You may recall that in recent weeks I have been scouring vinyl bins for old Peter Frampton LPs and putting them into iTunes. These recent Framptoning activities got me thinking about what was going on musically in 1976/1977 when Frampton Comes Alive was the biggest thing since Orson Wells’ pants. Since there’s nothing more that the music or movie industries like more than following trends and squeezing them dry, I thought about the effect that FCA had on the business and on other artists.
The trend that FCA began was that of the live album being able to lift an otherwise flagging career. Frampton had released four studio albums before FCA, and none had made much of an impact. Suddenly this live album became a colossus, dominating the charts for more than a yearâ€”a fact not lost on the record companies, who soon got on that bandwagon, if you will, and started shitting out live album after live album, hoping to cash in.
Bear in mind that the seventies was still a time when a performer’s worth was measured on the stage. If one could put on a great show, one was revered. Concerts were important as sales tools. Thus it was reasoned that a great live album would provide a glimpse into an artist’s worth and renew interest in them.
So it was that in the wake of FCA‘s release in January of 1976, other artists began foisting their own live albums on the public. In that year we got:
- Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same
- Bob Seger: Live Bullet
- Wings: Wings Over America
Not much that year, but FCA did take a few months to catch fire, and it took others time to jump on the gravy train by recording and releasing their own.
The next year, 1977, saw a slew of live releases, some better than others:
- America: Live
- April Wine: Live at the El Mocambo
- The Beatles: At the Hollywood Bowl
- Jackson Browne: Running On Empty
- Genesis: Seconds Out
- Golden Earring: Live
- Kiss: Alive II
- Lynyrd Skynyrd: One More For From The Road
- Barry Manilow: Live
- Bette Midler: Live At Last
- Parliament: Live
- Elvis Presley: In Concert
- REO Speedwagon: You Get What You Play For
- Status Quo: Live!
See? Even the Beatles got on that overcrowded bandwagon!
Not even the dramatic rise of disco by 1978 could damped the trend:
- Aerosmith: Live Bootleg
- David Bowie: Stage
- Cheap Trick: At Budokan
- Little Feat: Waiting for Columbus
- Helen Reddy: Live in London
- Donna Summer: Live And More
- Thin Lizzy: Live And Dangerous
- The Tubes: What Do You Want From Live?
1979 was no slouch either, though the herd was starting to thin:
- John Cale: Sabotage
- Judas Priest: Unleashed in the East
- Bob Dylan: At Budokan
- Jethro Tull: Bursting Out
- Mike Oldfield: Exposed
- The Ramones: It’s Alive
- Queen: Live Killers
- Scorpions: Tokyo Tapes
- UFO: Strangers in the Night
- Neil Young: Rust Never Sleeps
After that, the live album began to peter out. Folks like The Eagles, Yes, Pat Travers and even Creedence Clearwater Revival did release more live material, but by then interest had waned. Still, it’s easy to see how Frampton Comes Alive set that whole live album trend into motion.