Foo Fighters are nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Bad Company are not. Yet Bad Company’s debut, never mind what followed, is better than any Foo Fighters album, period. Actually, I think Dave Grohl would agree! Paul Rodgers is a definitive rock singer, his earlier band Free deserves induction too, just listen to “Molten Gold: The Anthology”: https://spoti.fi/3pyxoO3 But Rodgers and his bands are not even involved in the discussion, never mind members. Because they don’t have champions, because they’re not young and hip, yet their catalog stands up against almost all inductees’, it’s pure rock and roll. And unlike the aforementioned Foos, Bad Company developed, employing synths on 1979’s “Desolation Angels,” and burning up the airwaves and charts with their fifth straight hit album, after the relative disappointment of its predecessor, “Burnin’ Sky,” which only went gold. “Desolation Angels” was two times platinum. “Run With the Pack” one time platinum. “Straight Shooter” three times platinum. And the debut, “Bad Company,” five times platinum. But the band gets no respect, even though nearly fifty years later their tracks are still staples on rock radio.
No one was waiting for Bad Company, unless you were a fan of Free and Mott the Hoople, and if there were many of those Free never would have broken up and Mick Ralphs never would have left Mott the Hoople. And expectations were not high. Ian Hunter was the star of Mott the Hoople, no one placed Mick Ralphs in the stratosphere of axe-slingers, he was seen as a journeyman, a behind the scenes player lucky to be involved in a band with the aforementioned Hunter. But Bad Company eclipsed the success of Mott the Hoople by legions!
It all started with “Can’t Get Enough,” which was written by Ralphs. Sure, Mick had already written “Ready for Love/After Lights,” but that was soft and dreamy, not an in-your-face hit. “One of the Boys” was closer to the hit parade in sound, yet it was cowritten with Hunter, and only made it to #2 on the singles chart. Not an auspicious CV. Needless to say, “Can’t Get Enough” went to #1 in “Cashbox”‘s Top 100, only #5 on “Billboard”‘s Hot 100, but that’s not accounting for all the FM play, when FM was now dominant, where careers were made and sustained.
“Can’t Get Enough” was a one time listen, that’s all it took. We haven’t got many of those anymore, the last undeniable one I can think of is Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and that was all the way back in 2006. But it’s these tracks that give us joy, that we hold close to our heart, that make us transcend everyday life into a rarefied air where nothing else matters and that’s a power no other art form can deliver.
So, “Can’t Get Enough” was an unexpected delight.
But the album was even better.
My favorite track was and still is the second side opener, the eponymous “Bad Company.”
It was Paul Rodgers’ pregnant piano intro. It set the mood, and then he began to sing:
“Company, always on the run
Destiny, mm, is a rising sun”
It sounded like the western movie that inspired the band’s moniker. You were in the highlands, far from civilization, just you and your horse and your posse…
“Bad company and I can’t deny
Bad company ’til the day I die”
The rock and roll outlaw spirit. You couldn’t sing these lyrics and shill for Pepsi or Coke.
And “Bad Company” was written by Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke. But track seven, another classic, was solely the work of Mick Ralphs, he wrote “Movin’ On” and it was his intro guitar flourish that immediately hooked you, that got you strapped in for the ride. However, even superior was the album’s closing cut, a Ralphs/Rodgers composition, “Seagull.”
Once again, the guitar is key, only the acoustic is played by Rodgers himself, it sets the mood, but it is superseded by Paul’s haunting vocal, a rock choirboy, someone who’s sacrificed none of his edge yet is somehow closer to God.
“Seagull you fly across the horizon
Into the misty morning sun
Nobody asks you where you are going
Nobody knows where you’re from”
It’s the essence of the rock and roll ethos. A free bird flying in its own direction. At least until somebody shoots you down.
Those are the best tracks on “Bad Company.”
But I must mention the re-record of “Ready for Love.” Most people had never heard the Mott the Hoople track, and I still prefer the original, with Ralphs’s weak voice and the long instrumental outro, but a great song is a great song no matter who sings it, and if it’s sung by Paul Rodgers…
Yesterday I went to UCLA hospital for a checkup. I’m less scared than I used to be, but I’m still uptight about touching anything, after all, isn’t the hospital where sick people go?
And what you’ve got to know is it’s always an ordeal. They make you come ninety minutes early for a blood test, and still sometimes when you see the doctor the bloodwork is not ready. Then again, you can sit long past your appointed time with no attention from your physician. And I’m always wary of bad news. Some of the numbers are always out of the normal range, I’m prepared for that now. However, I have to wait seven to ten days for the big test, the BCR-ABL test, which tells whether the cancer has returned. Needless to say, the whole process takes hours, and you’re never completely relaxed, and when you’re finally done it feels like the last day of school, assuming the numbers were in line. And then you must pay for parking, there’s no other option, no street spots anywhere nearby, get in your car and provide your slip at the kiosk, and then go up the circular driveway and back into the light. And one thing about hospital traffic, it’s oh-so-slow. I’m not sure whether drivers are just old, or preoccupied by illness, but when I’m exiting I want to VROOM out of there!
And my car has the power to do it. That’s where I do most of my speeding, not on the freeway.
And I must tell you I’m frustrated by the slowpokes. I find myself accelerating around them, testing limits I should not. An automobile is a lethal weapon, but I can’t hold back, I’m so taxed, anxiety for hours and now this release. I just want to get back home and into the groove.
So I drive through Westwood to Sepulveda, which is surprisingly uncrowded. And when I get on the 405…I mash the accelerator until the turbo kicks in when I suddenly hear “Rock Steady” on the radio. I think it was Classic Vinyl, could have been Deep Tracks, I don’t remember.
And the sun is shining.
This road, keeps winding.
Through the prettiest country from Brentwood to Sherman Oaks.
And I’ve got the radio blasting around me.
My troubles are behind me.
I’m alive and I’m free…
WHO WOULDN’T WANNA BE ME!
That’s the power of music, that’s the power of a great record.
The groove is set from the intro, with the guitar. You’re locked in. You’re nodding your head. This is not passive, this is active, this is rock and roll.
“Well when I want to rock steady
I know I got to get ready”
You may not know that “rock” is a euphemism for sex in the black music world. I learned this from a majordomo at Norby Walters’s agency back in the eighties. And that’s what Rodgers is preparing for, with all the swagger of the music, with all the swagger of rock and roll.
“Turn on your light
And stay with me a while
AND ROCK STEADY!”
This is not intellectual music, it plays to your genitals, not your brain, it’s something you feel throughout your body, it sets you free.
“Stay with me a while and rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, ROCK!”
This is why you went to the show, to feel the music, to look at your significant other or possible significant other, empowered by the sound, kicking you with all its force.
And in the pre-earbud era, the goal was to have a stereo that could reproduce this sound, play so loud and so clearly without distortion that the rest of the world was excised and you could luxuriate in the music. Listening to “Rock Steady” was not passive. You didn’t sit on the couch reading a magazine, you were active, the music demanded your attention with its raw power.
There are eight songs on “Bad Company,” and by my reckoning, “Rock Steady” is the sixth best. It’s not the one you think of first, not the one you drop the needle on, not the one you program on your CD player, put on your greatest hits playlist, rather you learned “Rock Steady” back in the seventies because it came right after “Can’t Get Enough” and the needle would slip into its groove, you’d be exposed to it, you’d hear it so much that you knew it by heart.
Now the 405 is a pinball machine. The key is to get on the highway before it becomes jammed up. As the afternoon wears on, it becomes bumper to bumper. You’re nothing but frustrated. But if you hit it early enough, even though traffic slows down as you go through the curves and the hill ascends, you can still weave between the slowpokes and the trucks and make time.
But yesterday it wasn’t about time, but power, kicking the accelerator down to align with that rush of adrenaline I was getting from the record.
And I’m driving and smiling, but I’m not thinking back to what once was, I’m absolutely, positively locked into the twenty first century, because rock is not something you grow out of, it’s a virus you catch that stays with you forever. It’s alive, it’s powerful, turned up loud enough it’s everything. And every once in a while you need to be reminded of this.