What Makes This Album Great and Collectible: Frampton Comes Alive!
Peter Frampton’s concert masterpiece and what became a worldwide phenomenon.
The story behind this album’s success is fascinating. Until its release in 1976, Peter Frampton was a relatively unknown artist. Having found some success with Herd and Humble Pie, he ventured off on his own in 1971, releasing a new album each of the four subsequent years.
His early solo ventures were less than stellar, and it has been reported that A&M was losing patience with the British rocker. By 1975, the company had invested about one million dollars into Frampton, and they weren’t pleased with the returns. His highest-charting album thus far, 1975’s Frampton, had peaked at number twenty-three.
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It has been noted, by some close to Frampton at the time, that the idea of making a live album would fulfill his contract and would be less costly to produce than a studio album. Nonetheless, it is well known that Frampton preferred performing live, and had been touring relentlessly for years, having created a devoted following in New York, Detroit, Chicago, and San Francisco.
So in the summer of 1975, armed with material from his four solo albums, off he went with a recording studio truck in tow, recording live performances at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, California, Island Music Center in Commack, New York, and State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Frampton stretched many of the songs from his catalog to fill the allotted time. Do You Feel Like We Do was stretched to twice its original length with Frampton serenading the audience with his talk-box, which left fans wondering how this guy made a Les Paul guitar say, "I want to thank you,” something that was debated endlessly as to whether the word was "thank" or something more provocative.
Interestingly, the album was originally intended to be a single LP, but Jerry Moss (the M in A&M) liked the initial recordings so much, he scheduled additional shows and expanded the project to a double album.
It should be noted that up until this point, live albums had been pretty much a collection of an artist’s greatest hits. To say this project was a gamble is an understatement.
Frampton Comes Alive! was released without fanfare and entered the Billboard 200 at number 143 on January 31, 1976. Aided by the release of three singles, "Show Me the Way", "Baby, I Love Your Way", and "Do You Feel Like We Do," the album hit number one in the spring of the same year. The album stayed in the top ten for the remainder of the year, in the number one spot for ten weeks, and remained on the charts for an unbelievable ninety-seven weeks! It’s estimated that worldwide album sales topped eleven million.
It has been said that the remarkable success of the album was due in large part to timing. FM radio, where longer songs typically found a welcoming home, was becoming more popular. In addition, teenagers were driving cars more than in the past, and in those cars were tape decks (8-track).
It’s estimated that many of the eight million copies of Frampton Comes Alive! sold in the U.S. were 8-track tapes. Another possible reason for the album’s outsized success was its low price of $7.98, only a buck more than the going price of a standard single LP.
Unfortunately for Frampton, his management’s attempts to capitalize on the album’s success would be his undoing. His rushed follow-up album, I'm In You, with Frampton posing in satin and frills, was a commercial hit, but was considered a failure compared to the success of Frampton Comes Alive! Other poor choices, such as appearing in the film flop, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, further eroded his rocker image.
While Frampton never again achieved the commercial success of Frampton Comes Alive!, it remains one of the best-selling live albums ever and ranked number forty-one on Rolling Stone Magazine's "50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time" list. Many critics credit it as the catalyst for a trend of live releases that include some of the best ever, including Journey’s Captured, Live Bullet by Bob Seger, Ted Nugent's Double Live Gonzo!, and Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous.
Frampton Comes Alive! was first released by A&M on January 6, 1976, in the U.S., catalog number SP-3703. While copies are widely available, editions in excellent or mint condition are limited and can go for north of $100. Prices vary wildly, and collectors should be aware the album cover is a gatefold; the first U.K. pressing (number AMLM 63703) has a regular cover.
Lastly, a fun fact: The album was pressed in a method commonly referred to as automatic sequence. Sides one and four were pressed on one record, followed by sides two and three on the other. This arrangement was intended to make it easier to listen through the whole album in sequence, on a turntable with an automatic record changer.