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.

LEAVES: Leaf and Stream/Wishbone Ash

There is always going to be an elephant in the room of this theme, what with the sort of leaf and leaves seeming to be of, um, such appeal to musicians and music lovers. And I don't mean tea. So I have deliberately looked away and have not inhaled today, celebrating the more pastoral side. As in ain't nature wonderful, which, of course it is. This too has also provided a rich vein of inspiration, especially in my home land and especially in the more whimsical days of the hippy/folk/prog interface. Wishbone Ash, who would have hated any of those epithets alone, let alone collectively, actually and amply epitomise this union. Songs about a mythical mystical past? Check. Gentle melodies sweetly sung? Check. Rippling, dual lead guitars, playing tunes rather than shredding the notes. Check, double check. All so Game of Thrones, but without any of the troublesome cussing or titties.

Wishbone Ash were the cool band to have an album of tucked under your arm. 'Argus', from which this song is plucked, and/or 'Pilgrimage' seemed to be the peak of teenage dudedom in the early 70s, at least at my school. Not too popular or chart-bothering, a little bit niche, certain to pop up on the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show or in NME, the inky weekly hipster's bible . Yup, I fell for all of this, hook, line and sinker until the great awkwardness of the punk wars came along, sweeping all with hair and melody away in the tsunami of year zero. Which I also loved, transferring my passions, cutting my hair and narrowing my trousers. I don't suppose I ever listened to anything of theirs again. But they didn't go away. Nobody did: they all play on and probably at a theatre near you soon. Ash, as their faithful called them, did better, or was it worse, musical differences, always musical differences, causing them to become 2, or is it 3, bands, each with some claim to the name. Ugliness and the courts intervened and so there are currently at least 2 versions on the road, Wishbone Ash, featuring one original member, Andy Powell, and Martin Turner's band notallowedtobecalledWishboneAsh (which they probably wouldn't be allowed to be called either), which contains, ironically not only Turner, who actually founded the original band, but often also another original member, (no relation) Ted Turner and the long serving drummer of those epochal recordings, Laurie Wisefield. The Powell helmed band have continued to release new material, the Turner version ploughing the classic furrows of yesteryear. Such is life, and I would probably see either band as having equal right to the name and to perform, without, to be fair, me taking the time and trouble to seek out either. (Would either, could either surpass the records?)

Here's the nearest thing to making that decision, a near-unplugged from the official Ash, in 2017, Andy Powell sadly not wielding the flying V that was as much their trademark* as anything else, but it is visible behind him, stacked against the drum podium. (*And maybe why the courts gave him the band?)

And here, from the year before, is Martin Taylor's.

Buy the original, when all is said and done, it is a beautiful song.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Leaves: Simon and Garfunkel: Leaves That Are Green

purchase [ Leaves ]

As the theme generator, I fuss with the Blogger tools to check previously-used themes. I keep my own Excel file of used/unused themes which I try to keep up to date. [It's hard after 20 years]

That means decisions about <fall> or <autumn> or, this time, <leaves> as a substitute to fall, since that is the season.

That said, the first song that came to mind for the <Leaves> theme (considering my age and time-frame) was: Leaves That Are Green, a classic <folk> hit from the 60s that almost qualifies for "pop", but not rock.

The Simon and Garfunkel duo made millions (I trust) from their 60s albums that blurred the boundaries between "[pop] songs your Mom approved of" and the simultaneous raucous rock that was brewing underneath. Theirs was a kind of acceptable pathway to the inevitable cacophany of the latter half of the 70s: "Pop is not so bad/probably OK. If moderated."

I don't mean to take away from their later forays: Garkunkle's <My Home Town> has its high points and verges away from their <folk> format, to some extent.

Simon has done some very positive expositions of alternative [African] vibes - to everyone's benefit. But they [individually and combined] are generally relegated to a status less than they really deserve for what they have given/left us.

I cannot re-create the atmosphere of the mid-60s for you, a time filled with Motown, emerging Stones and Beatles, short-lived acts like Manfred Man, the Monekeys and more.
However, Simon and Garfunkel kept it up - both through the psychedelia (without going down that path) and then for at least another generation ... well a decade or two ..., each in their own way.

Leaves That Are Green .. somewhere between rock and the future ....

Simon & Garfunkel go back far enough that there are visual/video records of their first appearances, and there is one of their earliest <Leaves That Are Green> shows available online.

And .. summer moving into fall - we've got green going to brown.

Enjoy ...