Why “Frampton Comes Alive” Matters: A 40 Year Appreciation

Peter Frampton will perform his entire seminal album, along with other highlights from his Grammy-winning career, on Aug. 27 at Riverside Casino. (Peter Frampton photo)

If you were born after 1976, it is difficult to imagine why any double live LP is important, let alone if the example employed is “Frampton Comes Alive”. It may even seem that is has a similar blurred focus like the Bicentennial Celebration, and you really had to be there to completely get it. Rest assured, you only have to listen to it to be taken there and you will definitely get it.

What seemed an overnight success was a decade in the making. A guitar prodigy at the age of 16, Peter Frampton started with the Herd in 1966, and then became a founding member of Humble Pie with former Small Faces guitarist/ vocalist Steve Marriott in 1969. Leaving them to pursue a solo career, Frampton released 4 solo studio LPs between 1972 and 1975. He missed what might have been a blessing or a curse when he narrowly lost a slot in the Rolling Stones to Ron Wood. He was considering becoming a session guitarist just to earn a living prior to releasing his landmark live recording.

Released on January 6th, 1976 it witnessed a characteristic calm before the storm. It entered the Billboard Top 200 Album Charts at #191, but only 97 days after being issued it reached #1 on the Billboard Charts and stayed there for 10 weeks. It remained on the charts for 97 weeks, selling more than 6 million copies.

Statistically impressive, but the more profound and lasting impact was not made on the charts but on the audience and industry itself. Frampton himself later said with some cynicism that it proved to label executives how many people were available to buy an album. With this as a precedent, double live LPs became a normal career move for almost every recording artist, but never with the same stratospheric results.

Previously, double LPs were considered an albatross, since sales were spotty and unpredictable. In the autumn of 1976, Frampton shared the Billboard Top Ten with 2 disc releases by Stevie Wonder, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elton John. That summer the singular most bankable act on the road was Frampton, flipping turnstiles and filling cash coffers.

Frampton topped the Critic’s Poll and Reader’s Poll in both Rolling Stone and CREEM. Predictably, unparalleled success is a dual-edged sword. For all the chart stats, platinum records and stacks of cash, the inevitable downside is following one’s self. In the 1970s, Carole King, Elton John, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac became their own worst enemies, and Peter Frampton marched in those ranks. The most unenviable endeavor is attempting to convince the exact same number of people that your next release is every bit as good as the LP they purchased in a frenzied buying stampede.

Still, after 40 years, the hard evidence is in the grooves. Proof positive that dreams come true, nice guys don’t always finish last, hard work has its rewards, and this breakout success was not a fluke. Decades later, every note serves as a reminder as to why Frampton did come alive, became a legendary success and spent only one tell-tale year at the top. Careers are breakable, but great music is not. It’s eternal and that’s what matters. Put on “Frampton Comes Alive” and find out for yourself. It will take you there.

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