It isn’t so often that a song becomes singularly wedded to a specific movie or TV show. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” will forever be associated with the Sopranos finale. Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” now has David Lynch’s kinky stank all over it. And who can listen to Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” and not think of vivisecting an undercover cop after seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs?
We may have to add Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and Breaking Bad to the list.
Last week (as you may have heard) the Breaking Bad series finale was broadcast, garnering an audience of 10 million viewers, an incredibly high figure in this splintered, post-Netflix era—especially for a smaller channel like AMC. And that audience, while not large compared to that of, say, the series finale of M*A*S*H, consists almost entirely of media-literate tastemakers with purchasing power.
Without spoiling even a single plot detail, the “outro” to the series was Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” a catchy ditty that a good portion of the audience might not have heard before, a song that references regret but in a curiously upbeat way—and the damn thing even features the word “blue” in the chorus! The first line of the song is “Guess I got what I deserve,” and it’s impossible to hear the lines “Did you really think I’d do you wrong?” and not think of Walter White’s maniacal fidelity to his family or the apparent father-son bond he shares with Jesse Pinkman. As with so much else, Vince Gilligan and his colleagues chose very, very well.
Originally from Wales, Badfinger is famous for two things most of all: they were one of the first bands signed by the Beatles’ Apple Records label, and they were snakebitten by tragedy at every turn. The chaos stemming from the dissolution of Apple affected the band in myriad unfortunate ways; facing financial disaster, singer and songwriter Pete Ham hanged himself in 1975, cursing the band’s manager Stan Polley in his suicide note (“Stan Polley is a soulless bastard”). In 1983, with Badfinger income from the Apple era still in escrow, singer/bassist Tom Evans hanged himself as well. Stan Polley was to Badfinger what Allen Klein was to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the unscrupulous manager who mercilessly took advantage of the inherent naivete of pie-in-the-sky musician types.
By the Monday morning after the Breaking Bad finale, “Baby Blue” had been downloaded more than 5,000 times, according to Nielsen SoundScan—an uptick of almost 3,000 percent. Nielsen’s tracking week ends on Sunday night, so only the first few hours of the mad rush to download “Baby Blue” is represented in that week’s figures—it will surely chart higher in the following week, according to Bloomberg/BusinessWeek.
In the wake of the tragic suicides of Ham and Evans, the royalties accruing from Badfinger’s estate are today more fairly apportioned, according to a royalty and publishing payment agreement that was hammered out in court. For all songs released by Apple and Warner Brothers under the name Badfinger—this group includes “Baby Blue”—the main songwriter (most often Ham) or the main songwriter’s estate receives 32 percent of the publishing royalties and 25 percent of ASCAP’s songwriting royalties. The rest is divided equally among the band members and the group’s first manager, Bill Collins. Ham’s estate receives an annual income of about $150,000 unless something unusual happens, as when Mariah Carey covered “Without You” in 1994—Ham’s estate received more than half a million dollars that year.
It looks like 2013 will be another “unusual” year! It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.
Have a listen to “Baby Blue” on YouTube (or even better, buy it!)