Friday, October 5, 2018

Leaves: All I Want Is To Be (Is By Your Side)

Peter Frampton: All I Want Is To Be (Is By Your Side)

It is far from an original thought to note that Frampton Comes Alive! came out of nowhere. Up until its release, Frampton, a talented guitarist, a passable singer, and a good looking guy with great hair, had experienced some minor fame with various bands, notably The Herd and Humble Pie, and as a sideman, but his pre-Comes Alive! solo career was generally underwhelming. A&M co-founder Jerry Moss had signed Frampton to the label when he was 19, because "He had a cool face, he didn't mind working, and he had a great attitude.” Frampton toured relentlessly and was one of those artists whose songs seem to work better live than on vinyl. And there was the talk-box effect.

So, when he recorded a live album, mostly at the Winterland in San Francisco, but also at the Long Island Arena and SUNY Plattsburgh, there really wasn’t much expected—it was released in January, 1976, after the holiday buying season—and A&M had its collective fingers crossed that it might sell half a million copies and be certified as a gold record. Instead, the album turned into the ultimate “grower.” It charted at No. 51 its second week, then rose to No. 22, No. 6, No. 4 and No. 2, where it stalled throughout March, before hitting No. 1 in April. And it showed staying power, bouncing around the top 10 for the rest of 1976, logging a total of 10 weeks at No. 1, and selling a shocking 6 million copies, which broke Carole King's sales record for Tapestry. Ultimately, it has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.

Why? I’m not really sure. It is not a great album; much of it is really pretty ordinary (which is why his prior solo albums were not big hits). There are a handful of really good rock songs on the album—songs that rocked hard enough, but not too hard to be offensive—filled with hooks and tight playing. As a high school student in 1976, I can tell you that rock radio played the crap out of the record, and it certainly was a part of the soundtrack of my high school years. Mostly, we heard the singles: "Show Me The Way," "Baby, I Love Your Way," and "Do You Feel Like We Do," but some stations went a couple of tracks deeper than that. So, it might just have been a case of the right album at the right time—a solid product, well promoted, that probably became discussed as one of those things that you had to buy, because everyone was buying it--sort of a pre-Internet version of going viral.

In addition to the rockers, a number of the songs on the live album were acoustic, which were included at Moss’ insistence.  They showcased Frampton’s fine playing and made for a nice contrast from the heavier tracks. One of the best of these is “All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side),” originally from his debut solo album. It’s a nice, bluesy, love song, although I find the lyrics a bit confusing—“I don't care if they cut my hair/All I want to be is by your side.” Huh? But it satisfies the theme by being one of approximately a billion songs that mention four leaf clovers. Yeah, I could have gone with the Old 97’s, but I’m trying to write about artists that I haven’t featured before.

Comes Alive! was, by far, the pinnacle of Frampton’s career. His next album, rushed out to capitalize on his new-found superstardom, was generally substandard, marred by a cheesy, cheesecake album cover and a truly sappy title track. It sold reasonably well, but was generally mocked, including by Frank Zappa. He then starred in the critically panned Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film, and was in a serious car accident. A few years later, all his guitars were believed to be destroyed in a cargo plane crash that killed three people, including the black Les Paul Custom that appeared on the cover of Comes Alive! (although it was found years later and returned to him).

Since then, Frampton has released albums, toured with his childhood friend David Bowie (who had been an art student of Frampton's father) and others as a sideman, released an unsuccessful Frampton Comes Alive! II, and has generally stayed active musically, even if most people don’t realize it.  And, like many of us, he no longer has great hair.

I think that it is fair to say that if the universe hadn’t aligned to give Peter Frampton one of the bestselling albums of his era, he’d probably have continued, putting out a series of albums that would have bubbled under the radar of most listeners, maybe occasionally having a radio hit, before being pushed aside from the public consciousness by new generations of musicians, like, say, Foghat, or Pat Travers. That certainly doesn’t mean that they are not good—to the contrary, such artists, including Frampton, are fantastically talented, but still, the incredible, massive,  success of Comes Alive! is an anomaly.

blog comments powered by Disqus