“If there ever was a musician who was an honorary member of San Francisco society, Mr. Peter Frampton!” The earnest intro from Winterland Ballroom general manager, Jerry Pompili, remains as iconic as the classic album cover depicting the rising “golden god” in all his glory — live onstage.
Having first struck out in 1966, fronting the British rock combo, the Herd, singer/songwriter and guitarist, Peter Frampton, formed the high-octane, blues-based band, Humble Pie, with singer/songwriter and guitarist, Steve Marriot, in 1968. By 1971, the 21-year-old London native felt ready to spread his creative wings further — signing to A&M Records and launching his career as a solo artist.
Frampton’s 1972 debut set, Wind of Change, stalled at #177 on the Billboard Top 200. His next two studio efforts, Frampton’s Camel (1973) and Somethin’s Happening (1974), also met with minimal fanfare. However, following three years of extensive touring, Frampton’s fortunes improved a smidge when his fourth slab, Frampton, reached #32 on the Billboard chart.
Although his record sales were beginning to bubble a bit, Frampton found himself in something of a professional tight spot. An item in Billboard indicated that the (then) 25-year-old musician was $300,000 in debt by the summer of ’75. But he’d been cementing a solid rep on the U.S. concert circuit, while the label “suits” grew impatient — pressuring him to “deliver.” Six months later, Peter Frampton finally did deliver — in spades.
Only a select few rock records can be described as truly “magical.” But “magical” describes Frampton Comes Alive! perfectly. And to suggest that Frampton’s release merely struck a chord with a global audience would be an enormous understatement.
Recorded during three different 1975 performances (Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco / Long Island Arena, New York / Plattsburgh’s Memorial Hall, New York), the budget-priced double-LP captured all the energy, charisma and world-class songs Frampton had become known for as a live solo artist over the last four years.
Produced by Frampton, the 14-track collection debuted at a dismal #191 on Billboard when it was released in January 1976. However, by April, Frampton Comes Alive! was the #1 album in America. In fact, Frampton rocketed so far into rock’s stratosphere at such a death-defying rate, in the summer of ’76, he even had his own Slurpee cup at 7/11 — I had one!
Despite Frampton’s “poster boy” looks, genuine charm and the record’s appealing packaging, what made Frampton Comes Alive! an instant sensation and a decades-long classic were the songs. Sandwiched frequently on Top 40 playlists between “Junk Food Junkie” and “Afternoon Delight,” the lead-off single, “Show Me the Way,” slashed through car radio speakers like aural beams of golden sunshine — brimming with an engaging ching-a-ling and an infectious sing-along chorus. And seemingly overnight, Frampton had scored a major Top Ten hit single. Organic and irresistible, the Fender Rhodes-fueled ballad, “Baby, I Love Your Way,” followed suit, reaching #12 on Casey’s Countdown in short order.
Driven by Frampton’s soon-to-be signature talk box guitar effect, the mammoth arena anthem, “Do You Feel Like We Do” was the album’s third single. Edited from its original 14-minute album running time to a (slightly) more radio-friendly 7-minute version, the song hit #10 on Billboard that fall. Doo-Yoo-Feeel… Like I Doo?
It can be argued though, that the album’s “other” tracks were equally (or more) captivating than the hits. Owning a rib-cracking riff and piano-charged fire, “Something’s Happening” was a crunchy, satisfying opener, while “Doobie Wah” was a bouncy, familiar-feeling, funky delight.
The adoring audiences play a prominent role throughout — providing the record’s beauty and creating its authenticity — becoming “one” with Frampton — serving as a spiritual extension of the songs. In that regard, Frampton’s faithful flock takes the reigns on the transparent, acoustic standout cut, “All I Want to Be (Is by Your Side)” — All I wanna be-ee-ee, is… BY-YOUR-SIDE!
The raucous rendition of the Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” makes for another of the many mighty highlights. However, I will contend completely, without fear of contradiction, that anyone who experiences Frampton Comes Alive! and doesn’t recognize the soaring seven-minute epic, “Lines on My Face,” as THE “magic” moment of the record, may have been born without a heart, or a soul, or even a pulse.
The live concert shots placed inside the album’s gatefold cover of Frampton, along with guitarist/keyboardist Bob Mayo, bassist Stanley Sheldon and drummer John Siomos are (still) groovy, indeed. And the insightful liner notes penned by (then) teenage Rolling Stone staff writer, Cameron Crowe, provided the spark to my own future writing ambitions.
Honest and pure vocals, blistering musicianship and master songwriting — the key components that have made Peter Frampton a rock legend. Frampton Comes Alive! would become the #1 album of 1976, as well as ranking in the Top 20 for 1977. It since has sold in excess of 11 million copies. Now, 45 years later, it remains a timeless treasure.
Frampton Comes Alive! Track Listing:
1. Introduction/Something’s Happening – 5:54
2. Doobie Wah – 5:28
3. Show Me the Way – 4:42
4. It’s a Plain Shame – 4:21
1. All I Want to Be (Is by Your Side) – 3:27
2. Wind of Change – 2:47
3. Baby, I Love Your Way – 4:43
4. I Wanna Go to the Sun – 7:02
1. Penny for Your Thoughts – 1:23
2. (I’ll Give You) Money – 5:39
3. Shine On – 3:35
4. Jumpin’ Jack Flash – 7:45
1. Lines on My Face – 7:06
2. Do You Feel Like We Do – 14:15
Run Time: 78:06
Release Date: January 6, 1976
Record Label: A&M