The recent sad death of bassist Andy Fraser at least had the knock-on effect of nudging us to dig out old Free albums, and enjoy organic blues-rock at its best. To an extent, Bad Company were always tagged by purists as a kind of Next Best Thing to Free, a sequel or spin-off, a Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad.
Hearing their first two albums 40 years on, there’s an argument that they hit the target with more consistency than the nominal mother-ship. They eschewed lengthy jams and went for the jugular with an all-killer no-filler manifesto, tightening the screws and adopting lessons from pop’s Route One approach. All the while, Paul Rodgers’s untethered lupine-Lothario voice gave them something resembling soul. You’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect sonic avatar for 70s classic rock than the riff to Can’t Get Enough.
The self-titled 1974 debut saw Free survivors Rodgers and very loud drummer Simon Kirke teamed up with Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell, and pitched as a supergroup by Peter Grant. As the first release on Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, Bad Co. had everyone relevant on-side from the off. Huge sales ensued, especially in America.
Don’t Let Me Down proved a durable ballad and Ralphs’ Ready For Love sounded limitlessly slicker than the original Mott version. If Seagull was drippy nonsense, elsewhere themes of travel, transience and temporary love were muscularly handled.
Straight Shooter, a year on, kept up momentum with its ferocious, all-guns-blazing lead single Good Lovin’ Gone Bad and the sucker punch of ‘sensitive’ ballad Feel Like Makin’ Love. The latter’s horny-but-vulnerable appeal has outlived even Tony Blair’s declaration of fanhood. Big narrative Shooting Star, about a young rocker who rises to the top then dies prematurely, was a nod to the ‘27 Club’. Outside these landmarks, the album’s leggy, but on the underrated Wild Fire Woman the four are a bonfire.
Diminishing returns ensued, but Bad Company had delivered – some might say defined – the goods. These reissues dust off the tapes and unveil copious bonuses. Across both albums, 27 previously stashed demos, alternative versions and rehearsal out-takes line up, including the lost strays Superstar Woman, I See The Sunlight and All Night Long.
Like most cutting-room-floor packages, they dilute rather than fuel the dynamic, sacrificing mystique. The vigorous albums themselves proved you can get enough, no more no less, and that’s plenty./o:p