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Fans likely will debate the ending of “Breaking Bad” with a meth-high-like intensity for years to come. But there’s little doubt about the power packed by the final scene’s soundtrack – Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” a song that epitomized the band at its best: haunting and hummable.
The show's deadly climax gave new life to a star-crossed, underrated group trailed by tragedy. "Baby Blue," reportedly sold 5,000 copies in the hours after the finale aired and hit iTunes’ Top 20 – very good signs for Badfinger’s legacy.
The Badfinger story might not make for an epic TV show, like “Breaking Bad,” but it’s a far more compelling cautionary tale than most "Behind the Music"-type melodramas. The UK band, which started out as The Iveys, got their big break from the Beatles, who signed them in 1968 to Apple Records. Paul McCartney penned Badfinger’s first major single, "Come and Get it." The tune, catchy with an edge, set the tone for the Beatles-influenced songs the band produced, including "No Matter What,” which, before Sunday night, probably was their most recognizable recording.
Badfinger’s initially little noticed “Without You” later became a hit for Harry Nilsson, and much later for Mariah Carey. The sweet and plaintive “Day After Day,” benefited from guitar work by George Harrison, who recruited the band to play on his classic “All Things Must Pass” triple album.
“Baby Blue,” produced by Todd Rundgren and released in 1972, marked a culmination of all things Badfinger – tight harmonies, a weaving guitar line, great hooks, uplifting with more of a hint of sadness in both melody and lyrics (“Guess I got what I deserved. Kept you waiting there too long, my love, all that time without a word”). The melancholy song about a doomed love affair oddly fit Walter White’s ultimately fatal obsession 41 years later with another kind of baby blue.
Like the Walter White drama, the Badfinger story didn’t end well. Primary songwriter and singer Pete Ham, apparently depressed over the band’s financial travails, hanged himself in 1975. The group’s Tom Evans, who co-wrote “Without You,” followed suit eight years later amid more music industry-related strife. Band member Joey Molland still keeps the music alive – and now he’s got some unexpected help from “Breaking Bad.”
The “Breaking Bad” conclusion comes six years after the less well-received final episode of “The Sopranos,” which ended with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The tune choice helped revive Journey, which got another lift in 2009 when the song capped the first episode of “Glee.” The rock gods, no doubt, are having a laugh over the “Breaking Bad” finale arriving sandwiched between a two-part “Glee” salute to the Beatles, the group that both boosted and overshadowed Badfinger.
The current Badfinger boom hopefully will grow from a spike in “Baby Blue” downloads to an increase in album sales. There’s plenty more Badfinger to choose from – it’s time to come and get it.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.