Peter Frampton’s defining moment in rock history would ironically become the proverbial millstone around his neck for most of the last quarter of the last century. Frampton Comes Alive!, the live album to end all live albums, sold 16 million copies and made Frampton a household name and a bona fide rock star. For Frampton himself, the attention and expectations that accompanied such success would be something he would never quite recover from.
Frampton’s prime material as the quintessential ‘70s rock star has been well represented in various compilations and re-issues of his solo albums. This new anthology attempts to place Frampton’s solo achievements in the context of his overall history and thus rather interestingly includes songs from his pre-solo career.
Chronologically, Frampton’s first brush with fame took place in the mid-1960s with Herd, a teenybopper group (that’s “boy band” in modern parlance), his dashing good looks earning Frampton the dubious accolade of “Face of 1968”.
Thus, Anthology, opens with the jaunty orchestral ditty pop hit “From the Underworld” which is strongly evocative of the Kinks/Small Faces material of the time. The somewhat poppy focus of the Herd probably accounted for Frampton’s decision to form Humble Pie with ex-Small Faces mainman Steve Marriott.
It was with Humble Pie that Frampton’s songwriting skill and guitar wizardry developed and this growth was evident on the group’s premiere LP, As Safe As Yesterday Is. After three more albums, Town and Country, Humble Pie and Rock On, Frampton decided to leave the group as Marriott’s raw blues shouting began to dominate and Frampton’s role in the band he co-founded gradually diminished even as 1971’s commercial breakthrough Performance - Rockin’ the Fillmore, began to race up the album charts.
Anthology highlights a good five tracks from this era “Natural Born Woman”, “Live with Me”, “Shine On”, “Stone Cold Fever” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor (Live)” all representative of the Pie’s penchant for bluesy boogie rock. Viewed in the harsh light of the 21st century, most of these songs appear almost Neolithic compared to both Frampton and Marriott’s previous ‘60s power pop leanings. Nonetheless, these inclusions serve to provide a clearer picture of Frampton’s musical development during this period of his career.
Which is just as well because as is evident from his solo material, it is obvious that Frampton parleyed what he learned from his days with the Herd and Humble Pie to fine-tune a pop-savvy rock-heavy style with a popular appeal that would explode with Comes Alive.
Frampton’s first three albums (Wind of Change (1971), Frampton’s Camel (1973) and Somethin’s Happening (1974)) were building the foundations of a solid fan base—Frampton’s electric “live” performances enhanced his reputation and eventually the hard work paid off. The release in 1975 of Frampton went gold.
All the best stuff from these four albums are featured here well crafted melodic rock and pop numbers that also showcased Frampton’s excellent guitar technique. Wisely, the compilers left most of Comes Alive! out of this collection focusing instead on Frampton’s signature song, “Show Me the Way”, resplendent with its “talking” guitar riff. When folks speak of the wonder of ‘70s rock, this one incandescent moment is probably ‘it’ even if it also spawned the likes of Journey, Foreigner et al.
For Peter Frampton, the success of Comes Alive! would be impossible to repeat, even though the follow-up studio albums—I’m In You and Where I Should Be managed gold sales, his star was waning. Even though the latter singles “I’m in You”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” and “I Can’t Stand It No More” remain inviting slabs of precocious pop craft.
By the time of Frampton’s ill-fated participation (with the Bee Gees) in the disastrous rock musical, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band based on the famous Beatles album, the writing was on the wall.
Despite the superficial elements of Frampton’s image and dalliance with megastardom, Frampton was in his prime a consummate musician and lived for the highs he received from playing on stage. This well-conceived compilation bears this fact out and should be appreciated from that perspective.
// Notes from the Road
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