I stopped watching Breaking Bad two years ago, but by reading the subtle signs of the cultural landscape, I managed to figure out with reasonable certainty that the song “Baby Blue” played a prominent part in the show’s finale tonight.
And what a ballad it is. “Day After Day” usually gets credited as Badfinger’s signature tune, and with good reason. But I always secretly liked “Baby Blue” just as much, if not more.
While most acts associated with early ’70s rock and roll were singing about snorting lines off of ceiling mirrors, loving the ladies, and then hopping in the tour bus and blowing out of town, Pete Ham wore his heart on his guitar strap and rendered the heartbreak of leaving into chart-topping lyrics. Not only did he write “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue,” but Ham also penned the verses to “Without You,” a song taken to number one by Harry Nilsson.
Consider these songs and their opening lyrics:
- The first verses to “Without You” are “No, I can’t forget this evening or your face as you were leaving, but I guess that’s just the way the story goes…” and “Well, I can’t forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrow, I had you there but then I let you go…”
- The first verse to the Badfinger hit, “Day After Day” is “I remember finding out about you. Everyday my mind is all around you. Looking out of my lonely gloom, day after day. Bring it home baby make it soon, I give my love to you.”
- The first lyric to “Baby Blue” is “Guess I got what I deserve. Kept you waiting there too long my love…”
Do you see a pattern there? Each one of them reads like a love-letter with Pete Ham confessing his regrets and sorrows to a woman he pines for but is no longer there; each time he implores her directly with “you”.
From the outside looking in, being in Badfinger must have seemed like a pretty sweet gig. The band was basically groomed by the Beatles’ Apple Records label to be their heirs after the Beatles broke up, and Badfinger did achieve almost instantaneous global success after their first album release.
But that level of initial success and heightened expectation can create pressure, and Badfinger didn’t help their cause by going into business with Stan Polley, a shady business manager who contributed to the band going broke (despite their many recent hits), the collapse of their musical career, and according to the note he left, Pete Ham’s suicide at the age of 27 in 1975.
I don’t know the details of Pete Ham’s story as well as some people do. But from what I can tell, even when it was going good for Pete Ham it was still going bad. While Badfinger was touring the U.S. in 1971 at the height of their popularity and before the setbacks began, Ham met a girl from the South named Dixie Armstrong.
The road being what it is, their relationship barely had time to get going before it was time to move on, and Ham was heartbroken enough to pen yet another beautiful ballad to another woman about a missed opportunity for true love. “Baby Blue” was supposedly Pete Ham’s nickname for Dixie Armstrong, and she is mentioned by name twice in the song. Listen closely and you’ll hear Ham address first “Dixie” and then “Dixie, dear.”
Here are the “Baby Blue” lyrics:
Guess I got what I deserve
Kept you waiting there, too long my love
All that time, without a word
Didn’t know you’d think, that I’d forget, or I’d regret
The special love I have for you
My Baby Blue
All the days became so long
Did you really think I’d do you wrong
Dixie, when I let you go
Thought you’d realize, I would know, I would show
The special love I have for you
My Baby Blue
What can I do, what can I say?
Except that I want you by my side
How can I show you? Show me a way
Don’t you know, the times I tried
Guess that’s all I have to say
Except the feeling just gets stronger everyday
Just one thing, before I go
Take good care, baby let me know, let it show
The special love you have for me
My Dixie dear
I don’t know if I’m gonna wake up tomorrow after tonight’s Breaking Bad and find that “Baby Blue” is enjoying a popular resurgence as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” did after the Sopranos’ finale. But I’ll tell you one thing. While “Don’t Stop Believin'” is a fine rock anthem, its singer Steve Perry is said to be a bit of a douchebag, the polar opposite of someone sensitive and retreating like Pete Ham.
Speaking of sensitive artists and douchebags, after an argument over song royalties Pete Ham’s band mate and writing partner in Badfinger, Tom Evans, committed suicide in 1983 by hanging, the same method Ham used. Stan Polley went on to swindle other people before dying in 2009 at the age of 87.