As we leap forward into 1976, America’s Bicentennial, the best-selling album of the year is the first one we encounter, released in early January of 1976. The live double-album smash sensation that is and was “Frampton Comes Alive”, by guitarist and vocalist Peter Frampton, is today’s discovery, before his ill-fated “Sgt. Pepper” movie with the Bee Gees. This is one of two mainstream albums in 1976 that I’m a little surprised did not make the Rolling Stone Top 500 lists, but as noted, it was extremely successful commercially and the number-one selling album of the year.
It is not uncommon for me to come across an album that has one or several songs I know extremely well, and the rest of the album is a mystery to me, at least going in. Anyone who has listened to more than ten minutes of classic rock has certainly heard the three singles from this album, “Baby, I Love Your Way”, “Show Me the Way”, and “Do You Feel Like We Do”, which is a great song but hard to envision as a 13-minute single. I probably should have picked up on this earlier, but I learned today when I randomly came across a Frampton performance on Howard Stern (or my smart phone was just being smart again), that “Do You Feel Like We Do” is essentially a song about a really painful hangover, and the possible temptation to head back down that dark road again. I think I was always distracted by the unique talk box guitar solo. Further research also confirms the single version was obviously edited down, but still a rather long track.
So, once we acknowledge the popularity and significance of those three hits, all of which I do like, we have the rest of the album. I think his cover of “Jumping Jack Flash” is the perfect metaphor for how I view the rest of this double-album worth of material. I have always thought the perfect song to audition any up-and-coming garage rock band is “Jumping Jack Flash”. It has a really funky groove, so we can find out how good the bass and drums stand out, the guitar work features a legendary riff and the opportunity for a stellar solo if the band can bring it, and of course the vocal lead is front and center for all to see. Any good band should be able to make this song sound good. And while Peter Frampton is a phenomenal guitar player and a decent singer, this version is a sleep-walk. It is slow, meandering, and just never grabs your attention. Unfortunately, that is exactly how I feel about the rest of the album. I listened to it several times to give it the benefit of the doubt, but after three times through, if it isn’t happening, it isn’t happening.
So, I will close on a positive note. Peter Frampton is a really talented guitarist who has created some timeless contributions to rock music, almost all of which are featured on this album. You could even argue this was a great party album in its day, as the attendees could jam out in elated happiness when one of the songs we all knew came on, and the rest of the album probably served as reasonable background music for thousands and thousands of lost keggers in the 1970s.