In 1976 Peter Frampton came alive — at least in the pop mainstream — with his epochal two-LP concert album Frampton Comes Alive! The talk-box spanked “Do You Feel Like We Do,” the ebullient “Show Me The Way” and the acoustic “Baby, I Love Your Way” became the soundtrack to countless teenage romances from the moment the set reached radio stations and became inescapable on the FM airwaves well into the ’80s.
Frampton celebrated the album’s 35th anniversary in 2011 and 2012 with a worldwide tour, and this Monday, April 22, he celebrates his 63rd birthday. For Frampton, Comes Alive! became a lifetime defining statement that has continued to overshadow his other accomplishments in a career that goes back to 1964. Here’s a look at the Les Paul Custom legend’s back pages, at least as they are manifested in his pre-’76 recordings:
• Paradise Lost, The Herd (1968): Already a child singing star, Frampton joined this South London based pop group in 1965 at age 15. The band released just one album featuring him as vocalist before he departed in 1968. With just three Frampton-penned songs, it’s a fairly dreadful affair, which may have hastened his departure.
• As Safe As Yesterday Is, Humble Pie (1969): This is the band where Frampton grew into a world-class guitarist, even though he shared the six-string spotlight with the potent Steve Marriott. Marriott had just left the Small Faces in January 1969 and offered to help his friend Frampton put together a band. Once he assembled bassist Greg Ridley and drummer Jerry Shirley, he decided to sign up himself as well. The results were first captured on this album. The title track is a Marriott/Frampton co-write, which features the grinding interplay of both guitarists. More important to his history as a guitarist, Frampton had begun playing Les Paul Customs by the time the disc was tracked.
• Town and Country, Humble Pie (1969): The second Humble Pie album almost derailed the instant super group — as the band was tagged thanks to Frampton’s and Marriott’s previous affiliations — with its low-key mix of ballads and songs that drew on folk and county roots. The one truly notable number is Marriott’s classic “Every Mother’s Son.”
• Humble Pie, Humble Pie (1970): This disc pointed the band toward both the heavier sound that would become their trademark and fame. Still, Frampton displayed a penchant for the semi-acoustic pop that would make Comes Alive! a smash with his “Earth and Water Song,” sandwiched between the mind crushing jam “One Eyed Trouser Snake Rhumba” and a take on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready.”
• Rock On, Humble Pie (1971): Frampton would recut the opening track “Shine On” for Comes Alive!, but this disc’s slice of brass-knuckled majesty is “Stone Cold Fever,” a group composition that remained a staple of the Humble Pie repertoire for the rest of the group’s career and displays Frampton and Marriott snarling.
• Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore, Humble Pie (1971): This live set captures Frampton and Marriott at the top of their games, with Marriott playing heavy while Frampton goes for the quicksilver melodies he’d develop into platinum on his own. The set spawned the group’s first major American hit with the FM rock radio staple “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
• Wind of Change, Peter Frampton (1972): Ringo Starr plays on Frampton’s solo debut. “It’s a Plain Shame” and “ All I Want To Be Is By Your Side” would surface later on Comes Alive!, but this album is the first to really bring his lead playing front and center without competition or compromise.
• Frampton’s Camel (1973): This short-lived group recorded these nine tracks at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, and Frampton’s trajectory toward a harder sound yielded the soon-to-be-hit “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Its easy to draw a line from this set’s boogie-rock oriented energy and his 1976 classic album.
• Something’s Happening (1974): This is essentially Frampton’s Camel stripped to a power trio, with bassist Rick Wills and drummer John Siomos remaining the rhythm section. But like the previous two albums it failed to get significant traction in the States despite having considerable musical virtues.
• Frampton (1975): Frampton’s ideas about guitar textures and his melodic soloing style seem to reach a crest with this album that stayed at peak through the next year’s Comes Alive!, which turned this disc’s bend of acoustic and electric guitar rhythms and rippling leads plus the unabashed romanticism of “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Show Me the Way” into definitive melodic arena rock.