with the Pack, but even the best can find it difficult to keep a streak going.

Many do Bad Company an injustice by criticizing them for what they set out to do, and did so very, very well—produced excellent hard rock songs that stuck to the knitting—and their happy audiences’ ribs. They tend to get overlooked by fans awed by the more eclectic Led Zeppelin or the more baroque Queen. Bad Company was as direct as a punch to the face, and that was what made them so great. They were what they claimed to be, and while you could love them, but you’d be wise do it at arm’s length.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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