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The Yardbirds - Ultimate


Frampton Comes Alive!
A&M Records 1976
Peter Frampton

Side one:
1. Something’s Happening
2. Doobie Wah
3. Show Me The Way
4. It’s A Plain Shame

Side two:
1. All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)
2. Wind Of Change
3. Baby, I Love Your Way
4. I Wanna Go To The Sun

Side three:
1. Penny For Your Thoughts
2. (I’ll Give You) Money
3. Shine On
4. Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Side four:
1. Lines on My Face
2. Do You Feel Like We Do

Frampton Comes Alive! is still a winner



It’s not often I can pinpoint not just the week or the day, but the exact moment that I first heard a band or a piece of music. But I can point you to roughly March 1997, in the weight room after track practice, when the radio was tuned to 94.1 WHJY out of Providence, R.I. Some weird live track was on, and it sounded like it came out of the 1970s, so I asked a teammate who it was.

“Oh yeah, that’s Peter Frampton. He could make the guitar talk. He’s the best guitarist ever.”

“Peter Frampton is the best guitarist ever? The ‘Baby I Love Your Way’ guy?”

“Oh yeah.”

And there and then was the first time I’d ever heard “Do You Feel Like Like We Do,” but the idea that that was Peter Frampton, or that he would even be in the discussion for best guitarist ever, absolutely blew my mind. At this point, I was getting deep into the guitar heroes of days gone past, including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and the like. But I would have never thought Frampton would enter that company.

By this stage of my nascent musical education, I knew who Frampton was. At least I thought I did. I definitely knew “Baby, I Love Your Way,” which was the kind of soft-rock-radio staple that drove me nuts even then. And he had just been on The Simpsons, but I didn’t really know who he was. I knew Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth, though. Finally, doing some quick math: remembering how old that song felt at the time, and seeing how even more time has passed since then has aged me at least a decade in this moment.[1]

Regardless. I thought I knew what needed to be known, and he was supposed to be a lightweight punchline. What I heard coming through that radio said otherwise.

To look into it today, there’s not much collateral damage left from those early criticisms. Search the man’s name, and his place as a living legend is secure, no matter the hazy requirements of certain halls of fame. Despite his diagnosis of inclusion body myositis, a muscle condition that has impacted his ability to play the guitar, he has been able to continue to record and play shows. And wherever he goes, glowing reviews follow.

So how did it get to the point that he was a punchline? It didn’t help that he was, for lack of a better term, pretty. Frampton Comes Alive! sold more than 6 million copies in 1976 alone, and the open-shirt photo on the cover of the follow-up record I’m In You didn’t help his credibility. Starring in the dreadful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film in 1978 certainly did him no favors; that movie was so repugnant it also sank the Bee Gees in the process. But his critical doom was well in the works by then. As David Wild notes in the Frampton episode of Behind the Music, “This guy became like a horrible joke. He became a lunchbox. He became a really cheesy poster that, after a year, you’re embarrassed to have on your wall.”

By the time that episode aired, critical consensus was coming back around, the reaction to the sudden fame becoming a distant memory. But I know those jokes lingered long enough that my teenaged reaction to learning that he might be something more than some ancient pop singer was shock.

Those digs had legs, I suppose. There are plenty of critics, then and now, who have made their bones on being terminally cynical. I bet hearing something from Frampton Comes Alive! pop up every three songs on the radio was annoying. And a smiling, 25-year-old Frampton was miles away from the image of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin (who were also assailed by critics of the time, funny enough). It certainly had nothing to do with the burgeoning punk movement. But the Frampton slander lasted, winding its way into Wayne’s World jokes and becoming shorthand for soft, spineless rock.

It lasted to the point that the other day, on one of the first nice days in New England this year, I was walking the dog and listening to this album on my headphones when I felt another twinge of embarrassment. Because I was loving that moment. Why? Why was I letting some misguided post-punk credibility claim get in any kind of way of this moment? My dog was wagging his tail and smelling everything in sight and having a blast. The sun was shining. And appropriately, Frampton was telling me he wanted to go to the sun, tearing it up on his Les Paul in the process.

As always, the opinions of published assholes should not be a determining factor in personal taste.

I think my first copy of this album didn’t come for a few years, but I believe I got the 2001 remastered version on CD shortly after it came out, finally biting the bullet to extend myself beyond “Do You Feel Like We Do” and the rest of the hits. I’d paid attention in the meantime, though, watching that Behind the Music episode, catching him in Almost Famous and keeping one ear tuned to the radio whenever one of his tracks came up. Finally owning the album cemented it — I liked this guy.

And the songs just roll at a relentless pace: tearing out of the gate with “Something’s Happening” and transitioning perfectly into “Doobie Wah,” the album rocks until the midpoint, where it takes an acoustic break. Just as early Humble Pie lived on the dichotomy of this brash, turned-up rock and roll coupled with pastoral acoustic ballads, Frampton has no issue showing his more delicate side, with “All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)” captivating the audience on the record as well as the millions listening at home. “Baby, I Love Your Way” is here, of course, and suspiciously, it sounded nothing like my first memory of the song. That first listen on CD was revealing, in that I realized the version I’d been hearing on the radio wasn’t Frampton at all, but Big Mountain’s cover of the song [2], which itself became a hit 21 years after the Frampton Comes Alive! version first made waves. I had been completely in the dark.

Frampton spins the dial up again later with “I Wanna Go to the Sun” and Humble Pie’s “Shine On,” he twists the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” into an almost new composition and, finally, we land back on “Do You Feel Like We Do” and it’s legendary talkbox solo.

I don’t believe Frampton was the first to utilize the talkbox as an effect, and it has since appeared on various rock hits to add that color of bwwowowow. But it’s obviously on another level on “Do You Feel Like We Do,” taking more hints from jazz and predating the kinds of sounds and effects and modes that Jerry Garcia would run through later on with the Grateful Dead. It’s catchy, has some nasty riffs and a memorable chorus and it's all delivered with an infectious energy that makes it a prototypical rock closer. It’s got one foot in British blues, for sure, with the other in the kind of musical vocabulary that wasn’t as prevalent among his peers at the time. It’s a powerhouse of a song, 14 minutes of spellbinding mastery to close one of the great albums of its time or any time.

The concept of “guilty pleasures” has always bothered me. It requires an acknowledgement that the song or album or band in question is bad, but liking it anyway. And I’ve never liked anything that was bad, or at least that I thought was bad. I don’t enjoy music ironically.

And I love this album. Later, like every studious record collector, I eventually found a double-LP version, which sits on my turntable as I write this. There’s a copy on my phone at all times ready to roll if needed. I come back to it a lot, is the point here.

And the man himself? While he battles his muscle diagnosis, he’s still touring and making music in his Nashville studio, playing the three-pickup Les Paul that graced the cover of his most famous album that he recovered more than 30 years after it was assumed to be lost in a plane crash and subsequent fire.

It’s hard to keep a good guitar down, I suppose, and harder to keep good music at bay, as well. And credit to one critic, Cameron Crowe, who was right from the start — there’s a full range of material here, and the man lives for the moment on the stage. That moment led to a cultural breakthrough in 1976, and it’s sustained a career since then. That hasn’t come without a few barbs along the way, but whatever. It’s an incredible album.

Is he the greatest guitarist ever? That’s an impossible question, but I appreciate the enthusiasm. I’m a Hendrix devotee, but it’s up to personal preference, and he deserves to at least be in the conversation.

And as with everything else, the faceless, mocking hordes mean nothing. Let them make their jokes; 27 years ago, my friend on the track team was right. Frampton rules.

March 17, 2024

1. It’s been 27 years since that conversation. I’m still coming to grips with that.

2. I realized that other version was a cover immediately upon hearing the original, but before starting to write this, I had never taken the time to figure out who covered it. I’d never even heard the name "Big Mountain" before this week.

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