Frampton (Be)Comes Annoyed! (But Stays Classy)

July 9, 2011

I was eight years old during the summer of ’76 when Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! set was shattering sales records for a live album.

I have no doubt that I heard Show Me the Way and Baby, I Love Your Way blaring from the car stereos of older kids at the time and I do recall incessantly hearing the title track to I’m In You, the studio follow-up to his iconic breakthrough, the following summer on the bus rides to our swim team’s meets.

However, the hullabaloo over Frampton meant little to me and, as the ’70s became the ’80s and music became an important part of my life, the guitarist with the leonine tresses seemed to be an ancient artifact.

The tracks from Frampton Comes Alive! continued to be radio staples and – during my senior year of high school – Frampton even had a mini-comeback with the song Lying (which one of my friends loved).

But, Peter Frampton was never really a part of the musical landscape for me.

By the mid-’90s, I was the head buyer for a very large record store and our manager decided to add some pizzaz to the bins by adding comments – usually trivia-based – to the leader cards for the artists.

Stocking product one day, I headed to the Fs with an armful of titles.

As I mindlessly filed away CDs, I noted the plastic divider card for Peter Frampton on which, beneath the artist’s name, our manager had added some commentary…

Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the best-selling albums of the ’70s…yeah, we don’t get it, either.

Our location – in a city that was a major center for the music industry – meant that amongst our customers each day were some of the acts whose work was sitting in those racks and bins.

And, I knew that Peter Frampton not only lived in a suburb of the city but frequented a high-end eyeglass store across the street.

Months later, I was again on the main floor stocking product, when I headed toward the main counter to retrieve more CDs. As I approached the counter, I could see our administrative assistant talking to some well-dressed fellow who had his back to me.

In my friend’s hand was a leader card.

And, slowly, as I walked up to the pair, I realized that the person with whom my buddy was speaking was Peter Frampton, the leader card was his, and I was suddenly in the middle of the conversation.

During one of my first shifts at this store, I had to contend with some songwriter of little note who had come completely unhinged on me as we had not had a copy of the album containing their one claim to fame.

(the damned thing was out of print)

But Frampton was an absolute gentleman about the affair. He politely asked if we could simply replace the card with one that merely had his name on it.

(which I summarily did)

All of these years later, I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of Peter Frampton’s music, but if my former manager had questions as to how or why Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the best-selling albums of the ’70s, I might just chalk it up to – if nothing else – good karma.

Here are four songs that I might have heard on the radio during this week of July in 1976 – had I been listening to the radio – as Peter Frampton was dominating the musical landscape…

Starland Vocal Band – Afternoon Delight
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day

If there is one song that I do remember from that summer, it is most certainly Afternoon Delight. Though I had no idea what the song was about at the time, I loved the song and found the wooshing sound effect to be magical.

JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ wrote at length about the song earlier this year. It’s a good read and it’s also why now (and forevermore), when I hear the song I will also think of his quite accurate assessment that Starland Vocal Band’s Bill Danoff outkicked his coverage.

Starbuck – Moonlight Feels Right
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day

Starbuck’s soft rock smash always puts a smile on Paloma’s face and the marimba-laden hit makes me think of hearing it at the pool, blaring from the radio that entire summer.

The Beatles – Got To Get You Into My Life
from Revolver

I had to do some quick research to find out why The Beatles were hitting the Top Ten in 1976 with a song from an album released ten years earlier and six years after the band had broken up.

Apparently Capitol Records felt that the band needed to be introduced to music fans that had come of age since the break-up and opted to issue the driving, upbeat Got To Get You Into My Life as a single from the compilation Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.

(and, then, two years later Earth, Wind & Fire hit the Top Ten with their take on the song)

Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe
from 20 Original Country Greats

Like The Beatles, singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry was on the charts in 1976 with a song from nearly a decade before with Ode To Billie Joe. In her case, the song had already been a hit, reaching #1 in 1967 and earning Gentry a couple of Grammy Awards the following year.

In 1976, the song – in a rerecorded version – reached the Hot 100 in conjunction with the release of a movie based on the track. I remember the film playing at our town’s theatre, but I’ve never seen it.

But I totally dig the song with its palpable sense of dread, mysterious vibe, and a narrative so strong that it’s easy to imagine that you’re actually sitting at that dinner table and listening to the conversation.


Was (Not Was)…Was

January 5, 2011

Paloma recently mentioned a musician – a portly, mustacheod fellow and one quarter of an iconic band of the late ’60s – and I reacted with the disdain akin to that Kramer and Newman had for baseball great Keith Hernandez.

I had to remind her that several of us had unpleasant encounters with this legend at the record store where we worked and met in the ’90s.

(in one memorable incident, our jazz buyer – a burly cat in a beret – followed this character to the bookstore next door and verbally smacked him for his rude treatment to one of our clerks)

This particular record store was very large – close to 20,000 square feet – and it wasn’t uncommon to see celebrities.

I vividly recall staring out at the sales floor, bleary-eyed, early one Saturday morning and asking a puzzled co-worker, “Is that Peter Jennings?”

Al Gore, Liza Minelli, and Lauren Bacall came through while I was there as well as a lengthy list of musicians, producers and session players. It was hardly surprising to see someone like Peter Frampton, Jon Bon Jovi, or Rob Zombie browsing through the racks.

The Drunken Frenchman would often point out less recognizible luminairies like Robert Fripp, Albert Lee or session saxophonist Jim Horn.

“He’s probably got George Harrison’s phone number in his back pocket,” he said to me as he gave Horn a respectful, knowing nod from behind the counter where we stood.

Both staff and patrons usually left the celebrities in our midst alone. Often, there would be little recognition unless it was courted.

One lead singer of a successful band opted to park his limo outside the entrance in a no parking zone and had two mountains serving as bodyguards keep the aisles adjacent to the one in which he was shopping cleared.

It drew attention, but the sad thing is that I overheard more than a few customers whispering to each other and obviously having no idea who was causing the commotion.

More often than not, though, the brushes with greatness I experienced were pleasant ones and more in line with one of my first such encounters.

I hadn’t been working at the store for more than a few weeks and, though I’d seen a couple famous folk, my mind was still inclined to think that I was seeing the doppelganger of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson rather than the genuine article.

It was near our midnight close and we had already doused most of the lights. I was working in the store’s cassette department, mostly just hanging out behind the counter, chatting with a manager when a guy in a denim jacket with a mop of bushy, unruly hair and dark glasses walked into the department.

“Is that Don Was?” I asked.

This manager usually worked in the video department, listened to essentially nothing but Frank Zappa, and had a justifiable hatred of mailmen.

“Go ask him,” he suggested.

So, I did something I rarely did during my years at that store and approached him as he was browsing through the country music section.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like Don Was?”

He stopped and stared at me for a moment – long enough for me to think that I’d made a poor decision. Then, with a sudden motion, he stuck out his hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

He was quite gracious and when I asked what he was working on, he told me that he’d just finished working on an album with Willie Nelson.

(the album would prove to be Nelson’s well-received Across The Borderline from ’93)

Then, in a memory that becomes more endearing as time passes, the musician/producer began to tell me how he was speaking with Brian Wilson about a project.

It was still Don Was behind the dark glasses and he was still naturally cool, but as he spoke about the legendary Beach Boy, it was obvious that he was stoked, as stoked as some goofy twenty-something kid working in a record store might be to meet Don Was.

Here are four songs that are merely a sampling of from the vast catalog of songs with involvement from Don Was…

Was (Not Was) – Spy In The House Of Love
from What Up, Dog?

The first time I ever heard Don Was was with his band, Was (Not Was), and their 1983 release Born To Laugh At Tornadoes. The eclectic album featured guest appearances from Ozzy Osbourne, Mitch Ryder, and Mel Tormé, and I used to hear the track Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like A Rubber Ball) often on 97X – the future of rock and roll.

Six years into that future, Was (Not Was) returned with What Up, Dog?, notched a Top Ten hit with Walk The Dinosaur and another Top Twenty hit with the sly, soulful dance pop of Spy In The House Of Love.

Iggy Pop – Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night
from Brick By Brick

Brick By Brick gave punk godfather Iggy Pop his greatest commercial success and even a hit single with Candy, his duet with The B-52s’ Kate Pierson, in 1990. I don’t recall, but I imagine that the record’s polish probably caused some angst for fans of the singer’s earlier work.

I dug it, though, and the album’s closer, Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night is wiry and resilient.

Johnny Clegg – In My African Dream
from In My African Dream

Johnny Clegg has a fascinating and inspiring story, certainly worthy of more than a few scant words here. The interracial make-up of his band Juluka and the politics of their songs put the members in jeopardy simply to perform in their native South Africa during the years of apartheid.

In My African Dream alternates between the slinky, light funk of the verses and a bouyant, optimistic chorus.

Willie Nelson – Graceland
from Across The Borderline

There needs to be a Willie Nelson fantasy resort. Who wouldn’t pay good money to spend a week living like Willie?

Get up early, shower, dress semi-presentably, endure a death-defying commute, and spend nine hours being a drone or get up considerably later, put the hair in pigtails, let someone else pilot the biofuel bus, and inhale.

Not a difficult choice there.


Waking Up With Wilford Brimley

January 9, 2010

I woke up this morning to find Paloma under a blanket on the couch and Wilford Brimley’s whiskered mug on the television screen.

But there was more. There was the actor who played the titular character in The Mummy as well as Lance Henriksen (obviously supressing his dignity and picking up a paycheck).

As Wilford babbled away with a Cajun accent and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, Jean-Claude Van Damme strode heroically into frame with an impressively sculpted mullet affixed to his noggin.

In the lower right-hand corner of the screen I noted the logo for Spike TV and everything I was witnessing made as much sense as it possibly could.

I looked at Paloma.

“It’s really bad,” she informed me, not elaborating but not needing to do so. I was watching Wilford Brimley fussing over some moonshine.

(personally, when I’m in the mood for a bad action flick from the ’80s/’90s, the hunt begins and ends with Steven Segal)

So, I’m struggling to awake, pondering Wilford Brimley and – and I am likely not alone here – my thoughts turned to Quaker Oats. I mean, anyone from the States that watched any television during the past twenty years recalls his stint as their pitchman and his almost threatening declaration that the consumption of those oats was “the right thing to do and a tasty way to do it.”

And, I can’t think of Wilford without thinking of Phil Kaufman.

Those of you neck-deep in music lore might recognize the name of Kaufman, who, as a road manager, worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa to Emmylou Harris and Marianne Faithfull. Kaufman was also involved in the theft of Gram Parsons’ body and, fulfilling Parsons’ wishes, his cremation in the Joshua Tree desert.

Paloma’s mother has long been a friend of Kaufman’s and I had met him years ago (in the presence of Marianne Faithfull, no less). For whatever reason, right or wrong, to me, he bore some resemblence to Brimley. I think it was a moustache thing.

I’m feeling better, though. I have had some coffee. Now, all I need to do is cleanse the mental palatte, completely evicting Wilford and his oats of malice from my headspace.

So, to help do so, here is a quintet of songs from Marianne Faithfull…

Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
from Broken English

I knew little about Marianne Faithfull when the bookstore next to a record store where I worked scheduled her for an appearance. So, I grabbed a copy of Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings to have signed.

She was a tiny woman, petite and rather elegant. And she was smoking a cigarette.

As she signed the CD cover, she commented that she probably should quit smoking. Then, she took a drag and remarked that her grandmother smoked two packs a day and lived to be in her 80s.

Marianne Faithfull – Working Class Hero
from Broken English

When I finally sat down with Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings I instantly became a fan and one of the songs that converted me was her take on John Lennon’s Working Class Hero.

I knew the song, but her menacing version was far more powerful to me than the original. So much so that I convinced a band with whom I was working to open their shows with the song using Marianne’s cover as the template (it worked flawlessly).

The band found only limited success, but I spent the next few years accumulating most of her catalog.

Marianne Faithfull – Times Square
from Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings

Given the mostly uneven nature of Marianne’s albums, the compilation I grabbed to have her autograph was a wonderful introduction to her catalog. Times Square, like her strongest material, is a song that she completely inhabits.

Marianne Faithfull – Sliding Through Life On Charm
from Kissin’ Time

Marianne has often collaborated with other artists and I was interested to hear Kissin’ Time as she worked with an impressive array of modern rock acts like Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Blur’s Damon Albarn, and Beck. For the most part, the album was less than the sum of its parts.

However, Sliding Through Life On Charm, her collaboration with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, was a keeper, a driving four minutes or so of chainsaw disco laced with autobiographical references and piss and vinegar.