Peter Frampton is retiring, and once again I’m going through the process of losing close touch with a favorite artist and contributor to my musical history. “Frampton Comes Alive” was a seminal album on so many levels — a double album priced like a single LP (a big deal when you measured album purchases in allowance quanta), the album that converted me into a live music fan for life, the source of work and family vernacular that has survived 40 years, and the left bracket of my adulthood. It was, and is, equal parts the soundtrack to the throes of puberty and a trailer for the next forty years of concert experiences, from the middle school gym to Madison Square Garden.
After FCA, Frampton continued to weave in and out over the next decade —I’m in You was one of the songs we couldn’t avoid while driving up and down Long Beach Boulevard, air drumming the last pre-chorus in what would later be In The Air Tonight imitation; the pre-internet coverage of his motorcycle accident that seemed to push his career to the back burner; the Bee Gees and Frampton adaptation of “Sgt Pepper” that should have been mocked in “This is Spinal Tap.” And then, magically, frantically, Frampton went on tour again, first with David Bowie and later fronting his own band. A piece of post-childhood that was not only vintage but cool again, and finally I had the time, money and renewed interest to enjoy. Because that’s what a Frampton show is — pure musical enjoyment.
He continues to demonstrate his remarkable energy and channels every bit of raucousness from “Frampton Comes Alive” — his “Guitar Circus” performance with BB King in Atlantic City was an audience with rock royalty, and hthe opening set on the last “vintage Yes” tour transported me right back to the 1970s. When your adult, musically talented children tell you the guy can play, you have discharged your musical parental duties.
But for now, it’s 1976, I’m in eighth grade just months removed from my Bar Mitzvah, one of the coolest girls in our class has a huge “Frampton” banner in her locker, and “Frampton Comes Alive” is the steep include of my rock and roll learning curve. For a decibel metered indicator of just how socially clueless I was in 8th grade, I thought the “Frampton” signage was a college pennant. That thought turned out to be prescient for entirely personal reasons of a musical and not classical education.
Just about every song on FCA stimulates a memory:
Something’s Happening Like most teenagers of the 70s, I bought the album on the momentum of the two radio singles, then dropped Side 1 on my turntable and was hit with a rocker. My rule at the time was to listen to every new album all the way through, and then I reverted to listening to favorite tracks. A year after I bought it, I remember riding the bus to high school every morning listening to Something’s Happening spilling, tinny and distorted but still with a discernible pulse, from Oscar’s portable cassette player. It made me go back and listen to the whole album repeatedly, which further impressed just what amazing chops Frampton and his band brought to live performance. Sadly, Oscar was killed in a car accident over spring break, and years later I still associate this song with his incredibly happy, rock out every morning attitude. It’s a good way to start your commute.
Doobie Wah In between songs Frampton shouts out “Hello, San Francisco,” a greeting I repeated for a quarter century of airplane commuting from EWR to SFO. I’m not sure any of my seat mates got it, but it was a comforting cadence. Also great live versions in “Guitar Circus” tour shows.
Show Me The Way It’s the song that made Frampton the talk (box) of Clifton T Barkalow school. It introduced me to effects pedals (took me years to figure out how the plastic tube on a talk box acts as a voltage controlled oscillator, but that’s a useful side effect of the effect). The first of several cover bands to emerge from our class — “Hot Sun” — covered it at our 8th grade dance and the indelible mental mark was left. It’s insanely hot in a non air conditioned gym, for some reason the school photographer thinks it’s amusing to have the nerdy guys lift the six foot subs from Sorrentos for a photo op, and we are all shown the way, out of middle school, into young adulthood. To this day, the song transports me back to Italian subs and concerts at the fire station.
All I Wanna Be There’s some superb guitar playing on this one, and the firecracker in the middle of the song set personal precedence for years of glow stick wars at Phish shows, mosh pits and crowd surfing in smaller venues.
Baby I Love Your Way Years later I discovered the “Nassau Intro” to this song and its backstory, which illuminated the song writing process. One of the few Frampton songs that’s been covered.
Money The FCA version is good but not earth shattering. This became a live favorite of mine when Frampton and his touring guitarists went deep into trading measures, building lick upon lick and call and response that echoed everything good about blues tinged rock. If FCA has a fleet of jam vehicles, they start with Money and progress through Jumpin’ Jack Flash right into the ultimate Do You Feel closer.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash Red faced admission: It took FCA to get me into the Rolling Stones, and it was this cover of their hit that opened the door. Another song with some great solo work.
Lines On My Face My favorite Frampton song. Hearing him open a small venue show in Morristown with this just made me smile ear to ear. The cymbal work is subtle, the guitar parts swirl with the right mix of chorus and phase shifter, and the lyrics are among Frampton’s most complex.
Do You Feel Like We Do The first rock song I shared with my father (still a performing multi-reed player, who got me into jazz, improvisation, Klezmer and marching band music) — something that would be played out a generation later as my son introduced me to Coheed and Cambria, Dance Gavin Dance, TesseracT and many other bands while I took him to see Yes, Frampton, Rush and Stanley Jordan. Best band introduction ever: “Bob Mayo, on keyboards, Bob Mayo!” The unedited, purely fun and mildly puerile vocal jam from the “Live in Detroit” concert. At Bethel Woods, Frampton tracked a beach ball through the crowd with “bouncy, bouncy ball,” which has worked its way into our goofy family lexicon. The talk box proves that you can make almost anything funny with enough signal processing — the electronic equivalent of helium — and also gives a talent voice artist an opportunity to use his voice as an expression pedal. The artistry involved is up there with Annie Haslam’s syllabic, wordless singing on Prologue and later made me appreciate Travis Stever’s solo on Coheed and Cambria’s Final Cut. The arpeggios that lead from the talk box solo to the outro are some of the most joyful, simple playing you’ll ever hear. That’s Frampton in 24 bars. It’s why this album has held up across two generations of musical evolution.
I refuse to admit that Frampton’s retirement tour is the right hand bracket on adulthood; I’m middle aged and still channel my youth through live music and bass guitar lessons marked by poor fretting. But it demarcates a waypoint on the journey, of the travel lines on our collective faces from joy, shouting and singing and strumming along, to one of the longest continuous jams I’ve followed.