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.


The Women’s Music

October 14, 2010

One of the record stores at which I worked was immense – we stocked upwards of 90,000 CDs and had several different listening environments.

(the classical room was an excellent place to hideout and – on at least one occasion for a co-worker – provide a nook for a nap)

Most of the store was arranged in sections by genres that would be familiar to most folks who have spent time in a record store.

(back when they existed)

But, our store had one section, created at the discretion and insistence of Jen, our main buyer, that baffled us…

…the women’s music section.

None of us truly understood what the hell our buyer wanted stocked there.

To qualify, the artist had to possess xx chromosomes. Beyond that criteria, no one knew what determined whether (a then unknown) Sarah MacLachlan was filed in the rock section or the women’s music section.

Now, according to Wikipedia, women’s music is “music by women, for women, and about women” and Ladyslipper has been one of the major labels for the genre.

We did stock a good hundred or more titles by the label at any given time, but that definition doesn’t explain why Jen tried to migrate the Kate Bush UK releases from the import aisle to women’s music.

I’ve been a fan of Kate Bush since The Hounds Of Love and – though I suppose some of her work might resonate for me a bit more if I was a woman – I have found that having testicles hasn’t hindered my enjoyment of her music.

(and, at least in the case of her video for Babooshka, there might have been more resonance for me as a guy)

The women’s music section might have started out as “music by women, for women, and about women,” but what it actually became was music by women for Jen.

She had carved out her own, sovereign musical nation within our store – a breakaway republic populated by the music she loved.

(and, given enough time, I have no doubt that she would have somehow relocated Cheap Trick and The Raspberries – both bands were favorites of hers – into her utopian kingdom)

Here are four (mostly) random songs by female acts (or bands with with a considerable female presence)…

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Cities In Dust
from Twice Upon A Time: The Singles

One of the first songs by Siouxsie Sioux and company that I recall ever hearing, Cities In Dust is also one of their poppiest tracks.

(and there just haven’t been enough catchy songs about the destruction of Pompeii)

Ednaswap – Torn
from Ednaswap

The Los Angeles band Ednaswap’s name was, apparently, taken from a band that appeared in a dream by lead singer Anne Preven. Their self-titled debut from 1995 is slightly grungy with a twist of alternapop.

The band made little impact over the course of three albums, but Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia covered Torn several years after the track appeared on Ednaswap’s debut and her more polished version of the song became a global smash.

Personally, I think I prefer the more unvarnished original – which rocks a bit more – and Preven’s far more soulful pipes.

The Go-Go’s – Get Up And Go
from Vacation

The Go-Go’s ruled the world briefly when their 1981 debut Beauty And The Beat became one of the biggest selling albums of the following year and landed the all-female quintet on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The follow-up Vacation had not a chance of matching Beauty And The Beat, but the title track was destined to be an ’80s classic and it’s still a fun record.

And though it doesn’t have a chorus as memorable as their finest moments, the pounding Get Up And Go is a giddy delight.

The Tourists – I Only Want To Be With You
from Reality Effect

If you recognize the vocals on this version of the oft-covered I Only Want To Be With You, there’s good reason as it’s unmistakably Annie Lennox, who spent a few years as a member of The Tourists with one Dave Stewart.

Annie and Dave went on to fame as Eurythmics with a string of imaginative and evocative singles and several very, very good albums during the ’80s.


Fuzzy Memories Of A Record Store From The Past

April 24, 2010

Thinking of record stores not long ago, I realized that I didn’t have a chance to frequent indie record stores until college (at that point, there were a half dozen within a few blocks of each other).

Though my friends and I spent a good deal of time trekking to Cincinnati in high school, we usually stuck to the malls. The malls had everything we didn’t have in our hometown – record stores, book stores, arcades, food courts, escalators – in one place.

And a lot of girls.

(there were, obviously, girls in our town, but we had known most of them since first grade – mall girls were exotic and mysterious)

Somehow, though, there was one record store that I have hazy memories of being an occasional stop for us. It was a funky, little store, deeper than it was wide, tucked away in a strip mall setting.

I couldn’t come up with the name.

A bit of research leads me to believe it was called Globe Records and that name does sound right. There’s not much info on the store, though – there is a mention of incense which I remember this store selling.

It was a low-key place, lots of simple wood bins and racks. I seem to remember an open upstairs level which must have served as a good perch to monitor potential shoplifters.

There were large posters on the walls, haphazradly arrayed. I think the store’s backroom (and the stairs leading to the loft) might have been separated from the floor by a curtain of beads.

I can almost picture the place.

(I couldn’t have shopped there more than a dozen times and it was twenty-five years ago)

It had to have been one of the more bohemian places my friends and I had been at that time in our lives.

It would have been the spring of ’84 when my friend and I would have been hitting Globe Records as we finally had our drivers licenses. It was a time of great change in my musical interests as I had discovered alternative rock and we finally had MTV available to us.

Here are four songs from that spring that I remember hearing quite a bit…

Tracey Ullman – They Don’t Know
from You Broke My Heart In 17 Places

That Tracey Ullman is quite a talent and They Don’t Know was our introduction to her, especially as the video seemed to air each and every time I had the chance to vegitate in front of MTV.

Fortunately the song was an utter and complete earworm and, though I had little frame of reference at the time, it totally capture the girl group vibe of the ’60s. It also was written and recorded by the late, great Kirsty MacColl, but I wouldn’t become familiar with Kirsty until the following year when I heard her version of Billy Bragg’s A New England on Rock Over London.

The Fixx – Deeper And Deeper
from Greatest Hits – One Thing Leads To Another

The Fixx had become fixtures on radio the year before with Reach The Beach and that album’s subsequent hits Saved By Zero, One Thing Leads To Another, and The Sign Of Fire.

Personally, I always seemed to like the idea of The Fixx more than most of their music. I dug earlier stuff like Red Skies and Stand Or Fall, but most of their output was hit or miss for me (and One Thing Leads To Another grated on my nerves).

Deeper And Deeper was a keeper, though, revealing a bit more muscle in the band’s sound. The song appeared on the soundtrack to the rock fable Streets Of Fire, a movie which I managed to miss that summer.

Human League – The Lebanon
from Hysteria

In the spring of 1984, my buddy Streuss was eagerly awaiting the long-delayed release of Human League’s Hysteria. It had been two years since they had burst onto the musical landscape in the States with Don’t You Want Me and there had been no follow-up to its parent album Dare.

In the interim, Streuss had amassed everything he could acquire by the band – much of it as imports for us – including the dub remix collection from Dare credited to The League Unlimited Orchestra.

Of course, The Lebanon was a surprise when it arrived as the first single from Hysteria that spring – the synth-pop band who had an edict declaring “no guitars” had issued a song that was built heavily around guitars.

We didn’t care. We loved it and, though it might be a bit half-baked lyrical, I still do.

Nik Kershaw – Wouldn’t It Be Good
from Human Racing

Wouldn’t It Be Good wasn’t a very big hit in the States and I don’t recall seeing the video for the song. I think it was actually my friend Beej that turned us onto the song after he saw the video on the USA Network’s Night Flights.

The discontented vibe of the song – kind of a New Wave take on “nobody loves me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go eat worms” – tapped into our burgeoning teen angst. A couple years later, the song would reappear on the soundtrack for Pretty In Pink, but in a version by Danny Hutton, one of the vocalists for Three Dog Night.