Unforeseen sales in Australia for his 1977 LP (helped no end by a number one single) proved enough for the independent Ring-O Records to keep vocalist Graham Bonnet on their books. Eager to capitalise on this success, a follow up was recorded and released relatively quickly. Although ‘Graham Bonnet’ had been a largely patchy affair, compared to 1978’s ‘No Bad Habits’, it was a potential masterpiece.
Since Bonnet had struck gold with his version of ‘It’s All Over Baby Blue’ a year previously, there seemed little point in messing with a winning formula, and so his new album, too, began with a Bob Dylan cover. This time, it was the turn of ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ to receive Bonnet’s soft rock treatment. If ‘Baby Blue’ could be described as somewhat of an acquired taste with regard to Bonnet’s vision of a Dylan classic, it turned out well enough. ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, despite so many good intentions, fares less well. A pumping bass and jangly guitars help to provide the basis of one of the worst renditions of the song ever. With a hefty dose of cod funk and occasional hints of a hoe-down, it sounds like any number of seventies pop bands having an excruciatingly bad day. This alone would be bad enough, but it’s then embellished with synth drums (then at the height of fashion) and Bonnet over-singing everything really, really badly. This second attempt proves that when it comes to re-working the songs of Bob Dylan in a timeless and enjoyable manner, Graham Bonnet’s attempts languish somewhere near the bottom of the pile.
Unbelievable as it may seem, this is swiftly followed by something much worse. ‘Won’t You Join Me’ fuses (very) soft rock with a militaristic marching beat. The opening drum sounds could easily be that of a marching band, while the addition of extra instruments adds nothing of any real interest. The guitars are limp, the keyboards ugly and Bonnet sounds truly awful. It’s like a bad piss-take of some light entertainers performing a musical skit on The Children’s Royal Variety Performance. It’s a track that once you’ve heard it, you’re likely to skip it on all subsequent listens; but better still – don’t listen to it at all. The big power ballad, ‘Is There a Way To Sing The Blues’, proves a vast musical improvement, particularly so in the piano department, where Lance Dixon has a fair amount of presence. That piano is joined by a solid bass and occasional country-tinged steel guitar to create something which, although very of its time, isn’t anywhere near as nasty it could have turned out. Even Bonnet has a couple of moments where he stops over-singing long enough to sound like an accomplished rock vocalist.
Just as it seems the album is beginning to find its feet, Bonnet wheels out another cover; one which could have yielded another embarrassing result. How he decided that ‘Can’t Complain’ (previously recorded by John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett) would be suitable for his style is anyone’s guess, yet somehow, he attacks the song with a vigour which sort of works for him. Bonnet shouts his way through the chorus in a manner which certainly makes an impression (good or bad depends entirely on the listener) while Pip Williams’s acoustic and electric guitars drive the short number along fairly merrily. What could have been an unmitigated disaster only ends up sounding like a pub band trying a little too hard. It’s hardly enough to suggest that it’s one of the album’s best numbers, of course, but for all its faults, it’s still a hundred times better than either ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ or ‘Won’t You Join Me’ – the latter, possibly, being one of the worst things recorded by anyone, ever.
Showing a lot of musical talent, a cover of Robin Gibb’s ‘Warm Ride’ – a tune originally scheduled for inclusion on the world conquering misogynistic disco flick Saturday Night Fever – rolls along with some tight funk, with the synthy sounding bassline very much powering everything. Although an obvious by-product of 1978, it’s hard to find fault with the result and even without the Bee Gees natural flair for a sassy harmony, Bonnet’s slightly gravelly delivery acts as a superb contrast with the music. A smooth pop ballad ‘Is There A Way To Sing The Blues’ is an obvious throwback to the previous album sessions, casting Bonnet as 70s pop idol. While the resulting tune might have been more suited to David Cassidy and decades on sounds too saccharine for words, as far as AM radio pop goes, it’s fine…and reaching the bigger notes during the climax, Bonnet at least sounds comfortable.
Closing the first side – presumably at the suggestion of Pip Williams – comes a reasonably rousing cover of Status Quo’s ‘(I’m) Giving Up My Worryin’’, which was also recorded by The Quo themselves during the same year. Bonnet suits Quo’s no frills style and his band of session guys also sound rather more at home on such material. On this album’s only truly memorable cut, Francis Rossi’s knack for writing an instantly likeable chorus shines through, subsequently putting the other nine numbers to shame. Since Quo producer Pip Williams is all over this record, maybe Mr. Bonnet ought to have asked Rossi to write (or at least donate) a couple more tunes… There’s no question about it, that would have helped no end.
Although there’s potentially one more reasonable number to be heard in the album closer ‘Cold Lady’, the second half of the album proves to be just as lacking in quality and consistency as the first, opening with a pair of songs written by John Kongos. ‘Pyramid’ is a fey slice of seventies pop which sounds like a David Essex reject. The multi-layered vocal is well arranged and the slide guitars and plinky guitar solo lend a certain seventies appeal, but overall, it’s bereft of any real substance. ‘Only You Can Lift Me’ fares much better, despite its core tune being dangerously close to cod-reggae. On what is one of the album’s better offerings (though that’s hardly difficult), Bonnet is in fine voice throughout – and it’s one of the few times on the album he manages to restrain his voice to fit the arrangement. Despite best efforts, Bonnet is wholly outshone by a simple, slightly reverbed lead guitar, once again played by producer Pip Williams. That guitar provides just enough entertainment to sustain the four and a half minutes, provided you can make it past the Hammond organ pumping out a reggae beat and the presence of some unashamedly easy-listening female backing harmonies.
After that, Bonnet yelps and growls his way through ‘Stand Still Stella’, a two minute rock ‘n’ roll ditty which is best avoided. There’s a reasonable sax solo midway, but it doesn’t balance out the other awfulness. Overall, for something so short, it feels as if it drags on forever. When you’ve convinced yourselves it couldn’t get any worse, the band whips out ‘High School Angel’, a Bonnet-penned fifties pastiche in the style of ‘Earth Angel’ and ‘Tears On My Pillow’. Since it’s an ode to wanting a high-school girl, it’s already cringe-worthy in the extreme, but perhaps worse, it includes the lines “You’re a woman not a child, no uniform can hide”, “You are the light and I am the power” and the deeply unpleasant pay-off line “You need a man, not a boy”. Not even old-school musical slants and another half-decent sax solo can save this from being…questionable.
Bonnet finishes this collection of musical misfits with the aforementioned ‘Cold Lady’, a good old boogie rocker with a slightly Status Quo air. Presumably some of The Quo’s influence rubbed off on him during his time producing albums for the seminal English rockers but, naturally, it’s no match for Francis Rossi’s earlier composition. It’s a suitably upbeat way to end things, though, just managing to remove the foul, foul aftertaste of ‘Stand Still Stella’ and ‘High School Angel’. It may be better, but it’s not essential listening by any stretch of the imagination.
‘No Bad Habits’ plummets to new depths as far as “a difficult album” is concerned. The Quo and Bee Gees covers are true standouts and a couple of other tracks resemble reasonable pop fare, but it’s an album that’s truly for the most forgiving fans only. Looking back, it’s easy to spot why it was coupled with ‘Graham Bonnet’ and released at mid price when it got its first UK CD release in 2016: between the two albums, there’s definitely a decent LP to be compiled.
As with the UK CD edition of ‘Graham Bonnet’, HNE Records left no stone unturned when it came to adding bonus tracks to ‘No Bad Habits’ in 2016. Bizarrely, a couple of these are better than the songs that made the final cut. A single edit of ‘Only You Can Lift Me’ offers a more succinct version of Graham in cod reggae mode, and given that Paul Nicholas and others had scored big hits with similar fare, looking back, it’s easy to see why Ring-O Records figured Graham might also get some top 40 action. For the Bee Gees obsessive and dyed in the wool disco freak, two extended versions of ‘Warm Ride’ are offered – and while they merely extend the familiar album cut in slightly different ways (a 12” version is naturally longer; a “disco mix” beefs up the rhythm for a little extra buoyancy) – they’re nice to have for completeness’s sake.
Two album outtakes are of much greater interest. ‘10/12 Situation’ casts Bonnet in the mould of 70s lounge pop singer and although the end results at first sound a little Manilow-esque, a bigger chorus occasionally veers further towards one of Pilot’s grand ballads which, naturally, presents the stronger side of the performer’s voice, while shiny guitar chords and a wibbly keyboard merrily go about their business. A second big ballad, ‘Such A Shame’ allows Bonnet full vocal range and in a couple of places his future voice becomes clear, even if this has no real connection with his soon-to-be successful career in rock, musically speaking. This track has no shame when it comes to tapping into the easy listening market, but even so, the strings are masterfully arranged and even if the style isn’t cool, everything about the recording is technically perfect. Substituting ‘Stand Still Stella’ or ‘High School Angel’ for either of these off-cuts would have made ‘No Bad Habits’ a much better album.
A lack of promotion i\n 1978 meant that ‘No Bad Habits’ failed to make any impact in the UK, but scored Bonnet another big hit in Australia, presumably based on lots of goodwill after the debut release. Although well received in the southern hemisphere, Bonnet’s career wasn’t really on fire elsewhere by the end of 1978, but things were about to change – and in a very big way. In 1979, he replaced Ronnie James Dio in the very popular rock band Rainbow. How Ritchie Blackmore decided on Bonnet as a replacement for one of rock’s finest talents based on a couple of pop-driven LPs is somewhat of a mystery. However, despite not initially looking (or even always sounding) the part, Graham Bonnet fronted Rainbow for that year’s ‘Down To Earth’ album, which spawned two of the band’s biggest hits. That album remains Bonnet’s crowning glory; a release which deservedly propelled the once work-a-day vocalist to international stardom and scored a headline appearance at the first Monsters of Rock festival. From then on, regardless of the relative paucity of genuinely classic material on this solo release, Graham Bonnet’s place in the rock history books was more than secure…
[‘No Bad Habits’ was reissued in 2020 as part of the Cherry Red Records/HNE Recordings box set ‘Graham Bonnet – The Solo Albums 1974-1992’. While there isn’t much to recommend this 1978 LP as a stand-alone purchase, when presented as part of a larger body of work, it becomes far more interesting from an historical perspective. The version of the CD in the box set retains all of the previous bonus materials.]
Read a review of ‘Graham Bonnet’ here.
July 2011/December 2018/September 2020