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.

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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.


Rocky, The Terminator, Dolph And A Wacky Little Guy Named Jong Il

August 14, 2010

So, from what I understand, the action flick The Expendables arrives in theaters this weekend. I know because I’ve been suckered into the commercial on numerous occasions the past few weeks at the first notes of Guns ‘N Roses’ Paradise City.

(I’ve often wondered if it is true that the titular city is a reference to Indianapolis, Indiana)

The first time I saw a commercial, I was surprised as it was made to appear that – aside from bringing together every action star dating back to Johnny Weismuller – the movie featured the testosterone-laden trio of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis.

Assuming that the movie industry is populated by the same jet-fuel geniuses that burned down the music industry, I couldn’t help but picture someone at the studio giddily punching all of the grosses from all of the films by the three into a calculator and, with great glee, declaring, “If we cast them all, we’ll make this much!”

Of course, each time I have seen the commercial since, the Schwarzeneggar/Stallone/Willis triumvirate seems to be less touted and, from what I’ve read, it’s Stallone’s flick with the other two making mere cameos.

I have no plans to see The Expendables, though. I will staunchly argue that the original Rocky was an amazingly inspired bit of filmmaking and numbers II and III retain a certain charm rooted in childhood, but I don’t think I’ve seen one of Stallone’s movies in the theater since Cobra.

(an, admittedly, regrettable decision)

But the release of The Expendables made me realize that the US is missing an opportunity to calm tensions with North Korea.

Reportedly, Kim Jong Il is movie buff and an action movie enthusiast.

And he craves attention.

We call on the aging action stars of the world for a diplomatic mission thus giving them something to do that will still keep them in the limelight.

We send Stallone, Lundgren, Van Damme, Seagal, and whoever else is willing to go to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il. Dear Leader would undoubtedly be willing to take a meeting with the stars of the movies he loves.

Essentially, we appeal to the egos of the action stars to appeal to the starstruck fandom of a daffy little dictator for a little time out on shenanigans.

A shot to hang with Rambo and Ivan Drago, knowing that the images and stories would be beamed around the world, would scratch Jong Il right where he itches.

He so wants to be a rock star.

He so wants to be cool.

Kim agrees to stop dabbling in nuclear rocket projects and get some sandwiches to his people and Schwarzeneggar and friends agree to spend some time being his buddy – taking him to movie premieres or for walks on the beach, going clubbing, or hitting the links.

We turn the whole thing into a reality show and the ratings go through the roof.

Everybody wins.

In the meantime, here are four songs with heroic implications…

David Bowie – Heroes
from The Singles Collection 1969-1993

It’s classic David Bowie. What more could there really be to say?

The Kinks – Celluloid Heroes
from Everybody’s In Show-Biz

Of course, there’s the downside to fame and notoriety which The Kinks capture wonderfully in the melancholic, wistful Ray Davies-penned Celluloid Heroes.

Foo Fighters – My Hero
from The Colour And The Shape

Sure, I understand the importance of Nirvana as agents of change in the musical landscape, but I’m considerably more likely to pull up something by Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters especially if it’s from 1997’s stellar The Colour And The Shape.

Kiss – A World Without Heroes
from Music From “The Elder”

Aside from a handful of songs, I’ve never been a Kiss fan, but I do find A World Without Heroes to be compelling.

(probably as it sounds so out of place compared to the band’s catalog)

In a bid to reverse declining album sales and gain some artistic credibility, Kiss reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, who was coming off of the massive success of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for a record that was intended to be a soundtrack to a movie that was never made.

Though it did garner some positive reviews, the album baffled long-time fans and bombed. The sparse, spacey A World Without Heroes is atmospheric, but it’s not surprising that it wasn’t embraced by the group’s fans.

I recall seeing Kiss perform the downbeat song along with a couple others from Music From “The Elder” on the late-night comedy show Fridays not long after the album’s release.