Peter Frampton turned the rock music world upside down in 1976 with the release of the massively successful Frampton Comes Alive. The record sold eight million copies, stayed at number one for 17 weeks and continues to be the biggest selling live record to date with over 16 million units sold worldwide. The theories as to why the record was so successful are numerous, but the fact remains Frampton served up optimistic, uplifting, fun music that captivated music fans and non-music fans alike. More importantly, there was a face behind the music, one that exuded charm, as well as boyish good looks. But ironically, this was the very thing Frampton was trying to escape.
Peter Frampton was a member of the ‘60s teenybopper group, The Herd, who had made somewhat of a splash in their native England. But it was Frampton who was singled out as “the face of 68” by the British press. Annoyed that his good looks were overshadowing his artistic credibility, Frampton left the group and quickly formed the rock outfit Humble Pie with ex-Small Faces vocalist Steve Marriott. After two lackluster albums the group joined forces with manager Dee Anthony and A&M Records (both would figure prominently in Frampton’s future) to release two successful records in Humble Pie and Rock On. Frampton left Humble Pie in 1971 on the eve of the release of the band’s fifth and best-selling album, the live Rockin’ The Fillmore.
Sensing something special in Frampton, Anthony and A&M boss Jerry Moss signed the young guitarist, a decision that neither would regret. With A&M, Frampton released four studio albums, Wind Of Change, Frampton’s Camel, Somethin’s Happening and Frampton which along with Comes Alive followup, I’m In You have been re-mastered and reissued to disc for the first time. Fans unfamiliar with these records will discover that many of Frampton’s finest moments unfortunately didn’t make it to Frampton Comes Alive.
Wind Of Change, Frampton’s debut solo effort, gave him an opportunity to spread his wings-to make music his way. But finding an audience would prove difficult. With post Love-generation rock fans aligning with the harder-edged acts of the day like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad, the record went virtually unnoticed as would subsequent releases, Frampton’s Camel and Somethin’s Happening. However, the record introduced Frampton’s patented swirling guitar sound that combined Leslie speakers and a generous amount of echo, while demonstrating his prowess as ace songwriter as well; showcasing his ability to write rich, melodic soft rock tunes within the framework of his jazz/rock influences. The sound and the songwriting formula would go without change for his next three records.
Wind Of Change features a wealth of outstanding tunes. The title track is classic Frampton, soft, mellow open-tuned acoustic guitar behind Frampton’s soulful vocals. “All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)” is a soft-rock masterpiece featuring Frampton’s bluesy, atmospheric guitar lines, followed by the rocker “It’s A Plain Shame” and an interesting arrangement of the Stones’ classic, “Jumping Jack Flash.”
“Fig Tree Bay” is quite possibly one of Frampton’s most beautiful compositions balancing powerful but haunting rhythm guitar with perfectly crescendoed orchestration and warm, melodic lead passages. Then there are couple of fine acoustic ballads in “The Lodger” and “Lady Lieright” that owes more than a passing nod to George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun.” Rounding out this great record is an all-star collaboration on the gospel-tinged “Alright” that opens with a signature Billy Preston piano line and also features heavyweights Ringo Starr and Klaus Voorman.
Frampton’s Camel features two would-be classics in the gut-wrenching ballad, “Lines On My Face” that features haunting Wurlitzer piano and Frampton’s stellar guitar passages. Then there is the Frampton staple, the marathon crowd-pleaser “Do You Feel Like We Do” that contains nary a trace of talk box effect. But the rest of the record boasts some real gems, like the Steely Dan-ish “I Got My Eyes On You,” “I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)” and the boogie-rocker “White Sugar.” Once again, Frampton’s talent for writing romantic acoustic numbers is most evident on songs like “All Night Long,” and “Which Way The Wind Blows” with it’s somber verses and spirited Hammond B-3 textures.
If there is a pre-Comes Alive set that could be deemed weak it would be his third outing, Somethin’s Happening. Even though songs like “Doobie Wah,” “I Wanna Go To The Sun” and the good-time, piano-infused “Baby (Somethin’s Happening)“are excellent songs, there is little else on the record that exhibits the enthusiasm and creativity of his two previous records. The melancholy mood of “Waterfall” and the acoustic “Golden Goose” do their best bolster the record, but to no avail. If Somethin’s Happening did everything it could to break Frampton’s spirit, his eponymous fourth record would be the harbinger of great things to come.
Frampton is easily his best and most inspired studio release. The record achieved gold status while charting at #32. Unfortunately it’s exit from the charts was as quick as it’s entrance. The record featured what would be Frampton’s two biggest hits in “Show Me The Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way.” Interestingly enough the two songs were written in the same day and with their release on Comes Alive would chart at #6 and #12 respectively. Frampton’s guitar virtuosity comes alive on the beautiful acoustic instrumental piece, “Penny For Your Thoughts” and the hard-driving, “(I’ll Give) You Money.”
The deep cuts on Frampton are many. From the classic acoustic number “One More Time,” and “Fanfare” to the hooky rock of “Nowhere’s Too Far (For My Baby),” Frampton proved that he was not done yet.
The success of Frampton Comes Alive made recording a follow-up a daunting task. First of all Frampton needed a break. The incessant touring in support of Comes Alive had left him a mental and physical wreck. A&M’s insistence that he jump back into the studio would prove a huge mistake. I’m In You wasn’t the kind of record that Frampton’s fans were waiting for. The expectation was of an album that exemplified the raw energy and excitement of Comes Alive. Instead fans were treated to an album of subpar tunes that, without question, lacked the creativity of his earlier records.
I’m In You does have its moments. The title track is an excellent ballad that gave Frampton his highest charting single when it went to #2. He also covered the Stevie Wonder hit, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” that gave him another top 20 hit. But aside from “(Putting My) Heart On The Line” and perhaps “(I’m A) Roadrunner,” there is nothing special about the rest of the record.
Although shortly after I’m In You, Frampton would fall from grace due to drug problems, a failed relationship, a near-fatal car accident, the disastrous Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band movie and financial insolvency, the ‘90s would find him clawing his way back into the hearts of old fans while gathering new converts.
If you think that Peter Frampton is just a footnote in rock’s illustrious history, think again. He is history personified and continues to make it with each sale of Frampton Comes Alive. But it was the quality of his earlier offerings that made that record a viable possibility. Frampton Comes Alive was an historic moment in time, but it’s 14 songs only scratch the surface of Peter Frampton’s prolific body of work. Further investigation into his earlier solo material will leave the listener wondering how these great songs could have ever been overlooked in the first place.
// Notes from the Road
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