Reviews

Peter Frampton

Steven Ward
Peter Frampton

Peter Frampton

City: New Orleans
Venue: House of Blues
Date: 2003-09-14
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If British journeyman guitarist/singer Peter Frampton's commercial apex was a 1976 live album, one would assume that seeing Frampton on stage might represent the ultimate milestone connection between artist and fan. In fact, that 1976 live album -- Frampton Comes Alive -- was the old record that popped into the heads of fans when Frampton broke out all his hit singles at the House of Blues in New Orleans Sunday night. Think about that for a second. Peter Frampton may be the only artist in rock history whose songs are known by fans from a live album. I'm sure the majority of fans in the club that night could not name the actual studio albums -- by Frampton's Camel -- from which "Show Me the Way", "Baby, I Love Your Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do" originally came. It's O.K. That's nothing more than an interesting factoid about Frampton, not necessarily a criticism. I can't name them either. But classic rock radio has made sure we all know the songs. And all of them were played at the House of Blues Sunday night. Frampton and his band -- keyboardist/guitarist Bob Mayo, drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist John Regan -- started out the night with the first song on Frampton's most recent CD, Now. "Verge of a Thing" is a solid rocker that showcases both Frampton's guitar-playing prowess and his penchant for pop-rock light vocals. After that, the band launched into an '80s hit single -- "Lying" from Frampton's criminally underrated 1986 record, Premonition. But that's when Frampton's classic rock sheen started to get buffed up a bit. Like or it not, "Lying" was a sign of the times when it was released in the '80s. The recorded song was powered by a driving synth bass and thick and electric synth chords from session keyboardist Richard Cottle. But the live version only featured Mayo's minor sounding electric piano via a Korg keyboard. The sound was weak. "Lying" also suffered from Frampton either skipping lyrics altogether or being out of breath to sing all of them. There were vocal gaps in the song that made it all sound forced and uncomfortable. But again, the fans did show up to hear "Lying". They showed up to hear the classics, which is exactly what Frampton switched to for the third song. First, Frampton played beautiful and tastefully jazzy lines on his trademark black Gibson Les Paul. The fans in the crowd lit up as Mayo's electric piano followed for the mesmerizing introduction to "Lines on My Face". One of four hit singles from Frampton's Frampton Comes Alive, "Lines on My Face" is a true Frampton classic that deserves the attention it gets from fans. Frampton slipped in some other new songs from Now -- a truly great album and one of Frampton's strongest since the late '70s -- including "Love Stands Alone", which showed off Frampton's intense guitar soloing near the end of the song. Frampton's guitar playing is never show-offy like a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. It's more of a slow burning flash -- like Neil Young's slashing away on his own black Gibson Les Paul. In fact, the only thing that bothered me about Frampton's playing on this song was that, while soloing, he was facing to his right -- toward bassist Regan -- instead of facing the audience. He did the same thing during the ending solo of "Lying". Sorry Peter, but I want to see you playing your instrument. It's a wonder to see, if you get a chance. By the time Frampton got to "Show Me the Way" and "Baby, I Love Your Way", the crowd was practically doing all the singing for Frampton. The versions were letter-perfect, as if someone were blasting an FM classic rock radio station from the back of the club. But by the time Frampton started blowing into the tube attached to his microphone -- a device known as the "guitar talk box" -- Frampton's radio friendly histrionics started to get a little tiring. The song and playing was energetic but Frampton squawked a little too much on the talk box, dragging out the effect and even calling it -- only half jokingly -- "a cheap effect." Still, the 12-song, hour and forty minute show was fun and I finally had a chance to see Frampton do what he does best: play the guitar.In the end, that's what Frampton should be remembered for.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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