Where were you in 1976? Some of you weren’t born but if you were alive then, you heard songs from Frampton Comes Alive! on the radio every hour. The year of our Bicentennial, Frampton Comes Alive! was released in February 1976 and by summer, it was all over the radio and PF was everywhere in concert. PF seemed like an overnight success with this live album but he had been around for a few years, as a member of Humble Pie, and then as a solo artist. His live album featured songs from his solo albums that were okay sellers but not a predictor of the meteoric success of Frampton Comes Alive!
By a weird quirk of fate, today I picked up a DVD copy of The “Midnight Special,” that show from the 1970s that featured a variety of musical acts, and was later hosted by Wolfman Jack. I mention this show because on the first DVD was a performance by Peter Frampton, playing one of the songs from “Frampton Comes Alive!” that would be a huge hit. I started writing this blog only a few minutes before watching the DVD. You might recall that PF featured something called a talkbox on that album that made his voice sound funny. As a bonus feature on the DVD, PF talked about how he came to use the talkbox (he was introduced to it while playing on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” sessions). PF also talks about how the live album came to be.
Last week I saw Peter Frampton in concert at Starlight Theater in Kansas City, in what will likely be a year of touring as the 40 year anniversary of the live album approaches. “Baby, I Love Your Way”, “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Show Me the Way” were the top hits from the album that sold more than 8 million copies. A few years ago, while PF was doing his 35 year anniversary of the live album, I saw him at Johnson County Community College, which is only a few blocks from my house. PF played two sets, the first was the entire “Frampton Comes Alive!” album and the second set was a mixture of his solo and Humble pie hits. The cool thing was that he was recording each show on the tour, and at the end of the concert produced CDs of that concert, available for purchase at the end of the concert. And, as his tour bus was parked out in the lot, we met him and got my old “Frampton Comes Alive” album signed. How sweet is that?
Opening for PF at Starlight was Cheap Trick, who also had a huge selling live album in the late 1970s, “Live at Budokan”, with the big hits “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That A Shame.” Producing radio-friendly singles in the 1970s and 1980s, Cheap Trick worked with Beatles producer George Martin on a series of very commercially successful albums. Riding the waves of changing musical tastes over the decades, Cheap Trick has remained true to their hard-rocking roots and is an amazing live act with superb musicianship honed over four decades of touring. One minute they can sing sweet-sounding Beatlesque ballads and the next song will have a heavy riff and blistering guitar solo.
Both PF and Cheap Trick have continued to release new material over the years and tour extensively. PF even won a Grammy a few years back for his instrumental album. Fans show up mainly to hear the hits, but these two bands are not oldies, coasting on their long ago successes. Yes, they feature their greatest commercial albums but they do so with incredible energy and gives the songs a little something extra.
I love to write about music and film, especially from my youth. The late 1970s was a great time, I was in college, this was post Watergate and before the hostages in Iran, and life seemed much less complicated. The biggest threat to our country was the introduction of the leisure suit and popularity of disco.